UNITED NATIONS – Russia for the first time in 14 years declined to support the extension of a European Union peacekeeping force in Bosnia, saying Tuesday the country should not be pushed toward joining the EU by outside forces.
The vote in the U.N. Security Council highlighted the tensions that have soared between Russia and the West in recent months, especially over Ukraine, another country leaning toward joining the EU.
The rest of the council voted to extend for a year the military operation, while Russia abstained instead of using its veto power as a permanent council member.
The peacekeeping force known as EUFOR is meant to calm tensions that have lingered since the vicious 1992-1995 civil war among Bosnia's three ethnic groups — Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs.
Bosnian Serbs, who are backed by Russia and want an independent state, have prevented any effort to strengthen state institutions.
Tuesday's vote came after the United States and the EU last week welcomed a German-British proposal to move Bosnia closer to EU membership. It would postpone action on the complicated issue of minority rights while Bosnia moves ahead with reforming its economy and strengthening the rule of law.
Russia's ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, rejected the proposal, saying any movement by Bosnia toward the EU "cannot be forced from the outside."
This was the first time in 14 years that the vote to extend the EU peacekeeping mission wasn't unanimous, said Britain's representative, Michael Tatham.
Tatham called Russia's position "cynical and deeply regrettable" and said its argument that movement toward joining the EU is imposed from outside shows contempt for Bosnia's citizens.
Tuesday's debate expressed widespread concern about the country's stagnation amid political bickering and high unemployment. Russia, however, warned about the threat of militant Islam instead.
The U.N. high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko, spoke bluntly about the need to change the "vicious downward cycle of tit-for-tat politics" and warned those pushing for secession that the country's borders won't be redrawn.
Inzko said Bosnia faces a decisive four years ahead after elections in October.
Bosnian Ambassador Mirsada Colakovic told the council that the country is looking forward to "moving to the next stage of the integration process" with the EU.