Will pipeline diplomacy diminish Russian clout in the Western Balkans?

The beginning of 2024 saw the escalation of political tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina over the proposed Southern Interconnection natural gas pipeline, connecting Croatia with Bosnia. This critical infrastructure project, endorsed by both the United States and the European Union, aims to diversify Bosnia’s energy sources, reducing its reliance on Russian gas. The urgency for this pipeline was amplified following Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine in 2022, highlighting the strategic necessity for energy independence in the region.

Despite the project’s significant international support, it has encountered staunch opposition within Bosnia, primarily from the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ BiH) and its counterpart in Croatia. This resistance threatens not just the pipeline’s construction but also underscores deeper regional geopolitical rifts and the complex interplay of ethnic and national interests in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The US has expressed strong objections to the blockades, particularly criticizing HDZ BiH’s demand for the pipeline’s operation to be based in Mostar, under a new Croat-led company. Such conditions have been lambasted by US officials as self-serving and obstructive, with high-level condemnations highlighting the broader implications of these internal disputes on the region’s stability and alignment with Western objectives.

Amid the geopolitical chess game of the Balkans, the fate of the Southern Interconnection pipeline transcends mere energy infrastructure, touching upon the fundamental challenges of ethnic division, governance, and the international community’s role in fostering regional security and cooperation against external pressures.–Web Desk