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Schmidt for German media: Russia is developing a "potential for destruction" in the Balkans

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Russia is developing a "potential for destruction" in the Balkans. That could destabilize countries in the region, High Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina Christian Schmidt warned in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

Christian Schmidt accused Vladimir Putin of setting fire to the situation in the Western Balkans, and now he is "reversing".

DW: You said that Vladimir Putin is inflaming (the situation) in the Balkans. What it means?

 Christian Schmidt: The situation in the Western Balkans is generally stable, but the impact of the war of aggression that the Russian Federation is waging against Ukraine has not been spared. Many people fear the transfer of war to this area. I do not. But I see the potential for destruction, the potential to create crisis hotspots through false news and other methods that could destabilize the countries of the region, especially Bosnia and Herzegovina. And that causes me a lot of concern.

 DW: There is great concern here in Europe as well. We saw that the Chancellor talked with the President of Serbia and the Prime Minister of Kosovo. Intense diplomatic talks are taking place. The German Minister of Foreign Affairs was in the region, as well as the Minister of Defense. How much should Europe be concerned about the loss of influence and credibility in tracing the path of these countries to the EU?

Schmidt: First of all, I can say that I am very grateful to the German government, which is taking intensive care of the region. Namely, this region is becoming one of the key ones in creating a political climate. It will be the same after the war against Ukraine. I believe that the useful and reasonable application of the instruments at the disposal of the European Union can have a stabilizing and calming effect. In the end, we will have to ask ourselves: can this country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and can other countries - in the European Union?

- That will raise a few more questions, and in the meantime we have to work on stabilizing the situation. That means we have to work on building trust and using that capital. Because, people expect things not to go wrong anymore. What does evil mean? In Bosnia and Herzegovina, and especially in Sarajevo, people have experienced what it means to live under siege for three years, to live in conditions of brutal war and brutal conflicts. And no one, no matter what ethnic group he belongs to, has no interest in ever experiencing it again. They have great confidence that the international community and Europe can prevent this. That is, in fact, the essence of what our task is, to give this country the opportunity to develop independently.

DW: The Western Balkans are at the top of the list of priorities, even here in Berlin. The German Minister of Foreign Affairs was there. The President of Serbia and the Prime Minister of Kosovo visited Berlin. What has been achieved so far?

Schmidt: At the moment, I cannot speak on behalf of the European Union or its policy, but I believe that, from a global point of view, it is necessary to act in moderation - depending on the situation in the countries. We need recognizable progress in those countries, which will then be able to use the right moment for European integration. If someone has the impression that nothing is changing for the better, that the rule of law is still weak, that he cannot find a job or adequate conditions for work, then he reacts to that and goes to other countries, to the countries of the European Union. That is why we must create a basis for trust. It’s not easy, but there are instruments we could use.

           - If you look at the fact that 27 years have passed since the Dayton Agreement, then I wonder how little the Croatian, Serbian and Bosniak sides managed to reconcile the differences in the memory of the past and merge them into a common understanding of the future. Everyone remembers what happened, but they do not draw very reliable conclusions about what should not be in the future and what must happen.

DW:  How do you assess the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić? He talks about the compromise he wants to reach on the issue of Kosovo's non-recognition as an independent state. Germany has clearly reiterated its request that recognition must take place and that this is a condition for joining the European Union. Do you really expect a step forward in the near future?

Schmidt: A step forward will be difficult to achieve. And as an observer, I think gradual harmonization would make sense. As for the recognition of Kosovo, which was not recognized by even five EU members, it would in any case mean for me to enable pragmatic cooperation between the two countries, Kosovo and Serbia.

What country do we Germans come from? We have experience when it comes to cooperation between East and West Germany, although there was no mutual recognition. From such a pragmatic way - which of course cannot be passed on one by one, because it was the time of the Cold War and communism - I would draw the following thought: We will never do everything possible, but what we do, we will do with good by will. Unfortunately, that has not been recognized in the relations between Serbia and Kosovo so far. And that must be worked on.

DW:  Europe now focuses on the Western Balkans. How do you assess the role of the United States?

Schmidt: First of all, I must state that the Americans are here again, that they have returned again in the sense that they feel responsible for the region. They have definitely set the goal of cooperation with the European Union, and it must continue to be built. Thank God that there is no more discussion in the United States about the exchange of territories with the aim of calming the situation in the region.

- Based on the Dayton Agreement, whose greatest success is that it simply brought peace and a ceasefire, we must further develop the country. It can be said that it is very late, but I do not think it is too late to try, with American support, to reach a clear orientation in the direction of the European Union.

DW: Germany has signaled a possible readiness to send more staff to the region. What are your expectations and hopes?

 Schmidt: I would be very happy if the German Federal Government and the German Bundestag decided to involve the Bundeswehr in the EUFOR-Altea mission. It is not just a matter of strengthening that mission. It is also about flexibility, in order to be able to provide security guarantees given to the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And that has nothing to do only with the number of soldiers, but also with their origin. It is good and right for other European countries to get involved.

 - My experience shows that there is almost no country in Europe in which, as in BiH, Germany is so highly valued and which enjoys such great trust. That trust must be invested, and it can be strengthened by joining the EUFOR-Altea mission, especially since it will significantly increase the internal resilience and defense of the society and the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

DW: EUFOR's mandate expires in November. What is the risk, what are the chances? Do you think that Russia will veto and block that mission in the future?

- Last week, I submitted a report to the UN Security Council on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was interesting to hear how Russia's contribution to the debate indicated the possibility of vetoing the extension of the EUFOR-Altea mission. However, that was not a clear announcement. I understood it more as a hint of how they, under the current circumstances, as a party to the war, see what is being prepared for the fall and what is feasible. In my opinion, this is not a key issue for the Russian Federation or other countries. The key question is: is it supported in principle or is there an attempt to negotiate something like that. We'll see. I can only strongly recommend that, by whatever legal means, the continuation of the EUFOR-Altea mission be ensured.

DW: As a High Representative, you have almost unlimited power. You can outvote democratically elected political decision-makers. The elections are in October and there are already problems with their organization and financing. Are you ready to use your powers to enable these elections to take place?

Schmidt: On the one hand, elections are the essence, the core of democracy. He who degrades the elections and reduces them to a tactical maneuver, does not understand that the citizen through the elections realizes the basic right to participate in governing the country. That is why the elections must be held and we must all create the conditions for their holding.

- I am very sorry that the state government has not succeeded so far, ie the Council of Ministers, which, at a time when BiH has not yet adopted a fixed budget, is competent to make a decision on financing the elections from the same budget. We have pointed this out several times at the international level, not only in a friendly, but also in a sharp tone. I must say that I would very, very much like to see the Council of Ministers adopt the budget.

 - You should just know that the international community, and I mean myself, will not allow the elections to fail because there is no money. There is money in Bosnia, and if no one is ready to adopt and initiate those mechanisms, then the international community must be called for help.

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