SARAJEVO (Reuters) – The European Union decided on Thursday to almost double the size of its peacekeeping force in Bosnia by sending in 500 reserves as a precautionary measure to stave off any instability after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Bosnia lies hundreds of miles from the fighting but is facing an increasingly assertive Bosnian Serb separatist movement that analysts say has at least tacit support from Moscow.
“The deterioration of the security situation internationally has the potential to spread instability to Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the European Union’s EUFOR force said in a statement.
“It is a prudent and proportionate measure which reflects the EU’s and EUFOR’s unequivocal commitment to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia,” it added.
Bosnia, like Ukraine, has long said it wants to join NATO – both positions that have infuriated Russia.
Moscow said in March last year it would react if Bosnia takes steps towards joining the U.S.-led military alliance.
The Bosnian Serbs, led by pro-Russian Milorad Dodik, have also said they want the country to remain neutral and stay out of NATO.
Dodik, who is a Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, said on Wednesday that Bosnia should not take sides in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and that Serbs would never agree to Bosnia joining the sanctions against Russia.
EUFOR, which replaced NATO peacekeeping troops in Bosnia in 2004, is made up of about 3,500 personnel – 600 of them currently deployed in country.
About 500 personnel from Austria, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia, all of them EUFOR reserves currently stationed outside Bosnia, will be deployed there over the next two weeks, EUFOR said.
Bosnia has been going through its worst political crisis since the end of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, with Bosnian Serbs challenging state institutions as part of their long-time bid to secede and eventually join neighbouring Serbia.
Bosnia’s international peace envoy Christian Schmidt welcomed the decision to bolster the force saying it underlines the commitment of the international community to the stability of Bosnia.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Andrew Heavens)