Bosnian Serb leader eyes controversial Crimea and Srebrenica moves

Elections boost Kremlin ally Milorad Dodik and put Bosnian Croats at odds

Bosnian-Serb leader Milorad Dodik: “I am going there, to this presidency, to work above all and only for the interests of Serbs.” Photograph:  Milan Radulovic/AFP/Getty Images

Bosnian-Serb leader Milorad Dodik: “I am going there, to this presidency, to work above all and only for the interests of Serbs.” Photograph: Milan Radulovic/AFP/Getty Images

 

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has pledged to pursue a nationalist and pro-Russian agenda as a member of Bosnia’s three-person presidency, stoking fears that last Sunday’s elections may have only deepened the country’s ethnic divisions.

The populist firebrand won the Serb seat on the state presidency and his close ally Zeljka Cvijanovic has claimed victory in the race to succeed him as president of Republika Srpska, the Serb-run region that Mr Dodik threatens to split off from Bosnia.

Mr Dodik said he wants Republika Srpska to strengthen business ties with Moscow in energy and other sectors, and would like to create a “humanitarian centre” in the region with Russia, similar to a facility in Serbia that western experts suspect is a Balkan spy base for the Kremlin.

He also told the Izvestiya newspaper that he saw Crimea as Russian territory following its 2014 annexation from Ukraine, and announced that he would “propose that initiative and [was] ready to seek recognition of Crimea’s status” at the Bosnian state level.

This would clash with the position of western powers that are helping Bosnia move towards eventual EU and Nato membership, and Mr Dodik said he wanted the country to be neutral and would “not allow accession” to the military alliance.

Srebrenica

Mr Dodik also said he intended to “form an international independent commission to establish the truth” about the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, when Bosnian Serb forces murdered some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim civilians; like many Serbs, Mr Dodik rejects UN court rulings that the slaughter constituted genocide.

The Bosnian Serb leader paid the latest of many visits to Russia just one week before the elections, and he is seen as a key ally for the Kremlin as it tries to retain influence in the Balkans despite its gradual integration with the EU and Nato.

After slightly toning down his anti-western and Serb nationalist rhetoric during the election campaign, Mr Dodik declared afterwards that he had no interest in helping Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats once he was installed in the presidency.

“I don’t care who the other two representatives in the presidency are,” he said, referring to his future Muslim [or Bosniak] and Croat colleagues.

“I am going there, to this presidency, to work above all and only for the interests of Serbs.”

The US has imposed sanctions on Mr Dodik for undermining the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian war, and he has repeatedly threatened to seek Republika Srpska’s secession rather than cede powers to the state government in Sarajevo.

Trouble is also brewing in Bosnia’s other “entity”, the Bosniak-Croat Federation, where moderate Zeljko Komsic beat nationalist rival Dragan Covic to the Croat seat on the state presidency.

Mr Covic claimed his rival won “only due to Bosniak votes” and warned that it could cause “an unprecedented crisis in Bosnia”.