“If anyone in the world is capable and obliged to understand that, Serbs are, and they must and are obliged to do so. Blessed be thee, weeping in these days with Russia, because thou shalt be comforted by it! Blessed be thee, mourning with Russia now, because soon thou shalt rejoice with it.”
This is a portion of the sermon delivered by Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović, archimandrite of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1932. This quote has been lately shared by many Orthodox and pro-Russian portals, and hieromonk Ignatius Shestakov of the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, editor of the Serb version of the largest Russian Orthodox site “Pravoslavie.ru”, is particularly keen on reminding the readers thereof.
Ignatius Shestakov (foto: RadioSvetigora)
Of course, this 90 years old sermon has not been raised accidentally just at time of Russian aggression against Ukraine. There is no doubt about the side that the Russian, and therefore the Serbian Orthodox Church, have taken. The European Parliament also has no more doubts about their role in propagation of Russian influence primarily in the Balkan countries and had therefore at its session on March 9 adopted the “Resolution on foreign interference in all democratic processes in the European Union”.
A portion of the resolution expresses concern of the European parliamentarians about “the attempts of the Orthodox Church in countries like Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially in Republika Srpska entity, to promote Russia as a guardian of traditional family values and to strengthen relations between the state and the Church.”
Žurnal has several times written about different methods of propagating politics of Putin’s Russia on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the help of the church, biker groups such as “Night wolves” or various humanitarian organizations that have some kind of Pan-Slavic mission to glorify Russia and Vladimir Putin in the focus of their operations.
Vladimir Putin with “Night wolves” (foto:kremlin.ru)
“Russia's public diplomacy is not intensive and transparent. From a classical point of view, it is not public diplomacy, but the diplomacy of the religious ideology transfer, which can be effective because religious doctrines and dogmatism are not questioned, so it serves as a fulcrum for spreading the political agenda. In addition to the church Russia’s arsenal for persuading others of its magnificence and superiority over everyone has several other instruments that do not always manage to captivate people due to the lack of clarity of their public diplomacy. For example, “Night Wolves” cruise Serbia and RS, swearing by peace and brotherhood, whilst being the main recruiting center for the war in Donbas and Putin’s iron fist for disciplining others and different ones”, reminds sociologist Sead Pašić.
The biker group “Night Wolves”, loyal to Putin, does not take any rest at the beginning of Russian aggression against Ukraine, and propagates support to the “Russian brothers” from Trebinje to Banja Luka.
Night wolves in Trebinje – support to Russia’s aggression (fot: Herceg tv)
Serbia is among the few countries that have refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik keeps the pace with the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. Significantly, they carefully choose their words in public appearances and avoid extreme messages, even though they have been political puppets for years, used by Putin primarily to stop integration of BiH into the NATO. They have currently handed over the dirty part of the work to “Putinophiles and Russophiles” who organize rallies in support of Russia in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as to the hordes of football fans whose messages from the stadium stands say what these politicians think.
“It is not only Serbia that has entered into an informal alliance with Russia and Belarus, putting itself opposite to the entire free world that condemns aggression and is slowly putting the Kremlin in the isolation. Other representatives of the Serb world found themselves in that alliance, primarily Milorad Dodik, but also Russian puppets from Montenegro. As the Russian army bombs kindergartens, hospitals and residential areas, Democratic Front officials are meeting with Putin’s intelligence officers, presumably to take instructions for further actions. Chetnik duke Andrija Mandić is blocking roads in Montenegro, and the Serbian Orthodox Church is organizing liturgies at which the flags of Tsarist Russia are flying. That is probably a discreet message of support for Putin’s efforts to rebuild the Russian empire”, writes Tomislav Marković, journalist from Belgrade for Žurnal.
The question of all questions is how long can Russian influence on Bosnia and Herzegovina be preserved. Milorad Dodik wants to keep the position of an important Russian “player” in the Balkans. As expected, he is supported by the Russian Ambassador to BiH Igor Kalabukhov. By the way, on March 8 Kalabukhov walked out the ceremony celebrating the anniversary of Brčko District after the head of the EU delegation to BiH, Johann Sattler, called the war in Ukraine a Russian aggression.
Brčko March 8, 2022 Ambassador Kalbuhov leaves the hall in protest
The Russian Embassy said that allegedly Milorad Dodik had spoken with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov by phone to discuss agreements reached after the alleged meeting of Dodik and Putin in December last year.
Žurnal wrote about how Dodik is particularly concerned with the sanctions to certain Russian oligarchs through which Dodik is establishing good ties with Kremlin, and 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. Similar views has Nenad Čanak, leader of the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina.
“Milorad Dodik is a fraud, it is probably clear by now and he is trying to pull a three-card trick; well I am with the Russians, good with Putin, no one can touch me, so it may sound like a terrible threat to the provincial politicians and no one wants to go after him, and expose him for the fraud he is. Now that he saw that “it all went a bit far”, that Gabriel Escobar had “slammed his fist on the table”, saying that there will be no war in BiH while the United States have a say in it, which they do, he changes his tune, saying in fact we are a bit neutral. He will be raising all his hands for NATO by tomorrow and will do whatever it takes just to safeguard his stolen money and not to see his day in court for everything he did”, said Čanak for Face TV.
Another political leader, the one leading HDZ BiH, is figuratively speaking waving the Russian flag at the time of the general condemnation of Russian aggression. Žurnal had years ago signaled that the crisis in Mostar’s Aluminij and its closure was part of a planned preparation for the introduction of an owner, who will stand for the Russian interest, which ultimately did happen.
“As part of a united European family, peace is a collective and lasting commitment of our country. With the devastating developments, invasion and war in Ukraine, we again call for an urgent ceasefire, solidarity and dialogue”, said Dragan Čović in a Tweet.
Čović is persistently refusing to utter words of condemnation against Russia, which is especially embarrassing for the Prime Minister of Croatia and the head of the Croatian HDZ, Andrej Plenković. He posted a tweet in which allegedly Čović is condemning the aggression, but apparently it was only Plenković’s attempt to alleviate the behavior of the daughter party from BiH.
“The focal point of this ideological global war in the Balkans is the attack on the concept of a multiethnic civil state in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and, partially in Macedonia. There is no doubt that Bosnia and Herzegovina - along with Ukraine - has become the most important scene of this power game at this moment. The West must understand that any concession to ethnonationalisms in the Balkans, even if presented as a “compromise” on the election law, even if tactical, is in fact a retreat before Russia’s aggressive onslaught on the foundations of a liberal and democratic world order”, said professor of Germanic studies Vahidin Preljević for the last issue of Atlantic Initiative newsletter.
Unlike SNSD and HDZ, the remaining part of the political arena believes that the influence of Russia will simply disappear and that the Europe and the USA will do everything they had missed to do in the previous years, “sleeping” while Dodik and Čović were “doing their thing”. They continue to do so, blocking the activities of the state institutions. Part of the opposition, especially from Republika Srpska, avoids talking about Russian influence.
“We need to be worrying about our problems; that is the smartest thing to do. I do not believe that Russia’s influence in BiH is particularly great. All countries have influence, Germany, Great Britain, the USA, Russia a bit, Turkey a bit, all a bit, that is basically us. Everyone here mixes the soup a bit, and I cannot stay to what degree they are doing that. The less influence, by anybody, the better. If only we, Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks, had any influence on the events in BiH, that would be the best thing. To take care of ourselves is the smartest thing for us, to worry about our problems so our people can survive”, said for Žurnal the president of Serb Democratic Party Mirko Šarović.
“I cannot assess if the Russian influence in BiH will decrease or increase in the upcoming period, but Russian influence in BiH certainly exists. This can be seen from the frequent visits of BiH Presidency member Milorad Dodik to the Russian Federation in the previous period. He often went there, so consequently we had a boycott of BiH institutions, the absence of Serb members in the Parliamentary Assembly, the Council of Ministers and the Presidency, a boycott in decision-making… I think these are coordinated activities, I have no proof of that, but it is my political feeling. Russian influence is bad for BiH, because it leads to blockades of institutions, to some strengthening of the secessionist approach by those who lead Republika Srpska and who are in the institutions of BiH, and this undoubtedly stems from the decisions of the RS National Assembly to pursue the path of passing entity laws that already exist at the state level, which is a political, constitutional and legal attack on the constitutional order of BiH”, said the member of the national parliament from SDA Alma Čolo.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, like the rest of Europe, has another important task, and that is a significant reduction, if not complete elimination of dependence on energy from Russia, gas and oil. Gas comes to BiH through a gas pipeline from Russia, until recently through Hungary, now through Turkey. Transport within BiH is done by three companies: BH-Gas d.o.o. Sarajevo, majority state-owned company, Sarajevo gas a.d. Istočno Sarajevo, in which the largest shareholder is the RS Share Fund (30%) and Gas promet a.d. Istočno Sarajevo with the largest shareholder PE “Srbijagas” from Novi Sad (40%), which is under the control of Russian "Gazprom".
One of the solutions is the accelerated construction of the Zagvozd - Novi Travnik gas pipeline, better known as the "Southern Interconnection", as a branch of the Adriatic-Ionian gas pipeline that would supply Bosnia and Herzegovina with gas from Azerbaijan and eliminate dependence on Russian gas.
Dodik tried to thwart this project, but there is no doubt that he will not succeed. Of course, nothing is accidental, and neither he nor the political satellites and individuals around him are doing it out of sheer conviction and love for Putin. Recent allegations about Dodik’s property in St. Petersburg gives rise to the suspicion in the way that certain individuals are “motivated” to propagate Russian influence in BiH.
“They do it very skillfully, by trading in influence, bribing various political officials in the countries of the region, expanding their influence through some religious instruments ... This includes bank financing, financing large projects in certain countries of the region, and to a certain degree also energy blackmail, given that they are the largest exporters of gas, and some other means as well”, said for Žurnal delegate of the BiH PA House of Peoples Zlatko Miletić.
The media outlets should not be neglected in the story about the Russian influence on BiH. Milorada Dodik and SNSD are generally obediently followed by RTRS, Srna News Agency and Banja Luka's Alternative TV. Their content has no indication of Russian aggression against Ukraine, following Kremlin's instructions - Russia is still carrying out an “armed intervention”. However, despite everything, they did not manage to “warm up” their audience for a mass expression of support to “Mother Russia”, judging by the small number of gatherings organized for that purpose.