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Hungary increases its military presence in Bosnia, EUFOR gets a Hungarian commander

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EUFOR military presence in Bosnia
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The news published in the Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard, stating that after January 1, 2024, a Hungarian general will take over the leadership of the EUFOR Althea mission in Sarajevo, has received a mixed response in the Bosnian media. In addition to greater military-diplomatic influence, the Hungarian army will also have to deploy a larger amount of combat equipment, and as a first step, the Butmir troops were reinforced with BTR-80 armored personnel carriers.

Enhanced Bosnian presence

The Slobodna Bosna news portal was the first to publish an illustrated article about the recent strengthening of the Hungarian Armed Forces’ presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

While precise details about troop movements are lacking, a Hungarian BTR-80 armored personnel carrier arriving on one of the transport vehicles was captured by cameras at the Svilaj border crossing point connecting Bosnia and Herzegovina with Croatia.

The larger-scale involvement of the Hungarian military in the Western Balkans will not only be seen in the presence of combat equipment abroad.

According to the Austrian Der Standard, their unnamed Austrian government sources indicated in late July that as of January 1, 2024, General László Sticz will replace Austrian General Helmut Habermayer as the head of the EUFOR mission.

Based on the article in the Austrian newspaper, the Hungarian Ministry of Defense has reached a kind of barter agreement with EUFOR. As part of this agreement, a Hungarian military officer will assume the mission’s command position for the next period, in exchange for which the Hungarian side will commit to participating in mission tasks with four military helicopters in Bosnia and Herzegovina for a minimum of three years.

The specific type of rotary-wing aircraft was not disclosed in the Austrian publication.

The positioning of the Hungarian side into a significant position from a military-diplomatic standpoint has caused considerable repercussions in the Western Balkans.

The right-wing conservative Bosnian press wrote about Hungary’s unjustified rise to prominence, and the BN television news portal, which regularly criticizes the political activities of Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik, who maintains close relations with the Hungarian government, also portrays Hungary’s growing role in EUFOR in a negative light.

Bečirović’s lobbying efforts in Austria

In addition to the change in the leadership of EUFOR, Der Standard’s article also discusses the fact that, in response to the deterioration of the internal political situation in Bosnia, Denis Bečirović, the Bosnian member of the Bosnian state presidency elected in the fall of 2022, indicated on several official channels that, in his opinion, an increase in EUFOR’s forces is justified.

Bečirović first tried to strengthen EUFOR during his official visit to the NATO headquarters in Brussels in January this year, and then two months later in Austria, which has consistently distanced itself from the military alliance, citing the deterioration of the security situation in Bosnia.

EUFOR

Denis Bećirović, the Bosnian member of the Bosnian state presidency, asked for more EUFOR soldiers because of the secessionist moves by pro-Kremlin Milorad Dodik, wrote Der Standard. In this regard, Bećirović noted that we are in the last hour to stop the spread of the Ukrainian crisis to the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, that is, the southeastern part of Europe. (Source: Facebook, Dr. Denis Bećirović

During both meetings, Bečirović sought to emphasize the significance of his connections with Milorad Dodik’s ties to Russia and Serbia, illustrating the necessity of expanding the international military mission.

However, the Austrian government led by Karl Nehammer was not enthusiastic about the idea of ​​immersing itself more than at present in a military mission in the Western Balkans, especially considering that, despite the war in Ukraine, the issue of possible NATO accession still does not enjoy overwhelming support in Austria.

Following the Vienna meeting, the Bosnian presidency member tried to convince the current head of EUFOR, General Helmut Habermayer, in Sarajevo to reconsider his stance.

Bečirović saw it as appropriate to deploy an additional two companies, totaling 240 foreign troops, primarily Austrian, to the Brčko District, alongside the existing 1,150-strong contingent stationed in Sarajevo.

Although the detailed Austrian stance is not known, its essence was manifested in the rejection of troop reinforcements. Bečirović was informed that “while the Austrian government indeed observes the Western Balkan, and particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina’s events, the intention is not to redeploy additional troops to EUFOR.”

Lack of EU support

Throughout the Bosnian domestic political debates, Bečirović consistently raised the need for Western military assistance. In his discussions with the Austrian side, he frequently referred to the perceived threat posed by Putin and Russia, arguing that Moscow, in order to relieve the Russian forces unable to deploy on the military level in Ukraine, Moscow may burden the NATO member states with further proxy conflicts.

Bečirović’s concern is that Bosnia and Herzegovina could rapidly become a battlefield, leading to the country’s disintegration.

In addition to Moldova and Georgia, the Russians have the greatest chance in Bosnia-Herzegovina to carry out destabilizing measures using the Bosnian Serbs, which would force NATO to increase its presence in the Western Balkans.

Der Standard asked the Austrian Ministry of Defense about the possible escalation potential of the situation in Bosnia, from which the answer was received that “in the current security situation, there is no direct negative impact on the international military mission”, meaning that there is no need to worry so much, according to our “brother-in-law”.

Pierre Kugelweis, the head of the press department at the Austrian Ministry of Defense, added that “the increase in troop numbers is not considered necessary. While the overall security situation in Bosnia is stable and secure, it is undeniably fragile.”

Furthermore, the Austrian newspaper learned from an unnamed Austrian government source that it is currently unlikely for EU leaders to support the expansion of EUFOR.

USA wanted Italy at the helm of EUFOR

Reportedly, due to tensions between the Hungarian government and the United States, the US diplomatic administration had been lobbying the Italian government for an extended period to assume leadership of the Bosnian military mission.

However, for unknown reasons, the Italian armed forces appeared uninterested in taking on the diplomatically significant role.

The uninterrupted Austrian leadership at the helm of EUFOR since 2009 carried special importance, given Austria’s substantial attention to proportional communication with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s various ethnic groups, both within the government and military leadership.

Additionally, the Austrian diplomatic efforts and economic participation in Bosnia are generally well-regarded among the three constituent nations, making it easier to “sell” the Austrian military command to the Bosnian population with reservations about foreign forces.

It remains to be seen how a Hungarian-led contingent will be perceived socially following January 1, and to what extent this leadership change could become a tactical card in daily Bosnian politics.

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B.A. Balkanac

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