The conflict between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Bosniac and Croat leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina comes as a response of the US administration to Russia’s growing influence in the Balkans.
Did Lavrov show disrespect?
Sergei Lavrov became involved in an unusual conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), where he was on a visit on December 15. The leaders of Croatia, Zeljko Komšić, and Bosnia (Muslim Slavs), Shefik Jaferovic, refused to meet with the Russian Foreign Minister, having assumed that the Russian official showed disrespect to their country.
There were many complaints. First off, Lavrov, in their opinion, should have started his tour of the Balkan region in the capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo, rather than in the Republika Srpska, where he held a meeting with its head and chairman of the Presidium of BiH, Milorad Dodik.
Secondly, according to Komšić, Lavrov’s support for the resolution on the military neutrality of the Republika Srpska came contrary to the fact that such decisions could be made only at the level of central authorities of BiH.
Komšić and Jaferovic were also outraged by the absence of the flag and other state symbols of BiH during the meeting between Lavrov and Dodik (there were only Russian and Serbian symbols in place).
“We realise that we are small and weak, but we are not ready to be hostages in any of Russia’s games when it comes to its relations with the European Union and NATO members,” Komšić stated.
The Russian Foreign Minister found the conflict “insignificant”, and assumed that the leaders of the Croats and the Bosnians “were acting on someone’s suggestion.”
“The politicians who made this decision are not independent politicians,” Lavrov said. “I think that they are clearly acting on someone’s suggestion and, most likely, express the interests ofexternal forces.”
Dodik called the boycott a “diplomatic scandal.”
“If they (Komsic and Jaferovic) thought that with that action they could downgrade Russia’s rating as a world power, they made fools of themselves both in front of their own public and on the world political stage,” Dodik told Srna news agency.
The Serbs increase their influence in BiH
Elena Guskova, Doctor of Historical Sciences of the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Pravda.Ru that the conflict came as a consequence of deep contradictions that exist in the Presidium (governing body) of BiH.
The expert explained that the Dayton Agreement, according to which BiH was formed, turns 25 this year. Russia signed that treaty and serves as a guarantor of peace for this former Yugoslav republic. The Dayton Agreement was developed mostly by the Americans, who had then set the goal “to make the country the united Muslim Bosnia in six months.” Therefore, until 2006, many of the powers assigned to the Republika Srpska had been gradually transferred to Sarajevo, Elena Guskova told Pravda.Ru.
However, with the election of Miroslav Dodik as the President of the Republika Srpska in 2006, Russia became an obstacle for the Americans at the UN Security Council in their intentions to rewrite the Dayton Agreement.
Contrary to Washington’s expectations, the Republika Srpska has become a lot stronger lately and evolved into an important political and economic player in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This status quo “is impossible to change now,” Elena Guskova noted.
Today, Banja Luka is strongly opposed to Europe and the United States in their aspiration to govern internal processes fo the country through the Supreme Court of BiH, which includes representatives of Europe and the UN High Representative. The West, in particular, promotes BiH’s accession to NATO, which finds vehement resistance in the Republika Srpska. Dodik did not impose sanctions against Russia, on the contrary, he continues to cooperate with Moscow, which “bothers not so much the Croatian as the Muslim side.”
“These internal disagreements in the Presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina just turned into a conflict during the ceremony to welcome Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov,” Elena Guskova told Pravda.Ru.
Moscow has strengthened its influence in the Balkans
The reasons for refusing to meet with Lavrov were “far-fetched,” Elena Guskova believes. She agrees that the scandal sparked with the participation of the United States, because the latter remains sensitive to Russia’s growing influence in the Balkans.
“The United States assessed Lavrov’s visit as an increase in Moscow’s influence in the region and decided to respond,” said Elena Guskova.
Russia has been supporting the Orthodox peoples on the Balkan Peninsula for many centuries. In addition to serious economic interests in this region, Russia wants to stop Bosnia and Herzegovina from joining NATO. Elena Guskova also believes that Montenegro may pull out from NATO.
“Strengthening Orthodoxy in the Balkans is a very important issue for us, because Rome wants to push Orthodoxy further to the East and occupy this territory,” the expert told Pravda.Ru.
Will the Republika Srpska secede from BiH?
Elena Guskova believes that the secession of the Republika Srpska from BiH is a matter for the future.
“Milorad Dodik formulated the solution to this problem a year ago as follows: “Yes, we do want to secede, just like Kosovo seceded from Serbia – we want to secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina and unite with Serbia. But the time has not come yet. Political conditions must be created for this first,” said Elena Guskova.
The Dayton Peace Accords put an end to the four-year war in Bosnia during the 1990s, in which about 100,000 people were killed. The authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina announced an independence referendum in February 1992, after Slovenia and Croatia had already pulled out from the former socialist republic of Yugoslavia (this also caused an armed conflict there). The majority of Bosnian Muslims (or Bosniaks, who account for almost 50 percent of the local population) and Catholic Croats (the third largest ethno-religious community in Bosnia and Herzegovina) voted for secession.
However, the Serbs, who account for almost a third of the population, boycotted the vote and refused to accept its outcome. They announced the creation of their own independent Republika Srpska, supported by the Serbian authorities in the face of Slobodan Milosevic. The war broke out as a result of those events. Acts of hostilities – indiscriminate shelling of cities and villages, ethnic cleansing and genocide of civilians – were committed by all parties to the conflict without exception.
According to the Dayton Agreement, Bosnia was divided into two autonomous regions: the Serb-dominated Republic of Srpska and the Federation of Bosniaks and Croats, with all the three parts being controlled by the weak central government. The Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of two Bosnian, two Serbian, two Croatian and three foreign judges, and its decisions are legally binding.
During the meeting with his counterpart Bissera Turkovic in Sarajevo, Sergei Lavrov said:
“We do not see the need to revise the Dayton Agreement, especially when relevant initiatives come from outside. As the guarantor state of the Dayton Agreement, we are convinced that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina can independently determine their own destiny in accordance with the constitutional mechanism of decision-making, including in the field of foreign policy, “Lavrov said after meeting.