The EU voted on December 15th to grant Bosnia-Herzegovina candidate status, paving the way for it to gain European Union membership. While Bosnians have long bemoaned (tongue-in-cheek) the fact that a country such as Romania was so easily admitted to the “exclusive” club, while Bosnia was sidelined indefinitely, Brussels reasoned that it was nearly impossible to admit a country divided into ethno-nationalist entities with a three-headed dysfunctional government that is, at best, paralyzed when it comes to decision-making. It had long been a local joke that the only legislative change the tripartite leadership had agreed on since Dayton was the abolishment of the death sentence. With a Bosnian Serb entity run like a micro-empire by Russian puppet Milorad Dodik, and a Federation entity with a Western bent, Brussels has always felt that it would be bringing on a country whose sovereignty was in question.
Russia’s war on Ukraine and its energy warfare with Europe at large changes things. Now it’s a geopolitical necessity to bring the Balkans into the fold. Instead of punishing Bosnia for its divisions, Brussels is now inclined to embrace the country before Russia and China start using these vulnerable states as puppets in wider geopolitical games. One “use” for Russia is the ability to create instability, either between former wartime rivals Bosnia and Serbia or between Serbia and Kosovo–or both. Neighboring Serbia is a Russian ally, and while everyone has been waiting for Putin to take advantage of this to destabilize the region and sow fears of a repeat of the 1992-1995 wars, he has not made such a move, and all is quiet on the Balkan front - for now, but all the while Putin is definitely sowing divisions and subtly working on fanning the flames of an Orthodox nationalism where he can. Even if no decisive move has been made, the threat looms large, and there will be a Russia trace in the current unrest in Kosovo. Moscow’s strategy is to foment unrest from behind the scenes. Chances are Bosnia does not view Brussels as much of a protective force.
Ask your average Bosnian whether they are dying to join the EU and you are likely to get a dismissive wave of the hand. The marketing allure has significantly dulled. Brexit made that clear. And neighboring Croatia isn’t necessarily having an easy ride in the EU. The Croatian Central Bank head is in a panic right now because the country is obliged to start using the euro on January 1st, and it’s going to be chaos - chaos of the sort that can bankrupt a nation. Then there’s the energy crisis and a European Union that failed miserably to protect itself against Russian blackmail, fully embracing Russian money. There aren’t many reasons left to join the EU now except from a geopolitical perspective, and we have NATO for that. Europe’s extending its hand now to Bosnia, but it’s too late. Russia already owns the Bosnian Serb entity’s (Republika Srpska) oil industry, via Serbia, and Dodik is bragging about a pet project to build a pipeline to import Russian gas. Bosnia might have begged at the beginning, but those times have passed. Now, Europe will beg for the Balkans as a bulwark against Russia. Though it’s late in the game, if Europe fully wins over Serbia, it will win Bosnia, too, most likely.
Natural gas plays a big role in all of this. Serbia’s pro-Russian president, Alexander Vucic, has refused to abide by EU sanctions because the country needs Russian gas. A new gas deal with Azerbaijan, however, renders this argument less powerful. The interconnector that will make this happen, between Bulgaria and Serbia, will be launched in 2023. Bosnia would like to get in on Azeri gas, too, which may be possible through the proposed Ionian-Adriatic Pipeline. But for now, Bosnia is relying on Russian gas via the TurkStream pipeline. In June, it extended its contracts with Gazprom until the end of this year, but in October, Gazprom hiked prices by 9.7% for the Bosnian Federation and by 5.6% for Republika Srpska.