People walk along a street in Sarajevo's central Skenderija district on March 21, 2016. (Photo by ELVIS BARUKCIC / AFP)

The Bundeswehr is again present in Bosnia-Herzegovina. As a spokesman for the Bundeswehr Operations Command in Potsdam confirmed on Tuesday, the first eight soldiers in the Western Balkans state have started their mission on the staff at Camp Butmir near Sarajevo.

As part of the EU-led mission Eufor Althea, the Bundeswehr members from Germany are to help ensure that the parliamentary and presidential elections in the Balkan country at the beginning of October remain peaceful.

The last deployment of the Bundeswehr in Bosnia-Herzegovina ended in 2012 – after 17 years in which German armed forces helped to stabilize the country after the outbreak of the Balkan wars. Now things are bubbling up again in the country, which is sometimes referred to as “mini-Yugoslavia” because of its complex situation.

The Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who is close to the Kremlin, continues to work on splitting the Republic of Srpska off from the federal state structure. After the Russian attack on Ukraine, concerns in the western community of states that Dodik could take it seriously increased further.

Days after the invasion began, the Bosnian Serb leader opposed the Balkan state joining Western sanctions against Russia.

Similar to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Dodik is pursuing a seesaw policy that is difficult to understand and that oscillates back and forth between the West and Russia. Dodik once praised the work of the EU mission Eufor to German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens), only to criticize it again a short time later.

The situation is tricky: next November, the UN Security Council will decide whether the mandate for Eufor Althea will be extended – and Russia has the right of veto.

“It is important that the Bundeswehr helps shape the security situation in a positive way before and during the elections,” said the federal government’s special representative for the Western Balkans, Manuel Sarrazin, to the Tagesspiegel. At the same time, in his words, the mission is “not only an important signal to the population of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also to the Russian representatives in the UN Security Council”. The Greens politician demanded that the Eufor mission be extended.

The fact that the deployment of the Bundeswehr in Bosnia-Herzegovina is now being reactivated is largely due to Baerbock. The Foreign Minister first spoke to the leaders of the traffic light coalition about her plans in April. In June, the re-entry into the Eufor mission was then decided in the cabinet. Last month, the Bundestag finally approved the mandate.

According to the information provided by the Operations Command, the framework for the strength of the Bundeswehr contingent, as decided by the Bundestag, is not being fully utilised.

In July it was decided that up to 50 soldiers could be deployed. Instead, only around 25 members of the army are to take part in the mission by mid-September.

Among other things, it is planned that the Bundeswehr soldiers will train their comrades from the Bosnian-Herzegovinian armed forces as part of a training mission on how to deal with possible unrest in the course of the upcoming elections. Two liaison and observation teams should also contribute to de-escalation.

According to the plans, one of the two teams will be south of Mostar, the second in the Republic of Srpska northeast of Sarajevo. An essential part of the mission for the servicewomen and men from the observation teams will be to identify possible tensions related to the elections at an early stage in exchange with the local population.

The Bundestag mandate for the deployment expires at the end of June 2023, unless it is extended. However, it is also conceivable that the EU mission will become a NATO mission in the meantime if Russia does not agree to an extension of the EUFOR mandate in the United Nations Security Council.

However, this is not entirely without problems either: such an operation could possibly not come about in view of the friction between Cyprus and Turkey.