Former Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic spoke to the One Decision podcast about various topics, including Bosnia and Herzegovina's NATO path, and warned of the Russian influence in the region. She said she was "very worried" about BiH.
While serving as NATO assistant secretary for general public diplomacy former Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic said she sought faster accession of neighbouring countries to NATO and EU, adding that there was a lot of discussion about BiH, whether the country should get the Membership Action Plan (MAP) or not because they had formally fulfilled some criteria on registering former military properties etc.
The former President told One Decision she was trying to explain to everyone that they cannot just let it go, that this was an excuse those who opposed NATO and EU accession in BiH were using to their favour, to keep the country away from membership.
She noted that there are still old elites in BiH like in some of the neighbouring countries, who claim that they want their countries to join both of these organisations, but most of them will not want that because most would not be able to function under circumstances of transparency, they would not be able to continue their political careers, and some of them would end up in jail.
If you look at BiH a few years ago, she said, the MAP was one of the few things everyone could agree upon, including Republika Srpska entity President Milorad Dodik, who “is so pro-Russian and pro-Putin and travels to Russia. He doesn’t even hide it, travels openly, and receives his instructions from Putin or from somebody else in Russia.”
The armed forces, at least at the time, were the only factor that kept the country together, the Croatian President said adding that by giving the MAP to BiH NATO would have a high degree of control on where BiH is going securitywise a militarywise. She noted, however, that “unfortunately we’ve lost that opportunity because RS was very clear they don’t want NATO, they don’t want the EU.”
Grabar-Kitarovic noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin is recreating the spheres of influence, as well as the spheres of control.
He is going much beyond the sphere of influence the Russian empire had, she said, citing the example of the Balkans.
According to her, the Russian Empire was never interested in Croatia or BiH, it was always east of the river Drina that the Russian Empire had their interest. She noted the example when Putin openly said in one of the private conversations that ‘they had unfortunately let Slovenia and Croatia get away and become EU and NATO members, but that he was not going to let go of the other countries.’ Except for Montenegro’s accession to NATO.
“In my opinion, we should embrace these countries and help them. I’m not saying without fulfilling the criteria, but we should not be losing the hearts and minds of people, because the lack of progress in EU and NATO membership is creating a vacuum that is very skillfully being filled by Russia with disinformation, like ‘look they don’t want you, why would you want to be there, come with us’. Or some other third parties who are not necessarily benevolent to the region of the Western Balkans,” Grabar-Kitarovic said.
She expressed her grave concern about BiH, where, she said, the situation is very volatile and the biggest concern when it comes to stability.