Attempts by the Bosnian Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik to detach Serb-controlled local governing institutions from the central government in Sarajevo can spiral out of control.
Over the past several weeks, Dodik has been threatening to withdraw from Bosnia’s federal institutions such as the military, judiciary, and tax administration, essentially triggering the breakup of Bosnia.
Bosnian Serbs have, essentially a de facto independent entity within Bosnia: Republika Srpska.
De-jure, it is formalized as an autonomy.
While the ongoing political tussle is unlikely to lead to war like the one in the 1990s, it will destabilize the Balkans politically.
In the 1990s, Serbian nationalism in Bosnia was propped by a state entity—the Republic of Serbia.
Today, Belgrade is interested in becoming a full-fledged member of the European Union and a member of Western Europe’s “political club.”
There is, therefore, no political incentive for Serbia to push its outdated expansionist narrative which would trigger a war on the scale of the 1990s.
The same applies to Croatia which is already an EU member.
It steers its political identity away from Croatian nationalism towards European political identity.
The above factors significantly decrease the possibility of military conflict.
However, there is another significant geopolitical factor which increases the chances of political tensions that can easily spiral out of control: the geopolitical ascendancy of Russia.
In the 1990s, Russia could not shape the situation in the Balkans and had to accept its role mainly as an observer.
Due to the internal realities of the times, Russia was going through multiple internal crises and had no time for the Balkans.
Russia of 2021 is not the Russia of the 1990s.
While it is not a global power the Western media hypes it to be, it is nevertheless an influential regional player in the emerging multipolar global order.
For Moscow, increased influence of Serbian nationalists in the Balkans is an opportunity to leverage Western regimes against their anti-Russia policies in the former Soviet Union and even in Syria.
Moscow sees the necessity of creating as many leverage points as possible against NATO regimes and prepare them to be activated at the opportune moment.
Moscow is not going to ignore the Balkans where it has historical, cultural, and according to the Russian Orthodox Church, existential interests, and bonds with the Serbian nation.
To this day, the Russian press frequently publishes regrets over Boris Yeltsin’s weak politics that failed to shape the war in Bosnia in Serbia’s favor.
At the broader level, Russia’s rise is seen as contributing to the multipolar world order to contain US belligerence.
In the Balkan context, it puts Bosnian Muslims at a geopolitical disadvantage in comparison to the 1990s.
Ironically, Turkey would find it beneficial to see increased Russian role among Bosnian Serbs.
Ankara is shaping its foreign policy by trying to position itself as the West’s go to state to push Western geopolitical interests in the Muslim world with a Muslim veneer.
Increased Russian role in the Balkans would provide an opportunity for Turkey to present itself as a natural and historic counterweight to Moscow’s influence in the Balkans.
Ankara is already playing the role of containing Russia in Eastern Europe, especially in Ukraine, by supplying Kiev with military drones against pro-Russian separatist forces.
While the current situation does not point to imminent armed conflict in the Balkans, Dodik’s latest move is the most radical one to push for the disintegration of Bosnia.
It can easily lead to unintended consequences.