Author: KENAN KADIĆ
This research has the aim to unravel the nature of the impact of Russian and Turkish soft power influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as to provide an understanding of how this relates to Bosnia’s overall perception of the European Union per se and its enlargement project. The article will start by outlining the foreign policy tool and concept of „soft power“, which in combination with traditional hard power potentials enables states to develop the new, „smart power“ strategy and then argue that EU enlargement fatigue coupled with reduced US influence has contributed to the frequence and intensity of Russian and Turkish smart power projection as well as provide an explanation for how this relates to the overall perception of the EU in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Building upon these findings, policymakers and civil society actors will be able to upgrade their current knowledge and see where they can capitalize from these power projections.
Key words: soft power, hard power, smart power, Russia, Turkey, EU enlargement, US, foreign policy, Bosnia and Herzegovina
This research article has the aim to apply the concept of „smart power“ by portraying and unraveling Russian and Turkish smart power strategies in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Recognizing the fact that soft and hard power alone cannot sufficiently describe influence that a particular state wields, Joseph Nye Jr. invented the term smart power which is a combination of soft and hard power resources put together into a unified strategy that has the aim to influence the international state system and all its component parts including societies, institutions as well as alliances.
The theoretical frame within which we will analyse our two case studies consists of soft, hard and smart power concepts which we fill first define and then put them in context with our case studies, Russia and Turkey. Since there exists a significant part of literature on soft and hard power influence of the latter countries both in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Western Balkans in general, this research will complement it by integrating these analayses into a single smart power study. The research findings are at the end put into the context of reduced US influence per se in the region and EU enlargement fatigue whereby readers will notice and understand how and why Russian and Turkish smart power influence are worth researching.
The particular case selection of Russia and Turkey is not randomly chosen but for specific reasons. One of them is their rising importance in international relations where they are considered to be „regional powers“ as defined by Nolte (2010) but also their specific political system which is not democratic but more authoritarian where power is not diffused as in democracies but also civil society hasn’t that much room to voice their agenda. This makes it more challenging to research since the soft, hard and smart power concepts were invented by an American scholar in a liberal democratic system. Therefore, applying these to non-democratic systems will display much of the differences between these concepts’ usage. One could also interpret this research to be an attempt at de-westernization of smart power, because even Joseph Nye (2013) argued that Russian and Turkey’s illiberal nature would result in a failure to exert soft power.
This research will use the mix methods approach since it would be obscured if one were only to use qualitative or quantitative data in cases like this. In contrast to hard power, which can be measured easily because those are tangible data, soft power is difficult to measure. Therefore it is necessary to engage a specific methodology that can complement this shortcoming. First, we will try to identify Russian and Turkish soft power narratives in their official documents such as foreign policy strategies and/or other official documents or speeches of state officials. For the effects of these narratives, speeches, we will utilize the qualitative method of process tracing which will enable one to establish a link between causes and specific outcomes and which is even cited by Nye with reference to soft power, as the method that best suits this kind of research. (Nye, 2013) This practically means identifying the point where a new policy replaced the former one and what is the reason behind the change. Qualitative data is also more reliable in measuring these kinds of power because there is still no agreement among scholars as to how to best measure soft power. Quantitative analysis of soft or smart power has also shortcomings, one of them being their variance (public opinion polls) and reliance on specific variables (soft power indices). Qualitative analysis also is not critique-proof because many stress their subjective nature and lack of statistical validation. One of the best known indices for quantitative measurement of soft power is Soft Power 30, which relies on Nye’s three sources of power but also objective (70%) and subjective (30%) data. Objective data is divided into six categories or subindices and those are: government, culture, engagement, education, digital and enterprise. Subjective data consists of polling data which rely on relevant academic literature about soft power from which precise questions were derived. (USC Center on Public Diplomacy/Portland, 2018) This research will contribute to literature on power generally, soft and smart power specifically but also foreign policy as well. It will be one of the rare studies whose aim is to come up with a smart power analysis of two countries by synthesizing soft and hard power concepts. Our research results include country-specific soft, hard power instruments as well as ways in which they are utilized. Also, a smart power strategy for both, Russia and Turkey, is devised on the basis of their respective soft and hard power tools which they employed from the 1990s war in Bosnia and Herzegovina onwards.
With regard to the structure of this article, after the introduction we will proceed to analyse the concepts of soft and hard power in general as well as Nye’s concept of soft power since it is our point of departure for this research. Then we will devote most of our second chapter to an in-depth analysis of Russia and Turkey together with their role in smart power projection in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main body of the article is chapter three where we will unfold our main argument and put it in the context of EU enlargement fatigue and reduced US influence. Finally, our conclusion will summarize our research findings and results as well as provide the reader with potential research limits and points of departure for further research on this topic.
- Soft power concept
The logic of soft power can be well understood if one looks at the context in which it was coined by Joseph Nye. It was the year 1990, when the USA ended up being the only superpower in the international system which had to switch from the Cold War logic of mass armament and use of force to a new strategy. During the 1990s, new sorts of threats started to emerge as a result of globalisation and a revolution in information technologies. (Parmar & Cox, 2010)
Soft power was an optimistic reaction to this reduced importance of hard power – use of rewards, threats to achieve desired outcomes in the international system and a way of co-opting actors rather than coercing them. It rests on the ability to shape preferences of others. (Nye, 2004)
As the international context changed, so did the concept of soft power. The elaborate version of soft power was published in Nye’s 2004 book „Soft Power: the Means to Success in World Politics“ where one could see three main sources of a country’s soft power: its culture, political values and foreign policies. He also stressed the increasing importance of the target audience but also actors that disseminate soft power. (Nye, 2004) (Angey-Sentuc & Molho, 2015)
The culmination of soft power upgrades is the subject matter of this article, smart power which was developed in Nye’s books from 2008 and 2011. He understood that hard nor soft power alone were sufficient to attract others and possibly alter their behaviour. Therefore, the right combination or balance of soft and hard power resources was named smart power. It included both military intervention coupled with alliances. But for some scholars, this combination was blurred and needed further clarification. (Cooper et al., 2013)
One of the reasons for criticisms of soft power was its Western grounding. It was an American product and therefore people questioned its applicability and effectiveness to illiberal, non-democratic states. (Rawnsley, 2012) (Keating et al., 2019) Nye’s argument that the majority of soft power is produced by civil society was especially questioned because in non-democracies, civil society hasn’t much room to maneuver. Therefore, soft power in such states was produced by those authoritarian governments, like the Russian Kremlin which blurred the line between propaganda and soft power. (ICDS, 2020)
Another example of conceptual bias is that countries like Russia and China have their own meanings of smart power, not necessarily combining existing hard and soft power resources but producing new ones. In opposition to US and generally, western understandings of soft and smart power concepts which look on civil society as the main producer of these sorts of power, Russian and Turkish sources or producers of power are state institutions which even Nye criticised in 2013. (Foreign Policy, 2013) For states like the US, smart power simply means a wiser utilization and combination of already existing resources while for Russia, smart power includes producing new instruments of power with the aim of producing destabilisation in foreign countries, manipulation of public opinion etc. This is stated in the official foreign policy strategy of Russia. (Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2013)
In antidemocratic, Russian but also Chinese understanding, these would for instance include new communication technologies that would influence foreign public opinion, new cyber warfare tools but also disinformation campaigns etc. (Brandt & Taussig, 2020) We can link these contexts with Russian and Chinese as well as Turkish (under Erdogan) structures of government.
- Turkish soft and hard power influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Western Balkans in general and BH in particular are of significant importance to Turkey due to many reasons. Facts that this region has been ruled for centuries by Ottomans, being the westernmost outreach of the Ottoman Empire, home to Turkish minorities and people with identical Islamic beliefs as well as providing fertile ground for Turkish power projection in relation to other powers constitute a handful of reasons that one must take into account when analysing Turkish influence in BH. (Eksi, 2017)
Turkey’s soft power cannot be well understood if one does not take into account Turkey’s wider importance for European and US security interests as well as its domestic dynamics that provided fertile ground for the entrance of soft power into Turkish foreign policy discourse and practice. We will distinguish three periods with varying degrees of Turkish soft and hard power influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina that will enable us to analyse the current period and provide some projections for the future.
The first period includes Turkish policy towards BH in the 1990s while the second refers to AKP (Justice and Development Party) ascendance to power in 2002, including the appointment of Ahmet Davutoglu as foreign minister in 2009. The departure of Davutoglu from office in 2016 marked the start of the post-Davutoglu era that lasts to this day, characterized by Turkey’s democratic backsliding, rising authoritarianism and drastic decline of soft power appeal under the presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
After the disintegration of Yugoslavia, a power vacuum emerged that needed to be filled and it did not take too long for the US and EU to lead the process of creating a new security architecture in Western Balkans. (Koc & Onsoy, 2018) The first hard power instruments could be seen during and after the war in BH. Turkey, during the conflict in BH, was bandwagoning with NATO in trying to end the ethnic conflict as well as acted to balance Greece’s behaviour which Turkey saw as a threat to its position in the Balkans. (Ekinci, 2009) In 1996, under the Priority Reconstruction and Recovery Program, Turkey donated 46,5 million dollars to BH further increasing its appeal among fellow Bosnian Muslims. (Vračić, 2016) (Bechev, 2011) In addition to this, Turkey has provided military training and grants to BH officers at Turkish military academies, used its leverage in NATO to give BH a Membership Action Plan in 2010 and was the biggest troop contributor to Eufor-Althea mission in BH. (Petrović & Reljić, 2011) (Ekinci, 2018) (Kelkitli, 2013) Turkey has, before BH was part of a NATO political-military programme „Partnership for Peace“ from 2006, enabled BH observer status within Turkish national activities in this programme. (Vračić, 2016)
However, it wasn’t until the ascendance of AKP to power in 2002 that the concept of soft power started to gain more ground. One of the reasons was the Western intention, foremost of US, to present Turkey as a positive example of a secular, economically stable, majority muslim republic to other countries in the region, foremost to those in the Middle East which would then follow the Turkish example and consequentially stabilize. (Cevik, 2019) (Walker, 2010) The perception of Turkey as a secular, Muslim republic, West-oriented actor together with its rising economy were factors that contributed to rising importance of soft power discourse. (Cevik, 2019) The chief architect during this time of Turkish foreign policy was Ahmet Davutoglu, appointed as foreign policy advisor in 2002 and in 2009 he took over the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His foreign policy vision can best be seen in his work „Strategic Depth“ (Stratejik Derinlik) (2001) where Davutoglu stresses Turkey’s „historical responsibilities“ towards the Balkans, Middle East as well as the Caucasus, calls for a more assertive Turkey in its traditional spheres of influence where it can build upon its cultural, Ottoman heritage. (Murinson, 2006) Between 2002 and 2009, when Davutoglu took charge of the foreign ministry, Turkey continued to support Bosnia’s inclusion into Western multilateral and regional frameworks ranging from NATO to SEECP. From 2009 onward, a more active approach generally towards Western Balkans and Bosnia in particular was taken as can be seen from one of Davutoglu’s statements such as the one at the Ministerial Meeting of SEECP in Istanbul when he said „Turkey is a natural actor in this region (referring to the Balkans)“. (Dursun-Ozkanca, 2016) (Benhaim & Oktem, 2015)
Beside Ahmet Davutoglu, another contributing role in Turkish foreign policy, which partially relied on a common Islamic identity in a period when Turkish elites stopped looking at it as a threat to its secularism, was the role of AK party’s 2007 and 2008 electoral success. (Rašidagić & Hesova, 2020)
The signing of the Trilateral Consultations Mechanisms in October, 2009 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs level institutionalized relations between Bosnia, Serbia and Turkey and proved to be the basis upon which further talks were later initiated. Davutoglu met with his counterparts more than 10 times before becoming Prime Minister in 2014 which resulted in greater economic and cultural ties with both Serbia and Bosnia which is visible in their trade balance with Turkey during this period as well as the number of opened Turkish cultural institutions. These talks also set the tone of trilateral meetings at the presidential level which despite then-Serbian president Nikolić’s withdrawal from talks (due to Erdogan’s remarks about Kosovo) resulted in productive outcomes. (Mulalić, 2019)
Turkey also raised its soft power appeal by initiating and hosting a number of diplomatic meetings between presidents of Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia which in the end had positive effects, one of them being the Istanbul Declaration (2010) that, among other things, guaranteed BH’s territorial integrity and sovereignity. However, Turkey was criticised for bias and being in favor of Balkan Muslim communities. (Petrović & Reljić, 2011) The tripartite (Serbia-Bosnia-Turkey) meetings on behalf of Turkey and Davutoglu did much to enhance regional stabilization and reconciliation processes best exemplified in Boris Tadić’s presence at the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide along with members of BH presidency as well as the subsequent decision of the Serbian National Assembly to adopt a „Declaration on Srebrenica“ apologizing to the victim’s families but without using the term „genocide“. (Obradovic-Wochnik, 2010)
It is clear that Davutoglu’s foreign policy outlook was much influenced by glorious Ottoman days and one could argue that Turkey’s re-engagement with the Western Balkans in greater measure is a re-interpretation of Ottoman foreign policy with regard to the new regional and international context. (Lami, 2020) Serbian author Darko Tanasković in his book „ Neo-ottomanism – A Doctrine Or A Foreign-policy“ (2010), has criticised Davutoglu calling his foreign policy as Neo-Ottoman. Having in mind Serbian resistance to Neo-Ottomanism and acknowledging the closeness between Serbian and Republika Srpska (RS) regimes and ruling elites, this perception of Turkish foreign policy provides fertile ground for spreading anti-Turkish sentiment. (Deutsche Welle, 2020)
The main instruments through which Turkey increased its soft power influence in BH were TIKA (Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency), Yunus Emre institutes, YTB (Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities), free trade agreements, private banks such as Ziraat Bank Bosnia, educational institutions such as the Maarif Foundation, International Burch University, Diyanet (Presidency of Religious Affairs), media outlets such as TRT and the Anatolian Agency influencing public opinion and considered part of the so called TV diplomacy – a branch of public diplomacy. (Eksi, 2017) (Remiddi, 2013)
All of the above institutions and agencies have the common link to the Turkish AKP government in general, its ministry of Foreign Affairs in particular. With the departure of Davutoglu from office in 2016, Turkey entered a new era in its foreign policy and soft power projection as a consequence was changed. The Middle East by this time established itself as the new focus of Turkish foreign policy, mainly because of the Syrian war and its consequences (such as the refugee crisis and Kurds) and the country as a whole changed its type of leadership. The Western Balkans were not the focus anymore. (Vračić et al., 2018) Turkey switched from a parliamentary system to a presidential one where its president Erdogan took over sweeping new powers and undertook personal diplomatic initiatives in order to raise his and Turkey’s appeal. (Koc & Onsoy, 2018) We can include in this his frequent meetings with Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić which many in Bosnia saw as Turkey’s repositioning and favoring towards Serbia. Also, Erdogan’s occasional anti-Western rhetoric leads observers to conclude that Turkey’s soft power is declining and losing momentum which in the context of BH accession to EU presents a signal to Bosnian citizens that no alternative to the EU is viable enough. (Cevik, 2019)
- Russian soft and hard power influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Although Russian hard power in general was used frequently during the last decade, ranging from Ukraine to Syria, their soft power cannot be neglected and needs further clarification due to a lack of academic works on it. Russian soft power cannot and should not be seen as continuation of Soviet propaganda or similar narratives although some Russian authors positively reflect on the utilization of Soviet „soft power“. (Kosachev, 2012b) It was the late 2000s when soft power caught the attention of Russian officials in their talks about Russian foreign policy, during Putin’s second presidential term, but officially the term became part of its foreign policy doctrine in 2013. This can be interpreted as a response to previous Russian negligence of soft power, as stated by Putin himself in his „programmatic articles“ (Putin, 2012b) (Sergunin & Karabeshkin, 2015) In the more recent version, approved in 2016, soft power is mentioned in the second chapter as an integral part of actions aiming to achieve Russian foreign policy objectives while information, communication technologies are among the mentioned soft power tools. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation 2016)
The Western Balkans is not per se that much important to Russia as well as neither in economic terms. Proof to this are data from 2019 which showed that only 4% of export and 6% of import of the whole region was with Russia. With regard to the trade volume between Russia and BH, in 2019 it amounted to 299 million euros or 1.9%. (Turkcan & Kevselioglu, 2020) (Eurostat, 2020)
But not wielding influence there would mean giving it to other actors like the EU, US, China or even Turkey. It is one of the bargaining chips that Russia aims to utilize in its relations with the above actors by playing upon shared cultural, religious, historic and other ties with WB countries, especially with Serbia. The WB region has no such prominence in Russian foreign policy thinking as do the post-Soviet states in Russia’s near abroad. However, this doesn’t mean that Russia won’t continue to project its influence in WB. As Dimitri Bechev (2017) would say, „Russia is not returning to the Balkans because it never left“. Russia projects its influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina through Serbia as well as its proxies in the BH entity of Republika Srpska whose regime is very close to the Kremlin. (Seliverstova, 2021) Russian hard and soft power influence can be seen in political, economic, security, religious/cultural domains (which are not mutually exclusive) in various extents to which we now turn.
Russia is the sole gas supplier to BH and has established a monopoly in the energy sector. This is a clear-cut hard power instrument that Russia frequently uses in its dealings with energy-dependent countries.
Russian „Zarubezhneft“ company bought outdated and indebted oil companies in Republika Srpska for just over 120 million euros back in 2007 which continued to accumulate losses. However, Russia knew that selling was not an option since it would potentially undermine the friendly regime in Republika Srpska, which took credit for these investments in RS politics at that time. (Chrzova et al., 2019) Beside the energy sector, Russia is also active in the banking sector after state-owned Sberbank took over the Austrian Volksbank. However, it is only the sixth-largest bank by assets in BH. (Center for the Study of Democracy, 2018) Other investments mostly failed such as the one by Russian billionaire Rashid Sardarov, who aimed to invest in a hydropower plant in RS, statements from RS officials about loans from the Russian government after the 2014 floods in BH. (CIN 2014) The importance for the RS regime lies in highlighting their partnership with the Russian government and oligarchs as well as building good will towards Russia. (Stronski & Himes, 2019)
It is no secret that these economic links had and continue to have political aims supported by other activities such as high profile visits between Russian and RS officials as well as electoral meddling for which a strong argument can be made. On the eve of the 2014, 2016 and 2018 elections, the leading political figure from the RS entity managed to meet with Russian president Putin to score political points at home. Critics have named these meetings as „brazen interference in BH election process“. (Prague Security Studies Institute, 2019d) (Galeotti, 2018) In addition to this, visits by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Federal Council Chairwoman Valetina Matvyenko had more or less a similar purpose of raising anti-Western, confrontational sentiments in general for instance by advocating (in their official speeches) for the removal of the Office of the High Representative in BH. (BalkanEU, 2018) There were also claims that Russia interfered online in BH election process through creating a large amount of fake social network accounts to support their ally’s cause but these remain unverified claims. Other examples of political influence, some disguised as cultural or religious ones, are connections between ruling elites in RS and criminal gangs close to Kremlin such as the „Night Wolves“ motorcycle gang of which some members took part in Russian annexation of Crimea and also received a financial grant from the Kremlin for their 2018 „Balkan tour“ – which happened also to be on the eve of BH 2018 elections. (Bajrović et al. 2018) Another example of using culture, Orthodox religion and historical ties for political gain, security advantage and appeal is the so called „Balkan Cossack Army“. Founded in Montenegro with HQs in Belgrade, its members fought on the side of Russia during the annexation of Crimea but also some of them were fighting during the aggression in Bosnia on the side of Bosnian Serbs (Vojska Republike Srpske). Despite their background, they claim to promote Orthodoxy, pan-Slavism and resistance to Western values. (Stronski & Himes, 2019) It can be argued, as many observers did, that these types of organisations serve at Kremlin’s behest in the Balkans and could potentially be mobilized by RS nationalists or hardliners for secessionist purposes. (Obrenovic, 2020) What adds proofs to these links is the recent diplomatic scandal during Lavrov’s official visit to Bosnia in late 2020 when Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina awarded him a 300-year old icon which was later discovered to be originating from Luhansk, Ukraine. According to Viktor Vladimirov from VOA media company, either one of those Serb fighters (in Crimea) stole and brought it to Bosnia or the icon made its way through the black market into the hands of the Chairman of BH’s Presidency. Be it as it may, this reveals complex transnational links and influences between Russia, Ukraine and BH. (Karčić, 2021) Russian hard power tools in BH also include police unit training in Banja Luka as well as Moscow, support for paramilitary groups like „Serbian Honor“ which is under the supervision of the ruling regime in RS. (Stronski & Himes, 2019)
Similar to Turkey, Russia uses religion (Orthodox Christianity) too to raise its appeal among BH population but this is limited to the Bosnian Serb population in the RS. Russia supported the construction of religious and cultural monumets in RS and opened many institutions that promote Orthodoxy, Russian language, student exchanges. Its presence is also visible in RS cities street names and architecture.
Now that we’ve seen the main features of Turkish and Russian influence in BH, it is time to draw some conclusions and put them in the context of reduced US influence and EU enlargement fatigue.
While Turkey has mostly appealed to the Bosnian Muslims mostly in the Federation of BH, which can be seen also by looking at the end location of Turkish investments the same logic applies to Russia which invested mostly in RS and increased its appeal among Orthodox Bosnian Serbs. The local impact of both actors, BH’s politics in general cannot account and fully explain the presence of Russia and Turkey in BH. First of all, these influences have to be put into a greater context, one of great power competition between multiple actors including among the above two, USA, China, EU and recently the Gulf monarchies as well. Following the election of Donald Trump, Western Balkans in general and BH in particular, have not received enough attention despite the region’s importance in the context of US-Russia rivalry. John McCain, a former US senator from Arizona, wrote in 2018 in a New York Times article about his trip to Southeast Europe and identified Russian malign influence in the region as the worst problem the region faces. Therefore he urged the US to „show up“ again and reassert its leadership. Edward Joseph wrote for Foreign Policy that some have recognized the reduced US interest in Bosnia and therefore increased their secessionist rhetoric, a frequent policy option from RS. (Joseph, 2020)
The fact that the WB region is the only one in Europe left not integrated into the EU makes Russia confident that it can push its own anti-EU, anti-US and anti-NATO agenda through its authoritarian proxies and allies like the ruling regimes in RS and in Serbia. This agenda can be termed as the prime goal of Russia’s smart power strategy in BH. By stressing religious ties, economic investments, support for right-wing organisations, high-profile visits and increasingly disinformation campaigns coupled with military training provision, Russia aims to derail Bosnia’s EU path and promote its own model of development and political outlook. Bosnia’s complex political system which „institutionalized nationalism“ is per se permeable and prone to foreign malign influences. This is best exemplified by the veto power which enables members of the BH’s Presidency to block Bosnian integration into EU and NATO. (Turkcan & Kevselioglu, 2020)
Several authors, including Kapidžić (2020) and Bieber (2020) noted the rise of illiberal politics in Southeast Europe as governing elites are trying to stay in power as long as possible while holding regular elections to appear more legitimate.
During the last couple of years, the EU has sent signals that affirm the argument about EU enlargement fatigue. This can be seen in EU officials’ speeches which did not pay much attention to enlargement such as the one by former EU Commission president J.C. Juncker in 2018 while the more obvious example would be France’s decision to block the opening of accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. (Economides, 2020) Some of the factors that enabled foreign actors to increase their presence in the WB were the enlargement process of Central and East European countries in 2004, the 2008 financial crisis, refugee crisis that mostly resulted as a consequence of the Syrian civil war. (Hirkić, 2019) In addition to this, citizens of Bosnia perceive the accession process to be „too slow“ while, according to the Balkan Barometer, 33% of them believe that BH will never join the EU. (Bargues, 2020) The Commission’s opinion on BH from 2020 further adds weight to this pessimistic perception of the integration process. Internal EU dynamics may also account for enlargement fatigue since some member states are showing authoritarian tendencies, scepticism which has swayed the usual talk about EU unity. Because of these developments, foreign actors like Russia and Turkey might try to fill the void since aligning with them doesn’t require much sacrifice as does the EU in its acquis and don’t really care about national leadership (whether it is democratic or not). Turkey and Russia might also use the WB in general and BH in particular as a bargaining chip in their dealings with the EU but also US-led NATO. Perpetuating the status quo will remain the most effective Russian strategy since without solving Serbian territorial disputes, regime change in RS, EU and NATO accession simply won’t occur. Russia has also found and supported another ally inside BH, namely the Bosnian Croat leader by providing him financial support and encouraging his separatist ideas. An example would be a Sputnik provocative article that plays with the possibility of BH partition between Croats and Serbs. (Turčalo & Bećirević, 2020) (Samokhvalov, 2019). Russia can also benefit from BH joining the EU since it can have a „Trojan horse“, exemplified by pro-Russian BH politicians, with which to further work on creating fissures inside the EU.
Turkey’s smart power strategy in BH consists of nurturing exsisting ties with parts of the Bosniak Muslim elite in the Federation coupled with economic investment which is still not even close to that of Russia. Turkey also is not as external as Russia is because of its historical presence in the Balkan region and its hard power is confined to missions inside NATO and EU frameworks. (Petrović & Reljić, 167) Another pillar on which Turkish smart power strategy towards BH rests is its convergence with EU goals in the WB region. Turkey also supports the Euro-Atlantic integration of Bosnia in relation to Russia or China which means that the EU should pick and nurture ties with Turkey over the other two. (Euractiv, 2019) President Erdogan, in his address congratulating Europe Day in May 2020, called out the EU for its discriminative attitude towards Turkey and at the same time believes that the EU has understood that they’re on the same boat with Turkey. (Demircan, 2020) In addition to this, Turkey rebuffed Russian attempts at destabilization in the Balkans by supporting NATO membership, besides of BH, of North Macedonia and Montenegro as well as welcoming the Prespa Agreement. (Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2019) Both Turkey and Russia utilized the slow response of the EU to COVID-19 pandemic in its initial stage by sending medical equipment to help WB and Bosnia cope with the virus. The EU should welcome the presence of Turkey in the WB because Turkey mostly appeals to citizens that are also pro-EU and pro-NATO while Russia and China are not. (Piqueres, 2014) China might even utilize the potential BH integration into the EU to promote its own interests which are often in opposition to those of the EU. (Hirkić, 2019) The strategic commonalities between the EU and Turkey (and even the US in a broader perspective) have the potential to decrease foreign malign influences in BH. While the Federation of BH still waits for vaccines from the COVAX mechanism, the RS entity has started vaccination on 12th February with the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine. (Sadiković & Veselinović, 2021) The main shortcoming and potential of both Russian and Turkish smart power strategies as we defined them here, is their one-sidedness or limited appeal. Turkey needs to raise its appeal in the RS and non-Muslims which have partly built their identity in opposition to Ottoman rule while their historiography simultaneously neglects the positive aspects of it. The rising cooperation between Serbia and Turkey best exemplified through multiple meetings between Erdogan and Vučić are a step forward in terms of Turkey’s status in the RS as well. The same can be said for Russia, too.
Joe Biden’s inauguration as the US president was warmly welcomed generally in the region but especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The context of increased Chinese, Russian influence in the WB region coupled with EU’s uncertainty and reduced US influence during previous years is a legitimate reason for the US to engage again. (Morina & Tcherneva, 2021) Biden’s familiarity with the region further adds to this but one shouldn’t be naive and think that the WB region or BH will be among the top US foreign policy priorities during this administration because it won’t. (Ruge, 2021) However, there are reasons to be optimistic such as Biden’s pledge to restore alliances, his recent letter to Serbian president Vucic in which he urged him to recognize Kosovo as well as his recent telephone conversation with German chancellor Angela Merkel in which they’ve talked about Western Balkans as a common foreign policy priority among other things. (Ozturk, 2021) (Kostreci, 2021)
While describing hard and soft power is relatively simple, devising a smart power strategy is more difficult since there doesn’t exist any standardised template for it. Therefore, it is a matter of approximation and author’s perception about a country’s usage of smart power – a right mixture of soft and hard power instruments. However, we can draw some conclusions about our case studies since we’ve shown enough examples of both, hard and soft, power instruments of Russia and Turkey they’ve been using lately. The overarching aims of Russia’s smart strategy are anti-EU, anti-NATO and generally anti-Western. One of the reasons is Russia’s ambition to again be a superpower, one that can project its power effectively far abroad as well as Putin’s ideas about creating a „Eurasian empire“ and choosing the right allies whereby the Balkans would be instrumentalized and used for consolidating Russian power. (Turčalo & Bećirević, 2020) The Orthodox religion and historical, cultural narratives form the first core pillar of Russian smart power coupled with disinformation campaigns, authoritarian allies and energy monopoly. Supporting elements include low-intensity military cooperation and Kremlin-affiliated paramilitary groups such as the „Night Wolves“ and Cossacks. These tools have delivered results in terms of creating further social and political fissures within BH society best exemplified through polarizing political, secesionist actions. As long as Russia is able to perpetuate the status quo in an already fragile political system of BH, the country will find it hard to progress on its EU integration path while the EU itself is in a state of enlargement fatigue due to its own internal dynamics. Turkey’s smart power strategy partly resembles that of Russia in the case of using religion, historical and cultural narratives but with some significant differences. In opposition to Russia, Turkey supports BH’s integration into EU as well as NATO. Turkey derives more leverage from history as well because the former Ottoman empire left a bigger mark on the Balkans in general. Turkish president Erdogan recently told German chancellor Angela Merkel that he wants a Turkey-EU summit by July 2021. (Euractiv, 2021) This can be interpreted as a positive signal that proves Turkey’s commitment and attitude towards the EU. The answer to our question in the topic, whether Russian and Turkish smart power in Bosnia and Herzegovina are a challenge to the EU, is two-sided. Having in mind the larger dynamics in play and relatively warm EU-Turkey relations, the smart power influence of Turkey is not challenging to the EU in any capacity since Turkey supports Bosnia’s EU and NATO-integration path. However, Russian smart power and influence in general is a threat since it contains actions and strategies that aim to derail Bosnia’s westward path. Since there doesn’t exist a smart power specific template or methodology, our research has relied on existing descriptions and research on soft, hard power tools of influence as well as particular ways Russia and Turkey utilize them. This study can serve as the basis upon which future scholars on this topic can write their own studies.
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