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This week, President of the Republika Srpska, which is part of the federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik said that negotiations with Russia on the opening of a humanitarian base in the region should be held this summer. In his opinion, Russian humanitarian base on the territory of the Republika Srpska will carry a humanitarian mission and help to eliminate the consequences of natural disasters. The leader of the Bosnian Serbs referred to the flooding in 2014, when the water level in some areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina rose to 9 meters, the north of Sarajevo was sunk, 40 people died, and the material damage amounted to 2.7 billion euros. Supporters of the idea are convinced that it is necessary to create a similar Russian humanitarian center, which exists since 2012 in neighboring Serbia in Nis, and they do not see a political implication in this initiative, believing that the EU and NATO are aggravating the situation with information attacks.
A far-fetched reason
It is doubtful that Bosnia and Herzegovina have a vital need in the presence of Russian military and rescue workers, as the authorities rely on the assistance of international organizations in dealing with the consequences of natural disasters. According to the European Commission, during the flooding in 2014, the EU rendered humanitarian aid to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia (3 million euros), sent helicopters, motor boats, and 800 specialists for the liquidation of the consequences of a natural disaster. The Emergency Response Center of the European Commission (ERCC) is in constant contact with Bosnia and Herzegovina within the framework of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. Bosnia and Herzegovina participates in the United Nations program on flood recovery with a budget of $ 22.6 million. Within the framework of the United Nations Development Program with the support of the EU, 4,640 houses, 133 public buildings, 145 communal infrastructure facilities were restored, as well as agriculture and other economic sectors in 24 most affected areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Map of Bosnia and Herzegovina - Republika Srpska highlighted in yellow
The European Union is helping to clear and neutralize the ammunition that has remained in the ground since the end of the Bosnian war of 1992-95. From 1992 to 2008, more than 5,000 people were killed or injured by mine explosions. About 540,000 Bosnian citizens live in 28.6 places where mines and unexploded ordnance have not been neutralized. Since 2004, Bosnia and Herzegovina has 800 military personnel from EU member states (EUFOR) under Alfea Operation. The Belgian military uses drones equipped with special sensors to search for unexploded mines and ammunition, as well as in those flooded places. In 1996-2004, 60,000 servicemen from various countries of the world participated in the SFOR mission under the aegis of NATO on liquidation of the consequences of the Bosnian war. The European military are training local armed forces and formally guarantee the security and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Russia has also provided humanitarian assistance to Bosnia and Herzegovina through the Russian-Serbian humanitarian center in the territory of Serbia. The distance between the Serbian city of Nis, where the Russian humanitarian center is located, and the city of Banja Luka (the administrative center of the Bosnian Serbs) is 566 km. If necessary, Russian and Serbian rescuers can get to Republika Srpska in approximately 5.5 hours by car and for 2 hours by helicopter at a speed of 230 km/h.
Three years have passed since the last flood, and the Bosnian Serbs have only started talking about the Russian humanitarian base now. The deployment of the humanitarian base of the Russian Federation on the territory of the Republika Srpska is beneficial to Milorad Dodik for political reasons. He is interested in strengthening his position in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the support of Russia and intends to promote solutions at the state level in the interests of local separatists. Milorad Dodik is convinced that Bosnia and Herzegovina is not an established state and allows the Republic of Srpska to gain independence. Dodik believes that the time has come for the unification of the Serbian people. The same idea was expressed by the former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the leaders of the Bosnian Serbs Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, who tried to get Republika Srpska to join Yugoslavia during the Bosnian war. In January, the United States imposed personal sanctions against Milorad Dodik for obstructing the implementation of the 1995 Dayton Agreements that ended the war and defined the federal structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina (consisting of the Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation), regulated the deployment of peacekeepers in the country.
Dodik attempts to bring the Republika Srpska out of the legal field of Bosnia and Herzegovina through referendums. In 2015, he proposed to hold a referendum on the accountability of the laws of the Republika Srpska to the Bosnian court, which did not take place under the pressure of the West. In September 2016, in a referendum, the majority of the Bosnian Serbs voted in favor of the adoption, as a holiday, of the proclamation of the Republic of Srpska of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 9 January 1992. Then the Bosnian Serbs refused to recognize the power of Sarajevo and announced their intention to remain in Yugoslavia. This year, Dodik is interested in holding a new referendum and raising the issue of the future development of the Republika Srpska. He is interested in gaining more powers from Sarajevo in the sphere of foreign policy. The leader of the Bosnian Serbs is speculating on the idea of a new referendum on the independence of the Republika Srpska. Dodik believes that if Kosovo's independence is recognized by the international community, then the Republika Srpska has the right to gain its independence. The politician expects to use Russia as a counterweight to the United States, the EU and the United Nations, which do not recognize the results of the referendum.
Bosnian Serbs have territorial claims. They are not satisfied with the fact that the Brčko district was recognized as an arbitration by the territory under international management, since before the signing of the Dayton agreements it was divided between the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska. After the loss of control over the district of Brčko, the territory of the Republika Srpska was divided into two parts. The district of Brčko is run by the American diplomat Tamir Veyser.
Between Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims, there is a dispute around responsibility for war crimes of the 90s. Bosnian Muslims do not recognize the decision of the International Court of Justice of 2007, which did not recognize the Serbs' genocide during the years of the Bosnian war. In July 1995, armed groups of Bosnian Serbs shot 8,000 Muslims in the Srebrenica settlement. In 2015, the Bosnian Serbs obstructed the initiative of Valentina Insko, the UN High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, who guarantees the implementation of the Dayton Accords, and introduces laws on the court and the prosecutor's office in the country. In their view, this would allow Bosnian Muslims to prosecute the Serbs who took part in the Bosnian war.
Carrier of Russia's interests in the Balkans
From tsarist times, Russia seeks to strengthen its presence in the Balkans. The region was the arena of military operations between the armies of the Russian and Ottoman empires. Serbs supported the Russian army. During the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, Russian mercenaries and volunteers fought for the armed formations of the Bosnian Serbs. Russia tried to use its peacekeeping contingent in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Uglievich, Republika Srpska) within SFOR to change the course of the Kosovo conflict in favor of Yugoslavia. In July 1999, Russian peacekeepers on armored vehicles carried out a march to Pristina (the capital of Kosovo), seized a local airfield and blocked the landing of British helicopters for a short time.
After the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo in 2003, the Kremlin's influence in the Balkans declined. Recently, Russia has once again stepped up its foreign policy in the Balkans. At the end of 2016, Russia supported an unsuccessful attempt by the Serbian ultranationalists to carry out a coup d'état in Montenegro and disrupt the country's accession to NATO. Russia supported the party "Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization" in the fight against the Liberal Democratic Party and the Albanian minority for forming a coalition in the Macedonian parliament.
Milorad Dodik makes it clear to Russians that the Bosnian Serbs can take on the role of a stronghold of Russian influence in the Balkans. The leader of the Bosnian Serbs may be interesting to the Kremlin as a bearer of Russian interests in the Balkans. Dodik bleaches the reputation of Russia, proves that Russia does not interfere in the internal affairs of the countries of the region and is interested in ensuring that the territorial integrity and the will of the peoples are respected in the Balkans. Serbs did not support the introduction of anti-Russian sanctions in response to Russia's aggression in Ukraine in 2014. In March 2017, Milorad Dodik recognized the results of the pseudo-referendum in Crimea and supported annexation of the peninsula by Russia. Milorad Dodik opposes the accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the EU and NATO.
The escalation of the Bosnian conflict at the borders of the EU and NATO is beneficial to Russia in order to divert the attention of America and Europe from aggression in Donbas and the problems of the return of Crimea to Ukraine. Russia can use the presence of a humanitarian base on the territory of the Republika Srpska to interfere in the conflict and earn the reputation of a peacemaker in the eyes of the West. In case of creating a humanitarian base together with Russian rescuers, the Kremlin can send representatives of special services and the army to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The military training of the Bosnian Serbs can be organized on this base. Earlier there was some information that Russia was going to conduct training of law-enforcement special forces of Bosnian Serbs in their institutions.
Dayton will save Bosnia
System of checks and balances and ethnic quotas in the political system of Bosnia and Herzegovina, enshrined in the Dayton Accords, is deterrent to the influence of Serb separatists and Russia. The creation of a Russian base is impossible without the approval of Sarajevo. According to the Dayton agreements, the Republika Srpska has no sovereignty in foreign policy and can conduct parallel relations with neighboring states after the approval of the Constitutional Court. For the Bosnian Serbs, the Constitutional Court has 2 seats, and there are 9 seats for other ethnic groups.
It is unlikely that Milorad Dodik will be able to find support in the parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serbs occupy a third of seats in parliament, while Croats and Bosnian Muslims have two-thirds. Most deputies might refuse to ratify a treaty with Russia on the establishment of a humanitarian base in the Republika Srpska. The UN High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina (since 2009, an Austrian diplomat Valentin Intsko) has exclusive powers over all branches of power, who, for the sake of guaranteeing compliance with the Dayton Accords, has the right to dismiss any official. Such a precedent had already taken place in 1998, when the High Representative removed the ultranationalist Nicolas Poplachen from the post of President of the Republika Srpska.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has been incorporated for more than 20 years into the Euro-Atlantic security system, although it is not a member of the EU and NATO. Initiatives of local separatists rest on the interests of the EU and the US, which are not interested in escalating the conflict. Milorad Dodik can be deprived of authority if he goes too far.