Published on: January 31, 2020 at 09:48 hours
It is the local elections year in BiH, but it does not hold up the preparations for the “election night fever”. The lobbyists of Milorad Dodik are already mapping the corridors that the Russian President Vladimir Putin might walk down in order to arrange a one-minute time slot for their joint photo by the time of the election campaign.
Truth be told, signing of the Reform Program for NATO raised the price of the “photo”, but Dodik does not ask about the price of such pre-election marketing, it is all paid from the entity budget anyway.
An inquisitive Ambassador
The current president of the Central Election Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Branko Petrić, does not forget Russia either.
“Invite the Embassy of Russia”, warned Petrić during a December session of the CEC when determining the list of participants for one of the forthcoming expert workshops.
Ambassador of Russia to Bosnia and Herzegovina Petr Ivancov is every so often a gladly welcomed guest of Milorad Dodik and the SNSD cadre for whom he has been bluntly campaigning for years now, far away from diplomatic neutrality. He does not forget the BiH Central Election Commission either.
“The Ambassador comes once a year just to ask if everything is set, if we are contented with the invitation, if we are going and if we need anything. I must laugh when Russian’s or anybody else’s influence in the CEC is mentioned. Fortunately we have very disposed donors and that is the only way to improve something in the elections, because the state does provide any support. At this moment the Russians are neither giving a single Convertible Mark nor are they showing any interest in doing so”, assures the CEC’s member Irena Hadžiabdić.
The aforementioned Invancov’s invitation is the one from 2018, at the time of elections in Russia. Hadžiabdić, as president of the CEC and commissioner Novak Boživković had then visited Moscow at the costs of the host country. The cooperation that was laid down in a Memorandum from 2010, which was signed by Hadžiabdić herself, was actualized with the president of the Election Commission of the Russian Federation, Ella Pamfilova.
“I was in Russia with 50 members of the state election commissions as an accredited observer. You cannot be a guest. They put us in 2-3 buses and then we go around and observe. Once we come back and talk to the colleagues we usually convey what we saw that perhaps we should not”, explains Hadžiabdić for Žurnal.
“What perhaps we should not see” is the CCTV surveillance at the polling stations and use of the vote counting scanners. The CEC has never commented, especially not condemned what the world public had seen, and that is open rigging of the elections by putting a large number of ballots in the ballot boxes by the members of the Russian polling station committees. Instead of restraining from further cooperation with Russia the BiH CEC is of the opinion that it has to be broadened.
The list of countries with which BiH verified cooperation between election commissions is short. The list, apart from Russia, includes Malaysia, Ukraine, Turkey, India and Bulgaria. Although the CEC asserts that contents of the Memoranda are modeled the same, the one with Russia contains the item on exchange of experience and experts on not only electoral process, but also the information technologies, which involves supervision over control of the voters’ registers and electronic vote counting once it is introduced in BiH. So, instead of papers and begs with fake ballots that “dead and unborn” sometimes used to vote it all could be done through a software system installed by the most favorable bidder. It was already certain that these would be the Russian IT experts, which in addition to a series of other intent indicators of the Russian influence on the electoral process in BiH was pointed out in the texts of Žurnal.
One should recall the Žurnal’s story about disappearance of around 35 tons of paper from the BiH Central Election Commission’s warehouse, which was procured for printing of the ballots. Although both the State auditors and the Commission on determining the situation in the CEC’s warehouse detected the problem, the BiH Prosecutor’s Office had expectedly issued an order not to conduct the investigation against the persons responsible in the Central Election Commission. The Prosecutor’s Office, like the CEC, is not spared of the visits of Russian Ambassador who discusses “strengthening the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina” with the Chief Prosecutor Gordana Tadić.
“As far as I am concerned, Žurnal portal is not credible”, said Russian Ambassador Ivancov entirely outside of the diplomatic context in mid-2019. He did not fail to mention that “he is acquainted with Žurnal’s sources”.
“It is unbelievable that ambassadors take the liberty of commenting internal political events. It cannot be seen anywhere in the world, it is only possible here”, said Milorad Dodik as president of Republika Srpska in September 2016. He was thereat not thinking of Ambassador Ivancov whom he will meet several minutes later to discuss internal affairs such as the decision of the BiH Constitutional Court to forbid holding of the referendum on the National Day of RS.
“We know it all, we are monitoring everything and documenting who is behind you”, complacently reported Pero Simić, the office shadow of Milorad Dodik, to the journalist of “untrustworthy” Žurnal, thus admitting the existence of Dodik’s para-intelligence service.
Everything they monitor and document is anyhow published really soon and that is exactly Dodik’s sore spot in the intention to take over the role of the main “Russian satellite” in the Balkans.
He certainly did expect financial support for something like that, but it will turn out that Russia is absolutely at ease with having Dodik, that is Republika Srpska, paying for reinforcement of their influence in BiH.
The idea about establishment of a party that the Russian Federation would finance with 800 thousand KM was never realized. Dodik had verbally supported establishment of an absolutely Pro-Russian party presented by Emir Kusturica, Matija Bećković and Slobodan Pavlović, but he reckoned it is more profitable to strengthen SNSD by way of “breaking up” coalition parties, which in case of NDP, DNS and SP proved to be quite successful. It is not known if Russia ever sent 800 thousand KM, but it did send several people, who should have been moral and physical support to SNSD in the pre-election time.
“Russian brothers” of rather colorful biography and operations marched through Banja Luka and Republika Srpska in the recent years. Cossacks, bikers, folklore groups, humanitarians, writers, tycoons on a secret mission, like some kind of Russian “donation” to Milorad Dodik in the pre-election time.
A march of “peacemakers”
Around a hundred of Russian Cossacks found themselves in Banja Luka a few days before the elections in 2014, saying they are a folklore group led by Nikolaj Djakonov. It will turn out that they have no knowledge of dance skills, but are rather skilled in the arts of war.
The so-called humanitarians, Putin’s “Night Wolves”, rode in and were honored by Dodik for “strengthening of Russian-Serbian relations”. They, together with the brothers from the organization “Serbian Honor”, will be prohibited from entering BiH in March 2018, a decision the Russian Embassy in BiH protested against.
The friendship with Vladimir Putin did not help the leader of “Night Wolves” Alexander Zaldostanov to enter BiH, as it did not help an another name known from the EU and the USA blacklists, the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev and Zakhar Prilepin, a poet from the Russian militia troops on the territory of Ukraine.
Malofeev met Dodik in Banja Luka during the 2014 Elections, and he was prohibited from entering BiH after it was discovered that his task in 2018 was to interfere the electoral process.
Dodik’s associates, amongst who is Predrag Ćeranić, member of the Council for protection of the RS Constitutional order and dean of the Faculty of Security Sciences Banja Luka, consider the role of Russia to be a statistical error.
“The influence of Russia in Republika Srpska, and general in the Western Balkans, is blown out of proportion. I had the chance to hear similar questions from numerous foreign news crews when they talked to me on this topic before the previous elections. The backbone of their interest was Russian presence, particularly the influence on the police of Srpska. I had explained the way things are: there are no Russian military formations in Srpska, the police is trained by American and not Russian instructors. The Russian support in Srpska is strategic, but very low at the operational level”, said Ćeranić for Žurnal.
Not only had “artistic souls” marched through Bosnia and Herzegovina, i.e. its entity Republika Srpska, in the pre-election time. During a visit to our country in 2018 the chairwoman of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Valentina Matviyenko, “gave a lesson” to the BiH parliamentarians, almost transparently supporting dissolution of the country.
“Russia advocates handover of powers to the entities of BiH, advocates the removal of the high representative”, said Matviyenko, who gave the title of “the Duke of Serbian Nationalism’ fortress” in the world to Dodik.
The visit of the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, at the end of September 2018, amid the pre-election campaign, was of particular importance to Milorad Dodik. Truth be told, Lavrov followed the state protocol and visited Sarajevo first where he met with the members of the BiH Presidency, but came to Banja Luka the next day, thus giving Republika Srpska and Dodik himself subjectivity in the international relations.
“I think that Russia helped Dodik at the last two elections and that it played the Dodik card. Two Putin’s receptions in September have in both elections more than clearly showed that the Russian side supports him. I honestly believe that even now they are a bit disappointed, particularly after this decision on the Reform Program and further advancement in the process of getting closer to the NATO, but it is something we are about to see”, said for Žurnal the former member of the BiH Presidency and the former PDP president Mladen Ivanić.
The Russian dignitaries generally do not miss to underline how they support “sovereignty and territorial integrity of BiH”, but then immediately give support to Milorad Dodik who advocates secession of Republika Srpska. Dodik decorated Lavrov with an order; they visited the construction site of the Serbian-Russian Center in the Banja Luka downtown, but for the time being there is no money from Russia for this primarily ecclesiastical building that is to symbolize loyalty and gratitude to the “Mother Russia”. Without 6 million KM that the RS Government has allocated so far, the construction would still be at the beginning.
“Russia is indirectly helping Dodik, who has been identifying himself over the past few years as a pro-Russian man and someone from the circle of people around Putin. He is also psychologically playing on Orthodoxy which undoubtedly effects emotions of the voters in RS”, explains sociologist professor Slavo Kukić.
South political front
It can be disputed if the Russia had chosen Dodik as its “player” in this part of the Balkans or he had simply forced himself, showing the wish to be “Putin’s boy” more than the president of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić. It is possible that Dodik is wishing to overshadow Vučić who “wanders” in the explanations that Serbia is both pro-European and pro-Russian. Dodik sees a chance in that, frantically fighting to have Republika Srpska being at least a backup strategic location of Russia for now.
“Support to Dodik is primarily support to the Russian destruction of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and therewith of the entire region. It is a support to non-acceptance of defeat, support to a new conflict in the Balkans, support to the horrific crime on which Dodik’s separatist regime rests, support to the idea of Great Serbia and disappearance of Bosnia and Herzegovina”, said historian from Serbia, Milivoj Bešlin, for Oslobođenje daily recently.
However, despite the attempts, Dodik does not manage to destabilize Bosnia and Herzegovina as much as he had announced, so the Russia was forced to give him support by creating a kind of “South political front” epitomized in Dragan Čović and HDZ BiH.
Engagement of Nikolai Patrushev, former head of the Russian Security Service and current secretary of the Security Council of Russia, sufficiently indicates seriousness of Russia’s intention to widely open the door to further tearing up of the country by influencing the 2018 elections. A person greatly trusted by Putin holds a secret meeting with Dragan Čović, and vice president of HDZ Croatia Milijan Vaso Brkić. Of course, the economic interests of Russia in these two countries were in the background, but the master plan of getting the HDZ BiH president in the BiH Presidency was interrupted by Željko Komišić with his candidacy and number of votes that is unreachable for Čović.
Everything is now directed to the amendments to the BiH Election Law in line with the wishes of HDZ BiH, which Dodik will undoubtedly support as instructed by Russia, but it will simultaneously open a new-old crisis within BiH.
Admission of influence
The information on number of votes won by the SNSD candidates show that the support had effect. So the number of votes at the 2012 Local Elections went from 184.520 to 202.503 in four years. The SNSD candidate for the BiH Presidency had 310.867 votes in 2014 and in 2018 that number increased for more than fifty thousand, more accurately it went to 368.210. In addition to that, the number of votes won for the BiH Parliament increased, starting with 249.182 at the 2014 elections and rising to 260.930 votes that SNSD won in 2018.
Dodik started election year 2020 telling the old stories with just slightly changed word order.
“British government said it was giving six million pounds for organized activities to prevent Russian influence in the Balkans, the US Government had through various organizations, which it publicly announced, given more than 20 million dollars”, complained Dodik to the Serbian media thereby admitting that the Russian influence de facto-exists.
The Embassy of Russia to BiH did not respond to Žurnal’s request to comment Dodik’s allegations.
“It is important to him to see that underscoring of things not only as an attack on Republika Srpska. He wants to introduce himself as the key Russian player in the field, one who points out, who has information from the Russian side, and who plays the key role in some global battle that is fought in BiH and Serbia. Russia is close to us, it loves us, and we are Russian players. I consider it to be a show for the public that serves him primarily”, said political analyst Adnan Huskić.
By way of reminder, some ten days before the 2018 General Elections president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, accused the United States of America and Great Britain for interference with the electoral process in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Dodik served as a megaphone for the statement. It was announced that Vučić will in due time present evidence on spies that should have prevented Dodik’s victory in the elections.
The only thing released since then is a video of a Serbian official receiving money that is delivered to him as an award for espionage by an intelligence agent from-Russia…