The Federal Foreign Office says: “Together with our European and NATO partners, we will not allow a security vacuum in our immediate vicinity”.
The German government has paved the way for deploying troops with the European Union peacekeeping mission in Bosnia for the first time in a decade, amid growing concerns about instability spilling over from the Ukraine war to the western Balkans.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert told journalists at a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday that the cabinet had decided to send troops to EUFOR-Althea, which has been active since 2004.
Seibert said a maximum of 50 soldiers will be deployed for a year, marking a return to the force in Bosnia that left Germany in late 2012.
Some of the troops are to man two so-called liaison and observation teams, which are spread around the country and will act as sensors for the EUFOR command, while others will work at the headquarters in Sarajevo.
The Council of Ministers’ decision has yet to be approved in the Bundestag, and Seibert said that after approval in Parliament, German soldiers could serve until the end of June next year and the period could be extended.
The Federal Ministry of Defense also announced that the Federal Government had decided to resume participation in the EU mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina at EUFOR-Althea.
“A stable Western Balkan region is of great importance to us. The first consultation in the Bundestag is expected to take place on June 24, ”it said on Twitter.
“A Security Vacuum”
Bosnia is hundreds of miles from the fighting in Ukraine but faces an increasingly assertive Bosnian Serb separatist movement that analysts say has at least tacit support from Moscow.
Just days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU decided to almost double the size of its EUFOR peacekeeping force from 600 to 1,100, sending in reserves to ward off potential instability.
As Bosnia’s Serbian leader Milorad Dodik became increasingly vocal about his secessionist goals, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the move a “precautionary measure”.
NATO and senior EU officials have warned instability from the war in Ukraine could spread to the western Balkans.
“This is Germany’s reaction to the tense situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the Federal Foreign Office said on Twitter on Wednesday.
“Even with a view to the elections in October, together with our European and NATO partners, we will not allow a security vacuum in our immediate vicinity.”
But Toby Vogel, a senior associate at the Democratization Policy Council, noted that Bosnia had already had a security vacuum “since at least 2011, when the EU dropped EUFOR below minimum operational strength.”
Bosnia and Herzegovina has been in a security vacuum since at least 2011, when the EU allowed EUFOR to drop below minimum operational strength (and Germany withdrew its troops). https://t.co/2klnqX0rYU
— Toby Vogel (@tobyvogel) June 15, 2022
EUFOR’s current mandate expires in November and it is up to the UN Security Council to decide whether to extend it for another year. But there are growing concerns that Moscow could use its veto to thwart a deal.
The EU operation EUFOR-Althea, active since 2004, is the successor to NATO’s peacekeeping missions in the country.
European troops are tasked with stabilizing the country after the 1992-95 war that claimed around 100,000 lives.
In December 1995, as part of the Dayton Peace Accords, Bosnia was split into two entities: a Bosniak-Croat “federation” and a Serb-led entity known as the Republika Srpska.
Dodik has made no secret of his admiration for and close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and it is widely believed that his bid for a secession of Republika Srpska has Kremlin backing.