The UN Security Council extended a peacekeeping force in Bosnia-Herzegovina in a unanimous vote on November 3 that came after any mention of the office of an international peace envoy was removed from the text of the resolution to win support from Russia and China.
The vote authorizes the 600-strong European Union-led peacekeeping force, known as EUFOR, for another year.
The removal of any reference to the Office of the High Representative came after its current occupant, Christian Schmidt, said in his first report to the Security Council that the Balkan nation faces an “existential threat” from separatist actions by Bosnia Serbs.
Schmidt’s report warned that the prospects for further division and conflict in Bosnia “are very real" and said threats by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik to withdraw Serb troops from the Bosnian Army and create a separate Serb force and other moves would "ultimately undermine the state’s ability to function and carry out its constitutional responsibilities.”
Schmidt, who assumed the Office of the High Representative in August, did not brief the council on November 3 in what diplomats said was another move to placate Russia and China. But UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sent his report to the 15 members of the Security Council.
Russia has long backed Republika Srpska’s request to shut down the Office of the High Representative, which was set up as part of the 1995 peace deal to ensure compliance with civilian aspects of the accords.
During the debate on the resolution, Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused Western representatives of having a "dismissive attitude" toward Bosnia's sovereignty.
There was a "lack of desire to step outside of the image of a guardian of Bosnia and Herzegovina” who has a right to dictate how Bosnians are to build their state and govern their country, he said.
Nebenzia told the council that Moscow believes the high representative was appointed “in violation of international law" and strongly objected to the report from what he called “a private person” being circulated to council members.
The report is “an extreme biased and anti-Serb document the likes of which we haven't seen for a long time,” he said.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called for an end to “the heated rhetoric” from Dodik and agreed with Schmidt’s assessment that Dodik’s talk of Republika Srpska’s possible withdrawal from Bosnia is a “dangerous path” not only for Bosnia but for the wider Western Balkan region.
She also said Dodik's talk of drafting a new constitution for Republika Srpska “would pose a serious threat” to the Dayton accords, the 1995 peace deal that ended the war.
Thomas-Greenfield called for protection of the role of the high representative, whose office “serves as a foundation of stability for the country.” She also said Bosnia needs electoral and "limited constitutional" reform and stepped-up efforts to combat corruption so it can “move forward on its EU path.”
France's UN ambassador, Nicolas De Riviere, backed the high representative's role and condemned “all forms of questioning of the territorial integrity and the existence of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a state."
He called on the country's political leaders to overcome their divisions and make progress toward EU membership.
Sven Alkajal, Bosnia’s ambassador to the UN, said he agreed with Schmidt’s assessment that Bosnia currently is facing its greatest existential threat since the war.
He said Dodik’s plan is not only problematic and not possible under the existing constitution and would take Bosnia back 15 years.