Is a New Bosnian Crisis Brewing?

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša
Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Is a New Bosnian Crisis Brewing?

Will Europe and Russia carve up Bosnia-Herzegovina in a new Molotov-Ribbentrop pact?

An anonymous memorandum, “Western Balkans—A Way Forward,” has caused a stir in Europe, EU Observer reported on May 4. The paper calls for the redrawing of national borders in the Balkans. Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša is allegedly behind the proposal. When questioned by Euro News, Janša would neither confirm nor deny being its author. But Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama claims he was consulted about the paper.

The end goal of redrawing the former Yugoslav nations is to make the countries ethnically homogenous. Serbia would be given Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Serb-majority Republika Srpska region and Serbian regions of northern Kosovo. The rest of Kosovo would merge with Albania. Croat-majority cantons in Bosnia would join Croatia. That would leave a landlocked rump state for Bosnian Muslims.

“Western Balkans—A Way Forward” was reportedly brought to the desk of European Council President Charles Michel. When approached by the media, Michel, like Janša, would neither confirm nor deny the rumors.

Many in Europe—especially Bosnian Muslims—are nervous about this. This is because of the region’s history during the 1990s.

Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia were all former provinces of Yugoslavia. In the late 20th century, Yugoslavia’s various ethnic groups squabbled for more autonomy and control in the country. Its provinces declared independence without Belgrade’s consent. This led to the civil wars of the 1990s. Bosnia-Herzegovina was by far the most multi-ethnic of the provinces. It had a sizable Serb minority that was loyal to Belgrade and wanted to join Serbia. Bosnian Croats, meanwhile, wanted to split from the country and join Croatia.

After a bloody war with atrocities on all sides, nato forced a compromise on the country. The Serbs would get their own autonomous region, Republika Srpska (“the Serb Republic”). Bosnian Muslims and Croats would govern the other half of the country. A high representative appointed by Western powers would oversee the country’s politics and could remove office holders that violate the Dayton Agreement, the treaty that ended the Bosnian War.

“Western Balkans—A Way Forward” essentially proposes giving the Serbs and Croats what they wanted in the war. Given how diverse and scattered Bosnia-Herzegovina’s populations are, many fear that, if the paper is taken seriously, it would lead to another war.

But there are reasons to suspect that many outside powers actually like aspects of the deal.

Slovenia is a European Union member state. So is Croatia, which would benefit from an increase in territory. That the paper likely made it to the President of the European Council and he didn’t condemn it suggests that there are at least some in Brussels who aren’t too upset with its idea.

The EU has been eyeing the Balkans for years. Slovenia and Croatia are already member states. But Brussels wants all the ex-Yugoslav states in its fold.

There’s one big problem, though. Serbia is very close to Russia. So are Bosnian Serbs. Bosnian Serbs are the reason Bosnia-Herzegovina hasn’t joined the EU or nato. They prefer closer ties to Moscow. Croats and Bosnian Muslims, however, look to the West. The high representative, which from the office’s inception has always been held by an EU national, also keeps Russian influence in the country to a minimum.

Russia and the West have been fighting over the Balkans for decades. And so far, it’s been a stalemate. Bosnia-Herzegovina remains West-oriented. But Russia has taken up some of the Bosnian Serb causes as its own. For example, it calls for the abolishment of the high representative, something Bosnian Serbs have wanted for years. Russia even trains Republika Srpska’s unofficial military; while Republika Srpska isn’t allowed to have an army of its own, it does have its own centralized police force. These police units receive paramilitary training in Russia.

Last year, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Bosnia-Herzegovina, Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik gifted him an Eastern Orthodox icon. The icon was apparently looted from eastern Ukraine by Russian-backed separatists or their associates. Many Serbs are fighting in Ukraine for separatist groups.

Serbia itself, meanwhile, is one of the biggest friends Russian President Vladimir Putin has in Europe. If Republika Srpska were to break from Bosnia-Herzegovina and join Serbia, Putin’s ally would become more powerful, at the expense of Western-oriented Sarajevo.

Meanwhile, the West—specifically Germany—is also trying to influence things in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The current high representative for 12 years is Austria’s Valentin Inzko. Berlin wants him replaced with one of their own: Christian Schmidt. Germany apparently didn’t consult with the EU, America or the United Kingdom in making this announcement.

Schmidt has served in various capacities in Angela Merkel’s government, most recently as her minister of transport and digital infrastructure. He is a member of the Christian Social Union (csu), a conservative and nationalist party from Bavaria that is Merkel’s coalition partner. He served as the parliamentary secretary of state for defense under Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. He was the former chair of the German-Israeli and German-British Parliamentary Friendship Groups. Since 2006, he has been the president of the German Atlantic Society, a lobby group for good relations with America and Canada.

He is also considered a Russland-Versteher (“Russia-understander”), a term referring to someone with in-depth knowledge about Russia and the Russian way of doing things. Schmidt is also very close to the Croatian government. He’s won the Order of Ante Starčević, an award given to domestic and foreign beneficiaries of the Croatian state. Other recipients of the award include Croat war criminals from the 1990s.

Germany’s push to appoint a Croatian sympathizer as high representative may be a sign of Berlin’s approval for Janša’s ideas.

The term “Balkan separatism” brings to mind ethnic cleansing and bloody massacres; but peaceful national “divorces” aren’t too rare in Eastern Europe. Serbia and Montenegro used to be united; the union peaceably ended in 2006. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Czechoslovakia peaceably dissolved into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Nobody wants another war in the Balkans. But Berlin and Moscow may be interested in carving up Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Russia would give the Serbians what they’ve always wanted: a part of former Yugoslavia they felt was unjustly taken from them. This would make Serbia more powerful. And this means making one of Putin’s friends on the border with the EU more powerful, adding pressure on Europe.

Germany, meanwhile, by kicking the Bosnian Serbs out of the equation, could finally have the remnant of Bosnia-Herzegovina added to the EU and nato. Germany is the economic heart of Europe. It also has one of the EU’s most powerful militaries.

It would also increase fellow EU member Croatia’s influence in the region. And it would add to Slovenia’s prestige if a Slovenian prime minister solved the leftover problems of the Balkan wars.

Time will tell if anything comes from the “Western Balkans—A Way Forward” plan. But if it happened, it wouldn’t be the first time Germany and Russia cooperated with each other in Eastern Europe.

The most infamous expression of this was in 1939, when Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin jointly invaded Poland. Germany annexed western Poland while the Soviet Union annexed eastern Poland. Moscow also got the Baltic States and parts of Romania. This Nazi-Soviet pact directly led to World War ii.

But evidence suggests more recent examples of German-Russian cooperation to the detriment of Eastern Europe. In 2014, a revolution toppled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who many Ukrainians saw as being too close to Russia. Ukraine was on the verge of making an agreement with the EU, but then Putin annexed Crimea. Since then, he’s backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, throwing the country into a civil war.

“In the 1990s, Germany led Europe, the U.S. and the UN to rip the Balkans away from the former Soviet Union,” writes Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry in his free booklet The Prophesied ‘Prince of Russia.’ “It is highly probable that, at some point, Germany made a deal with Russia not to intervene in Putin’s conquest of Ukraine. … Germany virtually stood up to the whole world to get control of the Balkans. … Yet Germany did nothing to help Ukraine, which was about to become a member of the European Union!”

To this day, Ukraine seems no closer to joining the EU.

Then there is the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Russia is a major energy exporter to Western Europe. Its most important fossil fuel pipelines pass through Ukraine and Poland. Kiev and Warsaw get transit fees from this. This also gives a measure of deterrence against Russian aggression. If Moscow waged full-scale war against Poland or Ukraine, this would disrupt their exports and hurt the Russian economy.

Nord Stream 2 travels directly between Russia and Germany through the Baltic Sea. This would let Russia’s energy exports bypass Eastern Europe completely. Russia could threaten to turn the gas taps off if Poland or Ukraine become too friendly with the West. As for Germany, Nord Stream 2 could make it the energy capital of Western Europe.

One way or another, it seems that Berlin and Moscow are getting too cozy. Whether anything happens with the Bosnia-Herzegovina memorandum or not, it still shows a shift with the way Europe deals with Russia.

Recent history teaches us that this isn’t a good sign.

To learn more about Russian and German interests in Eastern Europe, request our free booklets Germany’s Conquest of the Balkans and The Prophesied ‘Prince of Russia.’ Also read Mr. Flurry’s article “Germany and Russia’s Secret War Against America.”