Since the middle of April Bosnia and Herzegovina has become one of 20 “lucky countries” whose citizens can enter Russia by regular airlines without a visa. The fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina has not been declared “hostile” by Kremlin should be “thanked” to the member of the Presidency of BiH and the leader of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats Milorad Dodik, who did not support the introduction of any sanctions against Russia.
“I use good relations with Putin, whom I value as a great statesman of a great country, a powerful man who has always been fair to us. He never asked for anything. Putin himself has told me 10 times that he respects the Dayton Agreement, and if I go beyond the Dayton Agreement there will be no support. He repeated that the last time we met”, said Dodik for FTV.
Coincidentally or not, one could not notice usual iconography at the rally called “Freedom” held in Banja Luka on April 20 as a protest to the decision of the High Representative Christian Schmidt on disposal of State property. The number of messages related to brotherhood with Russia or photos of Vladimir Putin was negligible. The rally was officially organized by the Veterans Organization of Republika Srpska, which tried to remove any connection with the ruling SNSD or “brotherly Russia”, going so far that even Milorad Dodik, although present, did not deliver a speech.
Rally “Freedom”, Banja Luka April 20, 2022
Security measures around Milorad Dodik were also tightened mid-April. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Republika Srpska explains the measures with the information received from the partner services about the threat to Dodik’s security. Less secretive was Dodik, who claimed to have information that “British special forces plan to pick him up either at this home, work or on the move and take him to an unknown place”.
Armored vehicles “Despot” are deployed around the RS Government building and especially around Dodik’s property in the village of Bakinci near Laktaši.
Armored vehicles in front of RS Government and Dodik’s property
The real question is whom Milorad Dodik really fears? Does he has similar doubts as his brother “on the other side of Drina”, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, who has been looking for a formula over the past two months, trying not to keep both the doors to the West, and to the Putin’ court open, and being aware that the first option means isolation of Serbia, and second one personal danger.
Economist and former RS Government minister Svetlana Cenić recently also spoke about Dodik’s attitude towards Russia.
“He declares himself a Russian man, exclaiming long live Russia. It should not be questioned whose he is and whom he supports. If I were in his place, I would install a rod and fans in my neck and be turning around myself forcefully. He easily dealt with Americans for many years, without consequences, with sanctions, yet again quite different from sanctions introduced to others. I would be very careful in his place and would keep looking around. You can see how hard he is trying. He will not dare to betray Putin, as the punishments for that are harsh. We watched what happened to people who turned against the hand that raised them”, said Cenić for N1.
Žurnal wrote how Dodik is particularly concerned with the sanctions to certain Russian oligarchs through which Dodik is establishing good ties with Kremlin. There is an increasing amount of evidence that he had promised them “half of Republika Srpska” just to finance him as long as possible for him to preserve political power and personal wealth, of course, which was also covered by Žurnal.
“Russia has become a ground for enrichment of people from the entire Europe and a new breed of Russia’s fan has emerged there. These are the ones who earned millions in Russia or haven taken millions from the region and legalized them in Russia. The money came from the arms and energy trade, and Russia has applied a model of organized crime and corruption in these business affair. Three structures of people are tied to Russia: business sector, intelligence circles and intellectuals, nationalists, anti-Westerners”, said the Director of Forum for Ethnic Relations Dušan Janjić.
One should not be naive and think that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has put Bosnia and Herzegovina on the margins of Kremlin’s interests. Already in the first days of Russian invasion, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov began telling the story about BiH citizens (also) arriving and taking the side of Ukraine.
“Kosovo and some other parts of the Western Balkans have become a breeding ground for crime. They are terrorists and drug dealers. Mercenaries are recruited there for, inter alia, US-sponsored military conflicts. We have information that militants from Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina have been recruited to throw Russia off the balance, which includes sending them to Donbas (eastern Ukraine). We are working to confirm this information”, said Lavrov mid-February.
Two months later, the Ministry of Defense of Russia sent a note to the military attaché of BiH that 167 citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are fighting on the side of Ukraine against the Russian military forces, without specifying a single name. All this comes exactly on the date when the Day of Russian Volunteers is celebrated every year in Višegrad - a memorial service for Russians who died in the Army of Republika Srpska. There were about 700 such volunteers.
A regular “guest” was Viktor Zaplatin, commander of the First Volunteer Detachment of the RS Army. In 2004 Zaplatin was appointed the first deputy commander of the border army of so-called Luhansk People's Republic, a part of Ukraine occupied by Russia. Igor Strelkov was among the Russian volunteers who worked in the area of Višegrad and Žepa. Strelkov is one of three Russians accused by a Dutch court of shooting down a passenger plane over Ukraine and killing 298 passengers.
Igor Strelkov in Višegrad 1992 and Viktor Zaplatin u Višegrad 2019
Of course, the Embassy of the Russian Federation in BiH has never been critical of these volunteers, and how could it be when these volunteers are even today tasked with destabilizing not only parts of Ukraine, but also Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro with the support of Russia’s military, intelligence and political leadership.
That is why it has decided to further obstruct the Peace Implementation Council in BiH, canceling further OHR funding. True, this is more symbolic than the actual impact on funding, where Russia participated with 1.2% of total funds. The embassy continues to deny the mandate of the High Representative Christian Schmidt, referring to him in its statements as a “German citizen”. Like his predecessors, Russian Ambassador Igor Kalabukhov formally talks about the need to strengthen the BiH state, while at the same time supporting the secessionism of Milorad Dodik and his political partner, HDZ BiH leader Dragan Čović.
“The Russian Federation defines its policy as a policy of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of BiH and respect for the Dayton Peace Agreement, in the form signed 26 years ago. Let’s not forget that the Russian Federation is one of the guarantors of that agreement, and its capacity, as well as its own authority of a world power, gives it not only the right, but also an international obligation to monitor its implementation and to react if it founds that any deviations to the agreement have happened. What can be clearly seen in the public attitudes of the Russian Federation is that 26 years after the signing of the Dayton Agreement the need for foreign interventionism in BiH has passed and that it is time for BiH to start consuming its sovereignty in full capacity without foreign interference and with agreement of internal political actors in BiH,” spoke for Žurnal Milan Tegeltija, former president of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of BiH, who was dismissed due numerous judicial affairs.
Today Tegeltija is a legal advisor to Milorad Dodik and thus also a great promoter of Russian influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Žurnal wrote about how Tegeltija had visited the Federal Bailiffs Service of the Government of the Russian Federation (FSSP) on two occasions. The leaders of the FSSP are appointed by Putin himself and they all come from the army structure. The FSSP played a significant role in investigations against Russian oligarchs, which was a way for Putin to control them and thus consolidate his power, and unofficially they were registered as collaborators of the Russian Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces (GRU) during the service’s interference in the 2016 US elections.
Tegeltija’s hosts – members of the FSSP
Žurnal has been for years now systematically analyzing and warning about the methods of Russia’s influence, not only in politics and economics, but also in other segments such as culture or education, which is predominantly done through the Orthodox Church.
It should be reminded that the European Parliament passed a Resolution in which it expresses concern over the “attempts of the Orthodox Church in countries such as Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially in entity of Republika Srpska, to promote Russia as a protector of traditional family values and strengthen relations between the state and the Church.”
“The Russian Church and the President are like twins. They are inseparable, they do everything together; they look and think the same. In addition to the church Russia’s arsenal for persuading others of its magnificence and superiority over everyone has several other instruments. It is particularly relevant for the défilé of Immortal Regiment, which originated in Russia in 2011, spilling over to Serbia and RS and being supported by all significant political factors and media. The défilé celebrates the victims of the Second World War; enlarged photographs are carried around, showing off loyalty to the current politics. It is interesting that it celebrates the unity of Chetniks and Partisans in the immortal Serbdom that is the only correct ideology. Only six years after Russia, the regiment came to Banja Luka. However, the Russians themselves have a bit different understanding of the regiment and had never thought of celebrating the unity of the Red Army and General Vlasov’s soldiers who also embraced the national and capitalist violent ideology. No cry- “We are all Russians”, explained sociologists Sead Pašić.
The Russian aggression on Ukraine had to escalate for many in Bosnia and Herzegovina to understand the articles written by Žurnal about how Russia is waging a political war in BiH using all aforementioned means in order to maintain its influence.
“I think that Russian aggression has shed light on what is happening over the Balkans, and especially on Russian influence in BiH. The international community has been accepting the view that BiH is dysfunctional for ten years already, and we see that Russian mercenaries are trying to block the state in all possible ways and to present it as dysfunctional. Now we see what the agenda is and how it is done”, confessed the president of “Naša stranka” Edin Forto calling Milorad Dodik a Russian mercenary.
There are speculations that the problems faced by Russia after the sanctions imposed due to the attack on Ukraine will weaken its influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But for the time being, it is more a product of desire than reality.
“Russia will now remain completely isolated from the Western world and Europe for many years, which will affect and has already begun to affect all those from this region who have been attached to Russia. After all, Western diplomacy has finally realized what kind of politics it is dealing with and how dangerous it was to let things go by some inertia and without serious engagement. Will that be enough to speed up the so-called European path, at least for BiH, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia and Albania, remains uncertain, but it would be nice for that to happen”, are expectations of the publicist and historian Dragan Markovina expressed in the interview for AJB.
There are also more radical views. Journalist and writer Andrej Nikolaidis criticizes not only "domestic traitors" but also Western diplomacy, which, according to him, has allowed the spread of risky influence in this region for way too long.
“Putin’s people, such as Dodik and other brothers, who are under full control, need to be swept away. They need to be swept away and a new political reality established in the Balkans, which will be resistant to Putin, i.e. resistant to the penetration of Russian influence, because what we have now is Putin’s absolute control, where Putin’s people inform the West and create Western embassies’ policy towards the Western Balkans. It’s hilarious in one dimension, and really scary in another”, said Nikolaidis for AJB.
We will conclude the series on Russian influence on Bosnia and Herzegovina in the way Žurnal initially wrote. It can be argued if Russia chose Dodik as its “player” in this part of the Balkans, or if he had imposed himself, showing a desire to be “Putin’s errand boy” more than Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.
Dodik wants to overshadow Vučić in the “Serbian world”, and Vučić is “wandering” in his explanations that Serbia is both pro-European and pro-Russian. He sees a chance in that, fighting frantically for Republika Srpska to be Russia’s backup strategic position until further notice at least.
However, the one who once betrayed those who had put him on the political scene in BiH is able to repeat the same to the current “bosses”. So today, just in case, several “Despots” are standing guard in front of his residence.