NATO chief starts tour of Western Balkans
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg arrived in Sarajevo on Sunday, kicking off a mini tour of four Western Balkan countries, three of which are not members of the military alliance and are seen as posing potential security risks.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has been in NATO’s Membership Action Plan since 2010. However, it has not taken concrete steps towards membership because of a slow pace of reforms and political blockades by Bosnian Serb leaders, who oppose NATO membership and have also blocked attempts to join international sanctions against Moscow.
In light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and the changed security environment in Europe, NATO increased its support for Bosnia and in 2023 endorsed a new Defence Capacity Building package for the country.
After meeting the Bosniak, Croat, and Serb members of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s collective presidency on Sunday, Stoltenberg will on Monday go to Kosovo, a former province of Serbia that declared independence in 2008 and is still patrolled by NATO-led peacekeeping troops, KFOR.
The visit comes after a breakdown in political talks and increased tensions between Serbia and Kosovo in recent months, culminating in an assault by armed gunmen on a Kosovo police patrol in September, which the EU dubbed a “terrorist attack”.
On Tuesday, Stoltenberg will travel to Serbia – a country NATO bombed in 1999 to halt the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo. While Belgrade has since set its sights on EU membership, it has declared that joining the military alliance is not its strategic aim. It has also so far refused to endorse sanctions against Moscow.
The last on the list is North Macedonia, which joined NATO in 2022.
According to N1, Stoltenberg will hold a meeting on Wednesday with regional leaders, including those from NATO members Albania and Montenegro, as well as NATO and EU members Croatia and Slovenia.
(Zoran Radosavljevic | Euractiv.com)