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Following the break of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, and the ethnic conflict that engulfed Bosnia and Herzegovina, a peace agreement was eventually reached in 1995. According to the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (otherwise known as the Dayton Agreement), signed in 1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a single state, which consists of two political entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, principally comprising the Bosniak (Muslim)- and Croat-majority areas, and Republika Srpska (RS), principally comprising the Serb-majority area.

Separatism in Republika Srpska

In recent years, the Bosnian Serbs in the Republika Srpska (RS) have adopted a more assertive separatist stance under the leadership of Milorad Dodik. Dodik is currently a member of the three-person collective presidency of BiH, and was previously the President of RS. Dodik has voiced his ambition to organise a referendum on RS independence, and railed against various decisions taken by the international High Representative for BiH. The Bosnian Serbs are currently boycotting key institutions of the state of BiH, and Dodik has announced RS will withdraw from the BiH armed forces.

There is increasing international concern that these developments could lead to a return to the ethnic conflict of the past. In a report to the United Nations published in November 2021, the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina wrote that BiH “is facing the greatest existential threat of the post-war period”. He said this not only endangered the peace and stability of the country and the region, but could also lead to the undoing of the Dayton Agreement.

International Reaction

The USA, UK and EU have reaffirmed their support for the territorial integrity of BiH. A joint EU-US statement in October expressed concern about the divisive rhetoric in the country. Dodik is already subject to US sanctions. Some EU Member States have mooted EU sanctions against Dodik, but Dodik claims to have support from some EU leaders. Dodik has also said he has support from Russia and China. Both Russia and China have opposed the role of the High Representative in BiH, and Russia has refused to endorse international statements expressing concern at Dodik’s actions.

Dodik has said that if the EU were to impose sanctions, then RS would declare its independence. He has also said that RS would “defend ourselves with our own forces” and that if NATO intervened “we will ask our friends – who told us clearly and loudly they never abandon their friends – to help us”.

The EU-led Operation Althea is currently deployed in BiH, on the basis of a UN Security Council mandate, to support BiH authorities in the maintenance of a safe and secure environment. It consists of around 600 military personnel.

NATO Foreign Ministers were due to discuss how to support stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina at a meeting on 30 November 2021.

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