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Western Balkans

Volume 704: debated on Tuesday 30 November 2021

1. What assessment her Department has made of the (a) political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and (b) potential for a renewed conflict in western Balkans. (904438)

I apologise that we do not have our normal cohort of Ministers here this morning. One of our colleagues tested positive for covid yesterday, and the Foreign Secretary is at a very important meeting with our NATO partners, where she will raise the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is serious, with Republika Srpska attempting de facto secession. We fully support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We are working with allies to support the peace stabilisation force EUFOR, enhance NATO’s posture and support the High Representative.

I thank the Minister for the answer. It is obviously important that we are strong, with the rest of the democracies in Europe and NATO, in our position regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina. What assessment have the Government made of Russia’s influence on what is happening in that country?

We see a concerning pattern of Russian behaviour. The aim is to hamper Euro-Atlantic integration in the region. The UK’s approach is clearly set out in the integrated review. The UK takes the threat from the Russian state extremely seriously and we will continue to call out Russian aggression.

It is clear that the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina has worsened considerably as a result of the separationist ambitions of Republika Srpska, which is backed by the Russian Federation. Can my hon. Friend the Minister tell me what discussions the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has had with the new High Representative and what steps we are taking as a nation to try to stabilise the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

We are fully committed to supporting High Representative Schmidt. At the NATO foreign ministerial meeting in Riga today, the Foreign Secretary will focus attention on Bosnia and Herzegovina and encourage greater engagement from the alliance to play an enhanced role. She will call on allies to contribute personnel to the NATO headquarters in Sarajevo and to support work to counter disinformation and strengthen defence reform. The UK will do its part.

I am sure that all hon. Members present are deeply concerned about the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina developing rapidly into conflict. What steps is the FCDO taking to assess the risk of atrocity in the region and take preventive action? What conversations has it had with civil societies of the Federation and Republika Srpska to encourage dialogue? How is the Foreign Secretary using her development programmes in the western Balkans, alongside diplomatic and security levers, to address the drivers of conflict?

As I said earlier, the political crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina is serious, which is precisely why the Foreign Secretary will raise it today. We are working hard to prevent it from becoming a security crisis, but the risk of miscalculation or exploitation remains. The hon. Lady asked about UK aid. Our embassy in Sarajevo supports a range of programmes that promote stability, security and prosperity, and targets programmes in support of civil society and media freedom.

Given the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is it time to look again at the rulings of the Dayton accords? Are the UK Government willing to put in the political effort to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated?

It is extremely important that the mistakes of the past are not repeated, which is precisely why my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will raise the issue with her NATO counterparts today.

Many of us remember the 1990s and the horrors of the first major war since the second world war. We also remember the horrors of Srebrenica, where Muslims were massacred by the Serbs. Should the Government not be speaking to the Americans and engaging with NATO to see what can be done to stabilise the situation? I remember observing the elections in Bosnia. It was a very delicate democracy then; it is even more delicate now. It is urgent that the Government act.

Let us be clear that Srebrenica was a genocide, as confirmed by international courts. We must not forget the victims. The UK has urged all political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region to reject hate speech; to condemn any glorification of the perpetrators of genocide and war crimes; and to respect the courts. It is precisely because it is so important that we work with our NATO partners that the Foreign Secretary will raise the situation in Riga today.