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Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, concerns have been raised about the impact on stability in the Western Balkans. 

The Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has spoken of the need to  

support non-NATO countries that could be the next target of Putin’s aggressions, like our friends in the Caucasus and the Western Balkans. 

Russia has maintained close relations with Serbia, and the Bosnian Serb leadership in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although Serbia is a candidate for EU membership, it has not aligned with EU sanctions against Russia. However, it did vote for a UN resolution condemning Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.     

Under the leadership of Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serbs have adopted an increasingly assertive separatist stance in recent years. This had led to warnings that the peace accords that ended the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s could unravel.  

The Western Balkans has also been viewed as a particular target of Russian disinformation, with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia the most affected.  

Bosnia and Herzegovina  

Since the Dayton Agreement of 1995, there have been two largely self- governing entities in the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH): 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.  

Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb representative on the collective BiH presidency, 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 boycotting key institutions of the state of BiH, and Dodik has announced RS will withdraw from the BiH armed forces. 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”.  

Relations with Russia 

Dodik has said he has support from Russia and China, and that if NATO intervened in BiH ““we will ask our friends to help us”.  Dodik met with President Putin in Moscow in December 2021. According to Dodik, Putin reiterated his backing for “joint economic projects”. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, Dodik said BiH would not be joining EU sanctions against Russia, although he said he supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine.  

International Reaction 

The USA, UK and EU have reaffirmed their support for the territorial integrity of BiH. The USA has placed sanctions on Dodik. There are discussions in the EU about imposing sanctions, but some Member States, including Hungary, have been opposed.  


Russia has allied with Serbia in opposing Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia, and blocking it from joining the United Nations. In November 2021, Serbia’s President Aleksandar met President Putin in Sochi, confirming an agreement on gas supply viewed as advantageous for Serbia.  

While not aligning with EU sanctions in relation to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Serbia did however vote in favour of the United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine. There have been public demonstrations in Serbia  both in favour and against the Russian invasion 

President Vučić has sought to distance Serbia from the separatist activities of Milorad Dodik in BiH, while being critical of the US and allied approach to BiH. 


Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have remained high. In February 2022, Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani accused Russia of using Serbia to destabilise the Balkan region.  In a visit to the UK in March 2022, Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti said he wanted Kosovo to join NATO as soon as possible. He warned about the conflict in Ukraine spilling over into the Western Balkans, and that President Putin “wants the state of Kosovo to fail in order to show that NATO success was temporary, just like in Iraq and Afghanistan.”  


Montenegro has a large Serbian population, which is traditionally sympathetic to Russia. Relations with Russia deteriorated when Montenegro joined sanctions against Russia in 2014 following its annexation of Crimea and involvement in hostilities in Eastern Ukraine. Russia condemned Montenegro’s accession to NATO in 2017, and said it was “damaging for the stability of the Balkans and Europe as a whole”. In 2016 Montenegro accused Russia of sponsoring a failed coup attempt, allegedly designed to stop Montenegro from joining NATO. 

The Western Balkans and EU membership 

The EU has approved the beginning of accession negotiations with Albania, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia but progress with accession talks has been slow. Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina have also been identified as potential candidates.  

Some EU Member States are reluctant to agree to further enlargement.  Commentators have warned that this reluctance is fuelling instability in the region, and making some countries more prone to Russian influence. 

Candidate countries are expected to align with EU sanctions policy. Serbia has been criticised by the European Parliament for not doing so in relation to Russia.  


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