Valentin Inzko told the U.N. Security Council that the fundamental issue it must consider is not only how to help the country face its challenges going forward, "but more importantly, how do we prevent Bosnia and Herzegovina from going backwards?"
Bosnia remains torn by divisions stemming from the 1992-95 war involving the country's Serbs, Muslims and Croats during the breakup of Yugoslavia, and its multi-ethnic presidency has been unable to break a year-old deadlock on forming a government.
A U.S.-brokered peace deal signed in 1995 in Dayton, Ohio divided the country into two autonomous regions — Republika Srpska for Bosnian Serbs, and a Muslim and Croat federation. The two entities are kept together by joint Bosnian state institutions.
Inzko said the Council of Ministers from the previous government continues to function, "but it remains hamstringed by the politically calculated, unnecessary, blockade" of the Parliamentary Assembly, which means no new legislation can be adopted including the state budget.
"The state is therefore forced to operate on quarterly temporary financing, which severely limits the scope of its activities and its ability to effectively deal with emerging issues, such as the migrant crisis," he said.
The Bosnia war — the worst carnage in Europe since World War II — was fueled by the Bosnian Serbs' 1992 declaration of their own state within Bosnia, and their separatist ambitions remain strong. But the divisions within Bosnia also reflect a mounting conflict between the West and Russia over the future of the Balkans.
While the West wishes to see the still-volatile region that went through a bloody war in the 1990s reform and eventually join the European Union and NATO, Russia has used its historic ties with Serbs to undermine this idea.
Inzko said Bosnia "has proven to have serious problems related to its functionality, the rule of law and the fight against corruption, the freedom of media and in many other areas." This reflects "the pervasiveness of separatism and divisive policies in the country, and the general lack of focus of the country's political elite on issues of real importance to citizens," he said.
Inzko said "the current trends and various public pronouncements certainly indicate an ongoing effort to roll back the reforms that have carried the country this far." He warned that Republika Srpska's withdrawal "even from a single institution would have grave effects on the state's sovereignty."
And he stressed that it is now more important than ever to preserve Dayton and "the tools" it gives the international community and the high representative — including the right to adopt binding decisions when local parties seem unable or unwilling to act and to remove public officials who violate legal commitments.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused Inzko of "chronic bias" against Bosnian Serbs and Croats, and "unjustifiably" placing blame on their leaders "for the difficulties the country is facing."
He urged the Security Council "to step up pushing for the closing down of the office of the high representative." But U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft, British Ambassador Karen Pierce and other council members strongly backed Inzko and his office.
Pierce said Dayton doesn't place Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat federation above the state. "Therefore as long as there are leaders in Bosnia who refuse to acknowledge, or who work against that very important statehood aspect" in the Dayton agreement — which the Security Council codified and which has been implemented for many years — "the office of the high representative will continue to be necessary," she said.
At the start of the Security Council meeting, members unanimously adopted a resolution authorizing the renewal of the European Union military deployment in Bosnia, known as EURFOR Althea, to oversee the military implementation of the Dayton agreement for another year.