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Balkans Are More Visible on the Radar of EU and NATO Following the War in Ukraine

The inaugural Sarajevo Security Conference (SCC) is set to take place from 15 to 17 October, organized by the Strategic Analysis Initiative (SAI). The event will bring together high level speakers, including domestic and international government officials, business executives, leading academics, and notable journalists. Over this two-day conference, a comprehensive examination of the most pressing security challenges facing the region will be conducted.

About the geopolitical dynamics in the Western Balkans, the influence of the war in Ukraine on the EU’s perspective of the region, and the role of third external actors in shaping the security landscape, we spoke with Hikmet Karčić, co-founder and director of SAI.

European Western Balkans: The Sarajevo Security Conference is being held for the first time this year in a complex security momentum for the region and beyond. What topics will be covered during the two-day conference?

Hikmet Karčić: The Sarajevo Security Conference will cover a broad range of security-related subjects that are not only relevant for Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region but also for general security issues in Europe.

The ongoing war in Ukraine of course will be covered from a security point of view and will be referenced in other discussions such as transatlantic security, the current geopolitical landscape, as well as EU and NATO integration. Other discussions will cover cyber security, religious and cultural geopolitics in the Balkans, as well as foreign influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

EWB: What is the impact of Russian aggression in Ukraine on the security situation in the Western Balkans? Is the region more unstable than before?

HK: The Russian aggression has created instability in many countries in the world, but especially in Europe. It is an understatement to say that Bosnia and Herzegovina is not immune to that fact, having earlier political instability due to destabilizing factors from the entity Republika Srpska, who engaged in different meetings and agreements with Russian officials beforehand.

After the war in Ukraine began, the political scene became even more turbulent, with more rhetoric of secession, undemocratic legislation, political boycotts, and disregard for state-level and international institutions and representatives. Direct political support for Russia in their aggression is more than evident among Serb leaders from the entity Republika Srpska, which implies many elements that could lead to instability.

EWB: Has and to what extent has the war in Ukraine changed the perception of the EU and NATO towards the region?

HK: As seen in the past few days, additional NATO troops were sent to Kosovo to support the KFOR mission. Additional EUFOR troops were also deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina following the war in Ukraine, which is a signal that the Balkans are seen as one of the more vulnerable regions on the continent.

Granting Bosnia and Herzegovina, along with other states, EU candidate country status is also a sign that this region was disregarded in the geopolitical sense before the war in Ukraine. It is fair to say that the Balkan region is more visible on the radar of EU and NATO following the war in Ukraine.

EWB: How do you assess the influence of third actors (Russia, China and Turkey) in the region today?

HK: Bosnia and Herzegovina is a small and young country compared to leading European countries. It depends on support, cooperation, and trade with other states. Most of the country’s population is in favor of its EU path, and most of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian diaspora lives in Western democracies such as Germany, USA and Scandinavia.

However, due to its complex political system that allows ethnic veto power in higher levels of government, especially given that one of the entities that make up the higher levels of government, Republika Srpska, is fully dominated by a political elite operating undemocratically under the guise of the national interest of that entity’s majority population, the influence of third actors is possible through their backing of one specific ethnic group.

Not all foreign influence is aimed at drawing these ethnic lines even deeper – Turkey for example has had a fair and balanced approach, communicating with state institutions and officials. Russia on the other hand has been quite vocal about its support for representatives from, and of, the RS entity. I believe the same is true when we speak about the Balkans in general.

EWB: For a while now, especially in BiH and Kosovo, we have seen serious threats to peace and stability. How successful are the EU and NATO in calming tensions in this part of Europe?

HK: When it comes to Kosovo, there are still many question marks about the nature of the organized Serb group that murdered a Kosovo police officer in the terrorist attack. As more evidence is presented, it is becoming clearer.

The EU has yet to officially agree on a joint stance toward this event, and their response will be critical in determining future events in the region. NATO has sent additional forces to the KFOR mission which indicates that it takes these matters seriously. Appeasement of aggressive and radical politics will definitely open the floodgates to new incidents and instability in the region.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the EU also needs a far stronger stance against disruptive, secessionist, radical, and anti-constitutional actors in the country. Although the majority of EU states recognize this problem, its current rules allow for the prevention of concrete actions being taken.

NATO has its presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but clearer and more direct messages of its dedication and mandate to peace and stability in the country are always more than welcome – especially in this political climate.

EWB: Cyber security is increasingly discussed in the region. During the previous period, we saw that countries like Albania and Montenegro were targets of these attacks. How vulnerable is the region in this area, and what could be the responses to such threats?

HK: Cyber security is an ignored aspect of security in the whole region and deserves more attention and dedicated work. In a world where data is more valuable and more available than ever, the region needs an upgrade in its cyber security policies and practices.

This would include training of staff, upgrading technology, as well as creating strategies in the case of security breaches in this sense.

Source : European Western Balkan