IT’S startling just how easy it is to take our eye of the international political ball and before you know it there’s a crisis in the making. In the case of the region to which I’m referring, the West did it once before back in 1991 and the result was catastrophic.

Back then that crisis and the devastating events that followed took place in what was known as Yugoslavia, today it’s in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). To put it quite simply Bosnia right now is facing its gravest political crisis since the end of the 1992-1995 war – not that many of us have probably even noticed.

To be honest, even as a correspondent who covered that war back in the 1990s I had little idea of how bad things had become until I recently revisited Bosnia and listened as people told of their concerns.

But finally, it seems, Europe and the US appear to be waking up to the profound dangers that Bosnia faces, which in the words of Christian Schmidt the UN’s chief representative in the region could mean the country breaking apart and a “very real” prospect of a return to conflict.

Where, you may well ask, has this crisis come from and who or what is responsible?

The short answer is that it’s been brewing now for almost 15 years, unchecked by European and other Western nations who have chosen to look the other way as Milorad Dodik, the genocide-denying leader of the Serb-majority Republika Srpska, has exploited ethno-nationalist feelings to claim more power and widen divisions across the region.

READ MORE: Crisis at the Belarus border contains a warning for the future

For those unfamiliar with the current political landscape, under the Dayton peace accords, the former Yugoslav republic was split into two autonomous regions: the Serb-majority Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, mainly inhabited by Bosniaks and Croats. While both have their own government and parliaments these are overseen by state level institutions.

But now Dodik, just like Slobodan Milosevic before him, is pushing to undo all that, threatening to create a breakaway Serb army and pledging to withdraw Bosnian Serbs and dismantle the country’s central institutions all by the end of this month.

We have been here before and what followed was the worst conflict on European soil since the Second World War, complete with atrocities like the 1995 Srebrenica genocide when 8000 Muslim men and boys were massacred by Bosnian Serbs.

In fact, it tells us all we need to know about Dodik’s toxic politics that the recent uptick in his divisive campaigning came after a law was passed in July banning denial of the Srebrenica genocide.

Those with an eye for political detail might well recall too that back in 2014, on the eve of the referendum on Scottish independence, world news agencies quoted Dodik as citing the secession processes in Scotland and Catalonia as “similar examples,” and “crucial experiences for Bosnian Serbs”.

READ MORE: David Pratt: Dictators, drug cartels, and a nation sliding towards the abyss

It took Paddy Ashdown, former high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, to rightly point out that there was no similarity between the referendum Scotland was having and the one Dodik was then threatening. Scotland’s was a peaceful and legal one while Dodik’s “would represent an obvious and open violation of international law, as well as the end of peace in BiH”.

The Bosnian Serb leader’s brand of nationalism, many corrected, bore no comparison to the civic nationalism based on values of inclusivity that underpins Scotland’s sovereignty aspirations.

Which brings us back to the present and the threat posed to Bosnia by Dodik’s latest provocations. Make no mistake about it, his moves are just part of many threats putting democracy at risk in the Balkans. With sporadic violence between Kosovo and Serbia and political instability in Montenegro and North Macedonia, the last thing needed right now is Dodik upping the tension.

The EU and the West are culpable in this growing crisis too, coming as it does against the backdrop of a stalled EU enlargement process that puts at risk years of progress in the region.

As the leading Bosnian journalist and analyst Srecko Latal recently pointed out, what lies behind the boldness and timing of Dodik’s recent moves is that the US, and especially the EU, places Bosnia nowhere near as high on the list of international priorities as in past years. The EU especially was supposed to underwrite the long-term stability of the region by accepting countries like Bosnia into the bloc, but has been consistently reluctant to welcome it into its ranks.

All this of course suits Russia to a tee, as Dodik knows all too well, fond as he is of alluding to powerful allies that would support Republika Srpska’s moves. Right now, there is resonance in what he says, given the extent to which Moscow is foremost among those willing to step into the political vacuum, emboldening autocratic leaders and destabilising the region whenever the West and EU is found wanting – Belarus and Ukraine right now being points in case.

​READ MORE: The Belarus row that threatens the entire region and the Myanmar junta

DAYTON was always an ambiguous settlement to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, but at least it ended three years of appalling violence and held out the promise of reconciliation.

But the West’s once-determined defence of the agreement has been allowed to let slip and the price is now being paid in the shape of Dodik ploughing forward with his divisive plans as well as growing Kremlin influence in the region.

The Bosnian Serb leader might of course just simply be being playing politics with his calls for the further Balkanising of this historically volatile place. But that alone, as history has graphically shown, is highly incendiary and can lead to darkness and terrible deeds.

If necessary, be it through sanctions or political isolation, the West and EU need to make sure that Republika Srpska will face collective and concerted action should it overstep the mark.

Schmidt the current high representative is not exaggerating when he says that Bosnia is facing its biggest existential threat since the “ethnic cleansing” and genocidal massacre at Srebrenica in the 1990s.

The West stood back then and watched it happen. It would be unconscionable were it to allow Bosnia to slip back again into the abyss because of Dodik’s obsessive ethno-nationalist ambitions.