The Russian Federation has lost a political battle in the attempt to thwart the mandate of the new High Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina. It had announced a number of procedural actions within the United Nations Security Council to suspend or postpone the appointment of Christian Schmidt as High Representative.
“Without the consent of the UN Security Council and all parties in BiH no candidate for this position will neither have legitimacy nor sufficient political support for the implementation of assistance in post-conflict regulation. No such convergence has happened to date”, said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharov.
“The only thing left for Russia to do is to get noisy, to protest, to foam and to rage, hoping that it could do the trick and deter frightened EU, read Germany, from appointing Mr. Schmidt. In order for anyone in the geopolitical field to have an influence on the retraction of such decisions, they must be very rich and powerful. Not as powerful in the military sense in terms of how many warheads somebody has, but financially, banking and monetary. The only real impact is monetary. Russia has a GDP the size of the US state of Texas, which is about 1.7 trillion dollars. At the big table of the political casino, that is not enough to enter such a poker game”, sociologist Sead Pašić said.
Although Russia has subsequently relented, it does not mean that from August 1, when Christian Schmidt should officially take up the duty from Valentin Inzko, it will not continue to destroy the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Russia uses SNSD President, Milorad Dodik, for whatever it does not want to utter openly.
"If they want to introduce a new High Representative, they can only introduce him for the Federation of BiH, and certainly not for RS. So, we do not respect his decisions. I really do not understand why Mr. Schmidt needs to be embarrassed in this way, losing the credibility of a successful politician in Germany”, announced Dodik.
Nothing has changed even after the new ambassador of the Russian Federation to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Igor Kalabuhov, began his term early this year. He arrived immediately after emergence of the affair “icon” (which was never investigated by the BiH Prosecutors’ Office). He just added the views on accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to NATO to the well-known Russia’s views on the need to close the OHR.
“Our stance on this issue is such that it depends on the sovereign choice of each state. If it chooses integration as a priority, then that is its choice. European integration of BiH - we think that it does not necessarily mean that it has nothing to do with the Russian Federation. The statements from Brussels that the Balkans is a geopolitical zone of the EU and that no one can operate there are unacceptable for us because we, as a state, have interests,” said Kalabuhov for N1.
These interests, about which Kalabuhov spoke unequivocally, have caused Bosnia and Herzegovina, politically and economically the most vulnerable, to become an indispensable part of the story about Russia’s aspirations in this region. Such an attitude is shared by the delegate of the House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Zlatko Miletić.
“When it comes to their influence, and I am here talking about the entire region, not only BiH, it is very significant, especially over the past 10 years and must be viewed in a strategic light. I believe that BiH is in no other way more interesting than Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland and some other countries which, conditionally speaking, are behaving more and more pro-Russian in the absence of agility of the State Department and Western powers. I am thinking in particular of these large EU countries, which have dealt with their problems, and not with the problem of the Western Balkans. Unfortunately, the Russian administration has used it extensively over the past 10 years and expanded its economic, social and political influence to all countries in the region, including BiH,” says Miletić.
Žurnal had written about the role of Milorad Dodik in the attainment of Russia’s interest and the dilemma if Russia has chosen Dodik to be its “player” in this part of the Balkans or had he imposed himself, showing the wish to be “Putin’s boy” more than the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić.
The leader of HDZ BiH, Dragan Čović, has joined him in the past few years, congruous to the Russia’s growing influence in, primarily, Croatian economy. According to Sead Pašić their operations are coming to an end.
“Čović and Dodik present themselves as people having a strong background and you will get an impression of strength, power and untouchability by looking at the analysis of media appearances. The impression is not the same as the reality, which is fundamentally different and is not on the side of these two. The public accepts the media image and not the reality of the sober mind, nor the factual structure derived from it. In light of the new US policy and the strategy towards the Western Balkans, their near future is quite certain. It does not exist!", Pašić resolutely concludes.
At the same time, young Russophiles are maturing in Republika Srpska, who aspire to take as much place as possible in the hierarchy of Russia’s promoters.
One of them is Mile Aljetić, the president of the Youth Forum of the “United Srpska” party, which is essentially the radical wing of SNSD, and of the association “Glas Republike”, which agilely promotes Russian politics. They had organized an exhibition dedicated to the former Prime Minister of Russia, Yevgeny Primakov. This year’s exhibition of photographs and documents “Heroines of the Great Patriotic War / 1941-1945 /” in Banja Luka was opened by Ambassador Kalabuhov.
“Yes, I advocate comprehensive and greater educational, cultural, economic, humanitarian and political cooperation between the Russian Federation and Republika Srpska, based on friendly relationship and partnership, mutual respect, mutual trust and common interest. Yes, it is also true that I, together with my friends and through our public engagement, give a modest contribution to the affirmation of that cooperation, without violating the interests of anyone in BiH, highly appreciating the long history of mutual cooperation and the connection between the Russian and Serbian people”, said Aljetić for Žurnal.
Picture on the right: Mile Aljetić and Ambassador Igor Kalabuhov
At the same time, Aljetić is the coordinator of “Heirs of Victory” International Alliance, which is the co-organizer of the newly established manifestation in Republika Srpska "Defile of the Immortal Regiment". Presented as a celebration of the victory over fascism and the victory of the Red Army and Yugoslav partisans, it allowed the infiltration of the followers of the fascist, Chetnik movement.
Žurnal wrote about the organization “Heirs of Victory” three years ago. The Association of Veterans from Moscow called “Nasledniki pobede” organized military camps (also) attended by the children from Republika Srpska.
Boys at the Russian “pacifist” camp
Far from the office of high politics, special propaganda is being organized on the ground, glorifying Russia and its significance. Žurnal wrote about these modes of operations, which are primarily directed towards the young generation, through the Orthodox Church, motorcyclists associations such as "Night Wolves" or various humanitarian organizations that are funded directly through the Russian Embassy or Russian oligarchs who became wealthy thanks to the ties with Russian authorities.
Night wolves with Milorad Dodik
"Night Wolves" had this year again organized their excursion throughout Republika Srpska under the guise of pilgrimage to Orthodox churches. An example is the work of the humanitarian organization "St. George" from Lončar, which boasted of the second vehicle in a row donated to them by the Embassy of the Russian Federation in BiH.
“We owe special gratitude to our mother Russia and its Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, headed by His Excellency Ambassador Igor Kalabuhov,” published this organization on its Facebook page. The donation came after BIRN wrote about the questionable reputation of the organization’s leadership that was under police surveillance for being “interesting security-wise”.
Members of the organization “St. George” and a thank you note to the Russian Embassy for the gift
Of course, authorities in Republika Srpska find nothing disputable in any form of Russia's engagement in Bosnia and Herzegovina, they deny its efforts to influence political events in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“The fact is that the Russian Federation does not interfere in the internal political issues of Republika Srpska, Federation of BiH and BiH, that it cooperates with representatives of all three constituent peoples and representatives of "Others ", as well as representatives of all religions. The Russian Federation, as one of the guarantors of the Dayton Peace Agreement, unconditionally advocates observance of all norms and principles of the international law that form the basis of the Dayton Peace Agreement,” claims Mile Aljetić.
"Russia has influence in BiH and exercises it through Serbia and Croatia. Both countries are in some ways debtors to Putin's poor empire. Serbia pays obedience for a veto in the UN Security Council, Croatia because of the money pumped into Agrokor. Dodik and Čović, or more correctly HDZ and SNSD, are proxy entities through which the influence of both countries is exercised. Russia's influence is refined in terms of these relations it comes down to returning the favor, pumping the money and emphasizing Russia's image as invincible and super rich. It is essentially corruption and this corruption is covered up by patriotic texts, references to the glorious past, unique traditions and everything else that does not require any proof, but sole acceptance as an axiom", says Sead Pašić for Žurnal.
Zlatko Miletić has no doubt that corruption in the background is one of the methods to exercise Russian influence.
“What is the essence, having in mind one of the best diplomacies in the world? They do it very skillfully, by trading in influence, bribing various political officials in the countries of the region, expanding its influence through some religious instruments ... This includes bank financing, financing of large projects in certain countries of the region, and in a way also energy blackmail, considering that they are the largest exporters of gas, and use of some other means ... They simply managed to impose themselves as a great power in this region, and BiH is quite specific in all of this", concludes Miletić.
Davor Gjenero, political analyst from Croatia, delivered a presentation at the recently held roundtable discussion under the project “BiH and NATO Partnership II” focusing, among other things, on the suspicious financial flows related to Russia that are circulating in the countries of the region.
“When looking at what is happening in the Balkans with Russian influence, then, as it seems to me, the most interesting thing is what is happening in the smaller entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which often serves as a logistic base for financing Russia's murky political interests in the West. It is frequently evident that the flow of money for these murky movements goes through Banja Luka, or some other cities in the smaller entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The most transparent was the murky financing of the current ruling party of Janez Janša in Slovenia with some loans through a lady in Bijeljina, and even now, when we have very open money laundering channels in the so-called Republika Srpska from Slovenia, which is very important for functioning of Janša's administration,” stated Gjenero.
“They have obviously found other benefits in our country, so there is no need for large financial investments or, to put it simply, why they would spend when they can bribe many of our corrupt politicians for a small amount of money...They use the opportunity and by them out for a small amount of money and then when “the train leaves the station”, when something serious happens, we get a headache saying look now they have come, what do they want, and we haven't notice their presence for the past 10 or 15 years”, adds Zlatko Miletić for Žurnal.
In addition to the already known role of Serbia, which transmits Russian influence in BiH, Sead Pašić reminds of the special role of Croatia and Russia’s influence there.
“It is already very visible in the Balkans, not only in BiH but also in Croatia, the "special" proxy fighter for the Russian nationalist politics and the endangerment agenda of everything and everyone. Now, "our neighbor" has taken on this resistance to the EU because European institutions have rejected Croatia's requests to restructure BiH, looking with one eye to stick the Višegrad group to the European Union's body in the same way as Janša. Both Putin and the Croatian President are making what is called a "Hail Mary" move in American football. And that means throwing the ball "randomly" and hoping to score. It is a move of great desperation in politics, and every desperado knows that he has no control over the situation. If you do not have control, you panic," he says.
Žurnal wrote about how Russia has taken full control over the import, refining and distribution of oil on the BiH market through the timely privatization of the Brod Refinery alongside the present monopoly on gas imports to Bosnia and Herzegovina. These are also the main bargaining chips of Russian policy, at least until Bosnia and Herzegovina provides gas via an alternative route.
Oil Refinery Brod
The hope that Russia's aspirations for political influence and economic control of the Balkans will be diminished came after Joe Biden won the US presidential election. His message on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement indicated that BiH would be returned among the priorities of the American foreign policy, and according to local analysts, it was undisguised support to the undivided BiH, which could mean the end of Milorad Dodik's political career, and subsequent minimalization of the Russian influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The very beginning of the mandate of the new High Representative in BiH, Christian Schmidt, and the announced American sanctions against certain persons, primarily officials from Bosnia and Herzegovina, will show if this is currently and realistically feasible.