A Russian organization under EU sanctions honored high-ranking officials in the Republic of Srpska
The awarding of ministers in the Government of Republika Srpska - Petar Đokić, Željko Stojčić and Srđan Perišić, adviser to the president of this entity, Milorad Dodik, with the recognition of a Russian agency that is under sanctions of the European Union for supporting the invasion of Ukraine - according to two experts, represents hybrid activities of the Kremlin in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Đokić, Stojčić and Perišić received the badges of honor from "Rossotrudnichestva", a Russian government agency that has been under the sanctions of the European Union since 2002, during the commemoration of the national holiday of Russia - the Day of National Unity in Belgrade.
This event in the Russian House in the capital of Serbia was attended by representatives of state structures, educational, scientific and cultural institutions, as well as numerous other members of public life in Serbia, Montenegro and Republika Srpska.
"The meeting of friends at the Russian House was an opportunity to express our gratitude to all those who support the idea of unity of the Serbian and Russian people with their actions", it was stated in the Facebook post of the Russian House, which was also shared by the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This is not the first example of Republika Srpska officials being connected with representatives of Russia and awarding prizes to each other, explains the coordinator of the EU Integration Monitoring Initiative Edo Kanlić, recalling that earlier this year Milorad Dodik awarded Russian President Vladimir Putin with the highest order of the Republika Srpska.
"We know that there have been visits to Russia since the beginning of the aggression against Ukraine, so we can see that these relations certainly existed and that they were used for political purposes. It was especially an example last year before the elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but we do not see an adequate reaction from the EU itself", says Kanlić for Detektor.
He believes that the absence of specific actions and sanctions from the EU countries strengthens such moves by officials from Republika Srpska, even though Union reports often mention the deviation of institutions and officials from this entity from the policies of BiH and the EU.
Due to the current geopolitical situation, Kanlić adds, it is difficult to expect complete sanctions from the EU, but he assumes that there could be individual sanctions, as Germany did by suspending the financing of projects in this entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, due to separatist moves and decisions of the authorities. This, he adds, would be especially important due to the current status of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the European road.
"We also saw according to this report that we still have some time left to fulfill our priorities, in order to start negotiations for EU accession, and certainly that such action does not go well with those who advocate the opening of negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina and only gives arguments to those who skeptics about the expansion", says Kanlić.
The European Union previously called on Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a candidate country for membership, to harmonize its foreign policy with that of the Union, but politicians from Republika Srpska, especially Dodik, were categorical that Bosnia and Herzegovina would not impose specific sanctions on Russia, although they claim that they are in favor of the accession of EU countries.
The Russian Federal Agency for Issues of Independent States, Russian Citizens Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation "Rossotrudnichestvo" has been under European Union sanctions since July 2022, due to its support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine and violation of the country's stability, security and territorial integrity. In the explanation of the sanctions, it was stated that this organization is also responsible for providing material and financial support to the Russian government, which is responsible for the annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of Ukraine.
The EU assessed that it is the main state agency that implements "soft power" and the Kremlin's hybrid influence, including promoting the so-called "Russian Peace" concept, and that they organize international events with the aim of strengthening the wider public perception of the occupied Ukrainian territories as Russian.
"For many years, it acts as an umbrella organization for a network of Russian compatriots and influential actors and finances various projects in the field of public diplomacy and projects, thereby strengthening the activities of pro-Russian actors and expanding the Kremlin's discourse, including historical revisionism," reads the clarification on the list of sanctioned organizations in Official Gazette of the EU.
In addition to government officials, awards were also presented to representatives of the academic community from Republika Srpska, the dean of the Banja Luka Faculty of Security, Predrag Ćeranić, and Banja Luka University professor Oleg Soldat. Detektor previously reported on the Russian Fund for Public Diplomacy "Aleksandar Gorchakov", which was founded by former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and the conference for young people organized by this fund at the premises of the University of Banja Luka.
Kenan Hodžić, senior assistant at the Sarajevo Faculty of Criminology, Criminology and Security Studies, believes that the awarding of Russian awards to BiH officials is problematic because it represents another hybrid activity and a new level of influence of the Russian Federation on political representation in Republika Srpska. He adds that this is the way certain society and selected officials are rewarded and directed towards more active destabilization of the political situation, and that such support for the subversive activities of certain groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina can also represent a serious security problem.
"After the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the accompanying geopolitical earthquake, the Kremlin's diplomacy is using strategic communication tools more intensively and demonstrating commitment to its goals in Bosnia and Herzegovina," believes Hodžić.
In one of the recent investigations, Detektor published details about Russian diplomats who were expelled by European countries after the start of the invasion of Ukraine, and who are now accredited in the Russian mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some of them have already participated in public events in BiH, and according to official and unofficial diplomatic sources, posts on social networks and sources from security agencies, BiH is becoming a safe haven for diplomats unwanted in other countries where Russian influence is less.
By the time of publication of this text, none of the officials of the authorities in Republika Srpska, who were presented with awards, had responded to the inquiries of Detektor journalists.