BELGRADE, Serbia-"External influence" in the Balkans can be countered by strong democratic institutions, reforms and anti-corruption work, the head of NATO said on Thursday.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg's remarks came during an official visit to Bosnia's capital Sarajevo.
Addressing reporters after a meeting with a member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, Mladen Ivanic, Stoltenberg said NATO's presence in the region was to preserve peace and added the alliance did not want to see any escalation of conflict.
However, when asked if the alliance was worried about Russian influence in the Balkans, Stoltenberg said: "That is something that NATO is monitoring very closely."
"The best way to increase resistance to any type of external influence or intervention is to ensure that the democratic institutions in the countries of the Western Balkans is strong, to fight against corruption, to modernize, to implement the reforms that are safe and institutions that are able to resist this and to continue the democratic process," he added.
NATO launched its first involvement in the region in 1992 during the break-up of Yugoslavia. This included air raids, naval blockades and the deployment of peacekeeping forces.
Stoltenberg called on the Bosnian authorities to strengthen the country's security institutions.
"The best way to avoid a new conflict, new tensions is to continue to strengthen the security institutions in Bosnia, to continue to implement reforms and to continue to work with NATO to strengthen the partnership between NATO and Bosnia.
"We are here to calm down tensions, to avoid conflict," he added.
Bosnian NATO membership
Meanwhile, Ivanic said although Bosnia maintained its interest in cooperating with NATO, it was "premature" to talk about joining the alliance.
"Within the Presidency of Bosnia there is a full consensus that the interest of Bosnia is to immediately activate the Membership Action Plan [MAP]. This political agreement exists," he said.
"To talk today about membership, and we have not activated the MAP, is premature. We should stick to what we currently have approved, and that is we will modernize the armed forces, activate the MAP, continue to modernize and cooperate with the [NATO] alliance, which has global significance, " Ivanic added.
Bosnia's links to NATO began with its joining of the Partnership for Peace in 2006. Since 2010, Bosnia has been in the negotiation stages to become a NATO member.
Source: Anadolu Agency