Four days ago, the Croatian Defense Forces (OSRH) presented first 30 out of 212 MRAP (Mine-Resistant-Ambush-Protected) transport vehicles. The vehicles were received as an equipment donation executed within U.S Government’s EDA programme. It’s one of the largest contributions to modernization of Croatian land forces during last decade, and contribution on a strenghening of capabilities required for a modern asymetric warfare challenges.
On the occasional interview given for the one of national TV channels, I noticed, the OSRH chief-in-command gen. Lovric had confirmed United States are Croatian main strategic partner. He also announced a camo painting on the vehicles will be changed from desert to the standard Croatian darkgreen pattern, because of their new “usage in home terrain”. Indicative reason.
The donation of MRAPs was agreed while the armed forces have been facing with serious functionality problems and suffering material shortcomings. Thus indicative Lovric words have attracted attention of the interested public in Croatia awared about difficulties in Army. So, there emerged a critical question: what could be real purpose of those massive, specialized, heavily armored and anti-ambush customized vehicles in the “home terrain”, so far away from a IEDs, Talibans and Syria? What to do with a heap of MRAPs in the Adriatic and western Balkans area?
It may looks like banal and quite paranoid to someone, but the donation has provoked an interesting premise. It’s assumption that the general’s words are covering up a real possibility that the introduction of vehicles (intended primary for COIN purposes) should be related with a possible arrangement of the Croatian land forces on eventual peace-keeping missions in Bosnia.
So, what’s up with Bosnia?
In ordinary discourse of Balkans studies, Bosnia is almost unanimously perceived as an unquenched source of troubles in the area. In 2014 Economist Intelligence Unit’s risk analysis, Bosnia was ranked as one of the countries with the highest risk of civil unrest. Indeed, those analytical predictions were proven on recent popular demonstrations which were started in February. Occurrence of these riots have been actualizing a problematic issue of functionality and subsistence of the most unstable Balkans country, and making clear now that the Bosnian history burden won’t evanish soon.
Regarding a progression of dissent in the American-Russian relations over the Ukrainean crisis, and it’s reflection on the European political scene, Bosnia’s case is becoming more and more interesting for observation as suitable ground of destabilization in Balkans.
Putin’s controversial tenet of nation’s right on self-determination as a basis for a righteous unilateral secession, which was demonstrated distinctly through rising up of the Ukrainian Russian minority during Ukrainean crissis and the anexation of Crimea, have been echoing over the complex Bosnian political reality burdened with 1990’s civil war legacy. In particular, it reflected on underpinning a separatist tendencies amongst the Bosnian Serbs in Republika Srpska entity.
The four-year long civil war in Bosnia successfully ceased in 1995 by the Dayton Agreement deal between belligerents – Serbian at one, and Croatian and Muslim representatives on other side. Two separated pseudo-state entities were established in the federalized country: Serbian Republika Srpska and Muslim-Croatian Federation. But, despite the peace deal, a national question of Serbs, Croats and Bosniak-Muslims remained an unsolved issue till nowadays. Preservation of status-quo from 1995 is still a main obstacle in a further development of the country towards a custody-free functionality. With the legalization of Republika Srpska state-in-state, forged by ethnic cleansing, Bosnia and Herzegovina was left as an unrealized country in permanent state of inter-ethnic attrition. With a basis foothold in the achievement of homogeneous Serbian ethnic theritory, Republika Srpska has developed and promoted notable Serbian and anti-Bosnian identity for the last 20 years.
Under the leadership of Milorad Dodik, controversial politician whose open allusions to Republika Srpska separation are often provoking Bosnian integralists, Republika Srpska has been trying to distance itself from the formal Sarajevo and to undermine any revision of the Dayton Agreement directed in scope of unification. And, she done it well. The last prominent Dodik’s provocation was alleged in a context of Crimean referendum and consequent annexation in late April. He expressed open sympathies for the Putin’s endeavor overtly wishing same scenario for Bosnia. Although Dodik’s vision of the independent Bosnian Serbian state isn’t well grounded in an achievable politics and doesn’t reflect an attitude of the Bosnian serbs in general, it’s more clear that a potential abolition of Republika Srpska and integration with Bosniaks has a negligible low-level public support in the Serbian dominated entity. Any forced effort which could be placed in that way would result with a general discontent in the Bosnian Serbs population, what is a risky undertaking if we take into an account a facts about civil possession of high amounts of illegal arms and weapons. Tittup with an alive collective memory could trigger off undesirable counter-effects for the peace-keepers.
On the other hand, a revived Russian foreign policy is taking a gander on Republika Srpska. Western political elites couldn’t ignore a spreading of Russian presence over Bosnia, as they did during mid-90s. At least, it was clear after the Medvedev-Dodik meeting in Belgrade in October 2009, and confirmed again in March 2011 with a Putin’s backup for the Dodik’s Thing. Also, there is increasing of a Russian economic influence in Republika Srpska. It’s especially evident in a growing investments on energy, transportation, financial and mining sector (read more here and here). While the interest of Russians in Republika Srpska is percetible and concrete, similar investments in Federation are almost non-existing. Although there are delays in a realization of investments and projects, and assumptions about speculative motives lying behind the Russian capital, we can infer it’s a clear message which can be interpreted as tightening of Moscow’s relationships with the Serbian entity.
It’s important to consider that the recent demonstrations in Federation part, which have destabilized country from the ground up and indicated a likely possibility of breakdown of inefficient government, weren’t echoed in Republika Srpska on a such amplitude. A support for protesting outcry towards an actual Bosnian leadership, Dodik also, was minimal there. Nonetheless, the anti-government demonstrations weren’t spread in parts with a Croatian majority, too. There is a clear reason for that passive stance of Serbs and Croats, thougt it was negated by protest supporters: an undoubt connotations of integralistic Bosniak nationalism which were incorporated beyond a social revolt facade. Protesters had applied for urgent decreasing of complex, expensive and corrupted beaurocracy, which means suspension of entities and establishment of an united civic state in Bosnia. For non-integralists it wasn’t good offer to pick. Among communities of local Serbs and Croats these claims were perceived as political motions against their national interests and striving for an unitary Bosnia. For greater part of Croatians in Federation, suspicions about Bosniak nationalism had became true after burning of headquarters of HDZ party in Mostar in February 6th (protesters had set fire in dozen of goverment buildings in Bosnian cities!). Under this acronym HDZ is the most popular Croatian party in Bosnia, a bearer of a national political identity. Without significant participation of Croatian and Serbian elements, an original social indignation quickly transformed to the Bosniakian national “revolution” ideologically aimed to throw off any unpopular “strange” and “parasitic” political or cultural elements from Bosnia – including the disloyal Serbian and Croatian national identity, inter alia.
Bosnia in scope of Russian strategic influence over Balkans
The Ukrainean crisis and its escalation in city Odessa, in vicinity of an another potential crisis point – pro-Russian Transdniestria, deeply concerned Romania, the most tenacious supporter of a strong American military presence in the Balkans and patron of Moldovan anti-separatist attitude regarding Transdniestrian autonomy. Can Russia revive old-days ambitions from the Imperial and Soviet age and try to challenge NATO and US in Balkans, after she success to interupt the Ukraine’s drift to West?
History of the Russian foreign policy was been greatly marked by an endeavor to seize “warm sea” approach and to set free from limitations stemmed of the Black sea basin isolation. Russia had tried to reach those aims militarily and diplomaticly during a long period of two centuries. At first, thru assertive campaigns against “sick” Ottoman Empire in 18th century, what was sucessfully neutralized by interventions from Western powers. During the 19th century, she was aiming to support a Balkans nationalistic and revolutionary movements in an areas populated by the Orthodox Christians, at first through Serbs and after via the idea of Great Bulgaria. But, after all, it quited without a chance to challenge a sphere of influence of an European powers. Chance had opened again by antifascist liberation campaigns in WW2. In the WW2 Russia reached far the greatest penetration in Balkans, but again her strategic influence over the eastern Mediterranean had been distracted by a deal between Stalin and Allies. The deal was about leaving Greece and Turkey outside a Moscow’s range. A strategical orientation towards Southeast Europe and Mediterranean had been a destiny of Russian geopolitics for so long time it can’t be ignored in modern times, despite widening of NATO sphere over Balkans meanwhile. Non-NATO and divided Bosnia is one of suitable frontlines where Moscow can challenge NATO’s umbrella in region, so on that way Russia can exploit American product of “unfinished state” and kick it back, although eduction of open conflict there is very low possibility.
Unstable Bosnia – a base for an Islamic terrorists net
An assumption that Bosnia was intentionally left as a source of instability by the US Government in 1995, through creation of a chaotic “unfinished state”, is very intriguing. Maybe it sounds like anti-USA conspiracy theory cooked up inside tin-foil heads, but, um… on Bosnia said “where smoke, there should be a fire”…at least, this issue isn’t unquestionable dogma…
The pure fact is that an existence of quite independent Republika Srpska entity is disabling Bosnia to conduct internal reforms and achieve a solid base for developing in a modern European country. But, Republika Srpska wasn’t Bosnian fate determined by a real Serbian was success. On the contrary, the total defeat of Serbian rebellion and an abolition of the rogue Serbian territory unit was almost certain during mid October 1995, when the Croatian Army (HV) and Bosnian Croats armed units (HVO) jointly reached 25 km from Banja Luka city (read about, on French), capital of Republika Srpska. “City was on point blank range, Serbian ranks and lines in chaos. And then, Americans urged to stop operation and threatened with air strikes if attackers reject their claims. Banja Luka was saved, and so Republika Srpska was defended. Americans placed justification for stop order they did that to evade new ” humanitarian catastrophe” in Bosnia”. – This is how looks like popular explanation of US direct entaglement into ongoing HV-HVO military operation, with aim to preserve Serbian territorial achievements and legalize vicious rebellion … and what’s interesting, it’s fact based mostly.
Beside Republika Srpska, creation of Federation of BiH under dominance of Islamic Bosniaks (50% of total BiH population), with Croatians as minority, had been forming a precondition for development of Islamic structures. So simple it is there- democracy is rule of people with Muslim background. During the wartime, an undetermined number of Mujahideens from all over the world had fought on the Bosnian side, alongside regular troops of Army BiH. They were welcomed even by legitimate state president, Alija Izetbegović, although he never had announced it publicly (clip here). Most of them were deported after the war, following to the Dayton Agreement, on a strict US claim, but many remained in Bosnia as citizens and emerged family life there.
Since mid-1990s, Bosnia has passed through a rising of Islamist’s influence maintained by financial and material support from Saudi Arabia and Iran. Just from Saudi sources, via High Saudi Aid Comitee Bosnia received 560 millions of US dollars from 1992 to 2012 .
The changes in Bosnian society were noticeable for last 20 years. With Saudi influnce came not only an aid for renewal of cultural and religious heritage, but an import of Wahhabi Islam taught which wasn’t familiar to a secularized Bosnian society before 1990s. The Islamistic view of Islam was promoted in many of cultural centers, humanitarian agencies and by controversial Salafite imams, like leader of the Bosnian Wahhabis Bilal Bosnić who is keen to provoke a public by sermons offended to the moderate Muslims and the Christians. According to statements of Bosnian intelligence agency (OSA) chief, Džuvo, there was 3000 Wahabbi members in Bosnia in 2012, and the movement popularity is increasing on.
Further Islamization of Bosnia, which is developing underneath of a developement of the modern Bosnian identity, is obvious on growing of main religion’s influence in public life, an extensive building of Muslims religious objects in the poverty-ridden society, mythologization of a history, and a rise of aversion towards recognition of constitutional status and national rights of Croats and Serbs.
In combination with Wahabbi movement, serious security threat presents a fact that 300-400 Bosnian Muslims is fighting alongside the radical Islamist insurgents in Syrian Civil war at this moment. What unstable and pauper Bosnia can expect when those fighters come back home? Bilal’s optimistical vision of Bosnia dedicated to the “true Islam” and Wahabbis insistence on loyality to a sharia rules makes a fertile ground for their activation in further radicalization and degradation of traditional and tolerant Bosnian Muslim tradition.
Croatian claims for equality and fullfilling of national rights in Federation, or even those directed to formation of third entity, could be first victim of such developments. But, also, it could be possible that aspirations for united Bosnia transfer to Republika Srpska, as main culprit of political unsustainability, in eyes of hardcore Bosnian integralist’s.
With a destablization of Bosnia by underground pro-jihadist forces and a dissemination of potential terrorist net, established firstly at 1993, Bosnia could be put on a map of world’s critical terrorist “recruitment zones” again. Thus, the US foreign policy can achieve alibi to bolster political and military influence in Balkans, where penetration of Russian influence can be expected via Republika Srpska and Serbia. The rising Islamism gives a good reason in front of international community to put in a rhetoric “war on terror” and exploit it, but now with problem epicenter right on borders of Europe, after Iraq and Afganistan will have probably be worn out. On the other hand, radicalized Bosnia gives US Governement another Al-Qaeda base for persuasion on domestic public opinion, something that American military lobby and implementers of doctrine of global anti-terrorist security needs as lasting reason d’etree.
Why the Croatian forces are favorable choice if violence escalate?
In hypothetical case of an international community’s reaction against a rising of militant Islamism in Bosnia, it’s highly possible that the big segment of peace-keeping mission will be devolved on the NATO member Croatian Armed Forces. There are two reasons: a) Croatians are familiar with Bosnian culture, habits, politics and behaviour, and speak the same language as Bosniaks what is crucial in a counterinsurgency effort, and secondary, b) Republic of Croatia has an obligation to protect Croatians in Bosnia and to react on any forced overturn of the Dayton Agreement framework.