2023 Bosnia and Herzegovina: Wagnerization of BiH Brčko District

The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES)[1] from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyzes developments in the Middle East, the Balkans and around the world.  Following the escalation of the political crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), IFIMES made an analysis of the current developments in the country. We bring the most important and interesting parts of the extensive analysis “2023 Bosnia and Herzegovina: Wagnerization of BiH Brčko District.”

2023 Bosnia and Herzegovina:


Wagnerization of BiH Brčko District


Introduction of defamation in RS criminal legislation- shift from autocracy to dictatorship 

Milorad Dodik (SNSD) has launched a major offensive against Serbia and its leadership with the intent to try to force the Serbian leadership to leave aside all the numerous problems and challenges it is facing and completely focus on the defense of his “personality and works.” 

The Republika Srpska National Assembly (NSRS) adopted the Law on Modifications and Amendments to the Republika Srpska Criminal Code, which reintroduced after a period of 20 years criminalization of defamation and included defamation in the criminal legislation. The Law was poorly and unprofessionally developed. According to the adopted law the persecution is done by the office of the prosecutor you, as the other side is not an individual but the state (office of the prosecutor). Small media outlets, which are at the verge of survival, will disappear. Self-censorship by the media will occur. Provisions of the criminal legislation need to be unequivocal, as otherwise there will be confusing unpredictability in public space. The law has standards. International standards are against criminalization of defamation. BiH has no strong democratic institutions. Deterioration of defamation is a consequence of a broader trend of increase in populism in the region. 

Milorad Dodik and the SNSD are entering the final phase of the showdown with free citizens, dissenters and critics of the government, which includes criminalization of defamation and imposing of enormous financial penalties (fines) for damaging someone’s image and reputation in Republika Srpska (RS). While initially it was envisaged that the fines would go up to 60,000 euro, they have been reduced to a maximum of 3,000 euros. The ones most effected by the law are the reporters, as this is an attempt to “euthanize” them, media outlets and civil society activists. High financial penalties have allowed for avoidance of directly prescribing penalties of imprisonment.  The Republika Srpska Constitution guarantees to RS citizens the right to publicly voice and present their opinions on the work of state and other bodies and organizations, as well as to submit applications, petitions and proposals and receive answers to them. Personal enrichment or impoverishment of specific individuals and legal entities must not be the intent behind the sanctioning or the goal of getting a possible damage compensation. Namely, the sanctioning should primarily have symbolic character and be about getting satisfaction. As Dodik has already secured two-thirds support in the RS National Assembly, the introduction of sanctions for publicly made statements through the system of criminal jurisdiction in Republika Srpska is an act of shift from autocracy to dictatorship. 

Analysts believe it is important to preserve independent and free journalism, as well as freedom of speech, because BiH today is one of the most corrupted countries in Europe and the world, and its judiciary is under strong political influence. Milorad Dodik is a politician who was elected to the position of the Republika Srpska President under dubious circumstances, connected with election theft and fraud, and with the assistance of a part of the international community, which legalized his election theft through the BiH Central Election Commission. The secret of his election “victory” lies in the election bags deposited in the Republika Srpska Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP). 

By European standards, Milorad Dodik leads in insults and defamation for which for the time being he has never been sanctioned. This is a definitive sign of putinization of Republika Srpska and a step in the direction of further destabilization of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Will High Representative Christian Schmidt (CSU) annul the adopted law, bearing in mind that Dodik has announced that in the year future a law on adversaries of Republika Srpska will be adopted, as a cover for development of the list of domestic traitors and foreign mercenaries. The adoption of the disputed law on defamation in Republika Srpska introduced a possibility, based on the same law, for processing of reporters from the Federation of BiH for defamation, which is constitutionally disputable. Dodik continues with the enormous plunder of public money and resources and the adopted law is in the function of ensuring that the reporters no longer dare to report on it. Not only that it is not in line with the 14 priorities from the opinion of the European Commission, but the law adopted in the RS National Assembly also constitutes a step backward on BiH’s path to membership in the EU.

Triumph of the “Tower” operation – Konaković’s shameful visit to Budapest

The “Tower” intelligence operation, which is aimed against Bosnia and Herzegovina, and particularly the Federation of BiH, is coordinated from Budapest- and is an important step towards further dissolution of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Namely, the economic system of the Federation of BiH is the backbone of the economic system of the state of BiH. 

The United States, Office of the High Representative (OHR), EU, OSCE and countries that are members of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) had “brought” Milorad Dodik to power at the entity and state level at the time of the Russian aggression on Ukraine, despite the fact that he had already awarded the Russian President Vladimir Putin the highest medal of Republika Srpska. 

European right-wing circles had managed to bring Christian Schmidt to the helm of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and install governments at different levels in BiH in line with their liking.  In addition to Dragan Čović (HDZBiH) and Milorad Dodik (SNSD), they also selected as partners the opposition parties that had been defeated at the previous elections. Specifically, the parties of the so-called Trojka /group of three/ (Social Democratic Party -SDP, People and Justice-NiP and Our Party -NS). The leaders of the so-called Trojka are trying to justify their participation in government using the rhetoric that Dodik and Čović are the reality. A perception is being created that the Trojka is not a reality but a decoration in the newly established government. It seems justified to ask why did during his recent hearing in the US Congress the US Special Envoy for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar remain silent about why did they legalize Dodik’s election fraud and why did they help Dodik come to power at the BiH level when they could have established a government without him, and even without Dragan Čović and the HDZBiH. True changes could have been achieved had a government without the SNSD, HDZBiH and SDA been established at the BiH level.  Why does the US maintain affectionate and close partner relations with Dodik, despite the fact that they had imposed sanctions against him, while in Albania they have left Sali Berisha, who is also under US sanctions, in isolation and have no communication, let alone cooperation with him? All the above undermines the already shaken image of the US in the Western Balkans. 

Following the triumph of the “Tower” intelligence operation and the installation of the new Government of the Federation of BiH, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (Fidesz) came for a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina to “celebrate” a success of the “Tower” operation with his partners. 

Analysts believe that the return and shameful visit by BiH Minister of Foreign Affairs Elmedin Konaković (NiP) to Hungary is of no surprise, because it is a source of many problems in BiH and had a hand in the establishment of the new government in BiH. It is unbelievable that the BiH’s path to EU now goes through Budapest as well, bearing in mind that it is common knowledge what status does Hungarian Prime Minister Orban enjoy in official Brussels circles. By agreeing to numerous concessions and different forms of humiliation the Trojka gives Dodik additional strength without which he could not survive politically.  

HDZ defeated in the voting in European Parliament 

After the High Representative in BiH Christian Schmidt had invited the BiH Office of the Prosecutor to process Dario Kordić (HDZBiH), the Office of the Prosecutor announced that it had “formed” a case against Kordić, and that the EU Delegation in BiH and the US Embassy in BiH had strongly condemned the public statement by Dario Kordić. Kordić is a war criminal convicted by the International Tribunal in The Hague (ICTY), which was established by the UN Security Council. He negated the judgment against him, but also said and indicated that he would repeat the crime. Graciela Gatti Santana, President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) spoke about this before the UN Security Council and requested prompt action, and so did Serge Brammertz IRCMT Chief Prosecutor.

Human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interlinked. The states are primarily responsible for respect, protection and exercise of human rights, including ensuring harmonization of human rights with international law. Violations and abuses of human rights throughout the world are still a point of great concern, as well the significant engagement of non-state actors in violation of human rights all over the world and the gravity of such actions. Namely, such actions constitute a violation of the principles and undermine the goals of external actions of the EU laid down in items 1 and 2, Article 21 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU).

Taking into account the complementarity and mutual support between the EU and UN in imposing of sanctions, in the EU there are three kinds of sanction regimes. One, the sanctions imposed by the UN, which the EU incorporates into EU legislation. Two, EU can increase the UN sanctions through application of strict and additional measures (i.e. vis-à-vis the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). Three, the EU can decide that is impose a sanction regime completely autonomously, as in the case of the convicted war criminal Dario Kordić, who negates the legacy of the ICTY/IRMCT, which are a part of the legislation and acquis of the EU- recognizing that the EU is committed to protect universal human values and rights and that the BiH Office of the Prosecutor had initiated legal actions against Daria Kordić for activities sanctionable under the BiH Criminal Code. 

Representatives in the European Parliament (EP), Tineke Strik (Greens/EFA Group), Dietmar Köster (S&D) and Klemen Grošelj (Renew Europe/GS) filed the Amendment no. 5 to the resolution (Report) EP A9-0229/2023 on Bosnia and Herzegovina calling on all political forces to distance themselves from Dario Kordić and his actions, as well as calling on judicial bodies in BiH to take appropriate legal action with respect to his statements. All representatives of the EPP/HDZ, David McAllister (EPP/CDU), Andrey Kovatchev (EPP/GERB), and representatives of the Slovenian Democratic Party (EPP/SDS) Janez Janša – primarily members of the radical European right wing which promotes the darkest European ideas and values- voted against the adoption of the amendment. 

Analysts believe that the vote on the amendment to the resolution of the EP had confirmed that the HDZ is a promotor of the darkest European values such as crimes, discrimination, fascism, Nazism, xenophobia, antisemitism, etc. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković (EPP/HDZ) was actively involved in the obstruction of the adoption of the resolution of the European Parliament through the European People’s Party (EPP). The HDZ was defeated in voting in the European Parliament, whereas the EP had confirmed that it is the only direct democratic institution that is still the bastion of positive European values. 

Federation of BiH in unofficial special and parallel relations with the Republic of Croatia 

The official Zagreb and the Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković (HDZ) played an active role in the establishment of government at the BiH level, and particularly in the installation of the FBiH Government. They chose the so-called Trojka (SDP, NiP, and Our Party) as the partners from the so called pro-Bosnian block and tasked it to fulfill all the wishes/requests of Dragan Čović, Milorad Dodik and centers abroad related to constitutional changes, and primarily adoption of an election law to the liking of the HDZBiH. Agreement to fulfillment of such wishes/request was the prerequisite for participation in the government. This became evident right after the appointments, when in an orchestrated trip to Zagreb specific elected officials went on their first visit to their masters. 

Analysts believe that the appointment of the new Government of the Federation of BiH factually meant establishment of unofficial parallel and special relations between the entity of the Federation of BiH and the Republic of Croatia. The vassal and servile approach by the Trojka led to the awakening of the patriotic forces in the so called Trojka, particularly in the SDP, which is entering the phase of internal differentiation into the so called patrioticpart and the so-called treacherous part. It is rather certain that in its current form the SDP will not endure or survive until its next congress. That is why lately the SDP Vice President and BiH Defense Minister Zukan Helez has been intensively working on “building” patriotism, which is a farce aimed to conceal from the public the shameful concession made by the Trojka and the agreements it had brokered with Dodik and Čović.

Wagnerization of the BiH Brčko District

Dodik has put all the private security companies under his full control. The Prointer Company had bought the Sector Security Companypreviously owned by the killed Slaviša Krunić and has under control all other companies of the kind (Wolf Security, etc.) These companies are his parallel para-intelligence and security structures.  They are Dodik’s Wagnerians. Furthermore, in Elektroprivreda RS (ERS) /RS Power Supply Company/ he installed a group of more than 50 highly trained IT experts who, during working hours and as their job, conduct propaganda activities on social networks for him and Russian intelligence services. Through the M:TEL telecommunication operator he monitors the opposition, free media and civil society, as well as communication of representatives of the international community in BiH. The government also control fan groups in Republika Srpska and use them to exert pressure, threaten and intimidate the opponents of the regime, the nongovernmental sector and the opposition. 

Dodik recently installed in the Intelligence-Security Agency (OSA) Risto Zarić, a retired Karadžić’s intelligence officer who replaced his loyalty to Karadžić with unconditional loyalty to Milorad Dodik. Zarić is in possession of all intelligence files on politicians, businessmen, media representatives and representatives of the civil society in BiH. Furthermore, Dodik brought Milan Novitović, a man from Milošević’s intelligence structure in Serbia, to the helm of the Republika Srpska Civil Protection Administration in which Karadžić’s police general Željko Janković Luna and former Arkan’s bodyguard Dušan Bato Tešić also hold prominent positions. Since recently, Major Niko Sijerić, Secretary of SNSD City Board in Bijeljina and wartime chief of staff of Garda Panteri brigade, has also emerged in public as a person loyal to Dodik. All these structures are used in an orchestrated manner for exertion of political pressures and intimidation of political opponents, nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and free media. They were also engaged in the activities related to the referendum for removal of Bijeljina Mayor Ljubiša Petrović (SDS). The key person for coordination of all these parallel structures is Branislav Okuka Crni, current president of the Executive Board of the Čast Otadžbine / Honor of the Homeland/ Association from Belgrade and former close associate of Radovan Karadžić, who during the conflict between the supporters of Momčilo Krajišnik and Biljana Plavšić shot and wounded two police officers, who were part of the police structures of Republika Srpska loyal to Biljana Plavšić, then RS President. Branislav Okuka Crni is part of Dodik’s entourage as one of his closest associates and his son’s man of trust. It is believe that in a way Branislav Okuka Crni is the Balkans counterpart to Yevgeny Prigozhin, deeply involved in corruption, particularly on the Jahorina mountain. 

Branislav Okuka Crni is not just one of Dodik’s advisor, but also one of his storm troopers. As compensation for his anti-Serb services in Serbia (agitation and organization of attacks by ultra-right wingers against the official Belgrade), he was given control over PD Trebinje, part of the Gacko mine and thermal power plant, as well as a share in various “shady deals”, in the forests and going through forests, including dubious activities in Montenegro. 

Analysts believe that behind the scenes there is a fight for establishment of control over the BiH Brčko District. Security-wise, deployment of additional international military forces (EUFOR) in Bijeljina and Orašje is not sufficient for ensuring peace in the Brčko District. The District is a hotbed of Putinians. The ongoing fight for the Brčko District is about who will deploy their forces there first. Specifically, will it be NATO, that is Americans, or Dodik’s Wagnerians who would be engaged instead of members of the special forces of the RS Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP)? Dodik wants to avoid sending regular police forces to the Brčko District and applies the same recipe as Putin. The Brčko District is the area with proportionally speaking the largest number of Putinians in BiH. It is not by coincidence that in March the controversial RS Minister of Internal Affairs Siniša Karan (SNSD) requested reconsideration of requirements for the functioning of the international community and the Arbitration Tribunal for the Brčko District. His request was a harbinger of the intentions of Dodik-controlled authorities in the Brčko District, which so far have been encouraged by the non-deployment of US military forces in the Brčko District. It is assessed that it would take around 1,000 Wagnerians to establish hermetic control over the Brčko District. Satellite images show transports and numerous dubious movements on the territory of the Brčko District, due to what intensified satellite surveillance continues. 

Initiated process of dissolution of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina 

The influence of the West in Bosnia and Herzegovina is evidently weakening. Milorad Dodik had annulled the decisions of the BiH Constitutional Court and declared High Representative Christian Schmidt illegal. The West has its share of responsibility for the situation in BiH because through the appeasement policy it has applied so far it contributed to the escalation of the situation. The developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina are largely a consequence of inadequate facing with the recent history and interference by the neighboring countries, while the international factor either responded inadequately or acted in conjunction with a part of the local politico-criminal structures. 

Recently a session of the EU- BiH Stabilization and Association Council was organized in Brussels. However, the delegation of BiH (as a candidate country) has no concrete results to show after the meeting. Not a single requirement set by the EU has been fully met, except for one formal requirement related to the establishment of a parliamentary board for stabilization and association. As for the key priorities, either the key laws and reforms have not been adopted or the ones that were adopted have pushed BiH backwards. The messages from the session in Brussels are that BiH citizens cannot expect anything good or positive from such political structures. 

The situation in the BiH Constitutional Court is that the majority of a total of nine judges are the judges with foreign citizenship (predominantly Serb and Croat judges). The BiH Constitutional Court is one of the few independent institutions with dignity. If with the assistance of the so-called Trojka the HDZBiH succeeds in its plan to appoint a new judge of the BiH Constitutional Court with questionable competences, no legal pedigree, dual citizenship and dented perception of his independence and integrity, HDZ BiH favorite Marin Vukoja, then space will be created for Dragan Čović and Milorad Dodik to achieve full dominance over the last institution, which so far they did not have under their full control. Dodik’s aspirations to have the BiH Constitutional Court adopt its decisions by consensus are not founded on the principles of the rule of law, which is based on the European convention. It is necessary to stop the bad political practice in which party officials and persons with dual citizenship are elected to the BiH Constitutional Court. The selection of judges of the BiH Constitutional Court must not be a subject of political trade among political parties. 

Ministers in the BiH Council of Ministers have still not been issued NATO security clearances, and judging by everything they will probably not get them. In fact, that is why at the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Bosnia and Herzegovina was represented by the BiH Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, while the announced delegation of BiH had not traveled to Vilnius for the above reasons. 

Analysts believe that Dodik’s activities and the decisions of the Republika Srpska National Assembly (NSRS) annulling the Decision of the BiH Constitutional Court and banning operation of the BiH Constitutional Court on the territory of Republika Srpska threaten the constitutional and legal order of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The BiH Office of the Prosecutor, that is BiH Chief Prosecutor Milanko Kajganić should undertake actions ex officio that would start with a hearing, decision on detention and undertaking of adequate measures to eliminate the consequences of the adopted decisions in line with the Constitution and the law with respect to the undermining of the constitutional and legal order and bringing into question the existence of institutions of the state of BiH. One does not engage in a debate or dialogue with perpetrators of actions that threaten the constitutional and legal order of the country. The BiH Office of the Prosecutor used the linguistic construction of “we have formed a case” and in such a way threw sand in the eyes of the public, while as far as it is concerned the case has been closed as well already. Such a formulation does not exist in the BiH Criminal Procedure Code (ZKP) -there is only opening of an investigation or a decision not to open an investigation. 

Dodik sees initiation of conflict as a way out of the existing (financial) situation, specifically enormous indebtedness. The leading intelligence services are in possession of data on Dodik financial transactions, fraud and property, as well as those of his family members and oligarchy. Hence, one gets the impression that “Serbhood” is definitely very lucrative and profitable and can be further monetized through plunder of public resources. Information on financial transactions and property associated with Dodik and his oligarchy offer answers to numerous questions. 

Željka Cvijanović repeats Vuk Jeremić’s mistake

Member of the BiH Presidency from Republika Srpska Željka Cvijanović (SNSD) had recently requested form UN Secretary General António Guterres that the UN provide her with the decision of the UN Security Council on the appointment of Christian Schmidt as High Representative in BiH in line with Annex 10 to the Dayton Agreement, together with other documents “relevant to BiH.”

The response from UN Secretary General Guterres followed and stipulated that the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) was the only relevant body for appointment of high international representatives in BiH and that the UN was not a signatory to the Dayton peace agreement nor is it a member of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), the only relevant body for appointment of high international representative in BiH.

Analysts believe that the letter sent by Željka Cvijanović to UN Secretary General Guterres can be compared with the letter of Vuk Jeremić, then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, requesting through the General Assembly that , at the initiative of Serbia, which holds that the declaration of independence of Kosovo in 2008 was a violation of the international legal order, the UN General Assembly requests an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).In 2010 the International Court of Justice rendered its advisory opinion according to which unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo was not in violation of the international law. It also reaffirmed that the decision was in line with the general international law, Resolution 1244 and the temporary constitutional framework for Kosovo, that is the existing legal system established in Kosovo in 1999. 

The response by the UN Secretary General Guterres proves to Cvijanović that the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) is the only relevant body for appointment of high representative, which is why with it Cvijanović gave a final blow to Republika Srpska, which has insisted that the HR was illegally appointed. In a way, this is a repetition of the mistake made by Vuk Jeremić, who by asking for an advisory opinion of the ICJ rendered the position of Serbia in relation to the Kosovo issue even more difficult. The appointment of High Representative Schmidt is not disputable, what is disputable are primarily his bias actions in BiH. 

BiH in need of internal consensus

In Bosnia and Herzegovina where crime and corruption rule, there is only consensus for crime and corruption, but not for general progress. The most successful countries are those with strong democracy and those that affirm private initiatives, base their actions on research and progress and stimulate solidarity in the society. In BiH there are not even any traces of that. 

Dragan Čović and the HDZBiH profit on production of tensions between the Bosniaks and Serbs and survive thanks to that process. Dialogue between Serbs and Bosniaks on how to overcome the existing situation is inevitable. However, the question is whether it is possible in the context of the Ukraine crisis and developments in Kosovo, as intensification of these conflicts increases tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina because of the actions of the exponents of the respective policies. 

Analysts believe that in Bosnia and Herzegovina it is necessary to achieve internal consensus in a very complex situation and complicated international relations, bearing in mind that international diplomacy has facilitated the rule of mass murders in some parts of the world. 

Republika Srpska is faced with the threat of a financial collapse (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank). It is noticeable that unlike early this year the West now pays more attention, but still not sufficient attention, to BiH. There are indications of some steps that could be more visible in the near future. They are related to withdrawal of support from Čović and HDZBiH to Dodik’s policy.

As per the Dayton peace agreement the international community has the obligation to ensure peace and functioning of institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it does not need a separate mandate for that. Because of the situation in Ukraine, as well as in Kosovo, some actors on the political scene in BiH still hope that major geopolitical shifts will occur, as well as retailoring of the borders in the region. It is necessary that the US administration gets additionally engaged in the resolution of the crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as otherwise the country will enter a phase of conflicts and permanent crisis. Extension of the mandate of EU Special Representative in BiH Johann Sattler is a weak signal sent from Brussels bearing in mind that it is common knowledge for which local actors on the political scene in BiH has Sattler been working so far. 

Ljubljana/Brussels/Washington, 4 August 2023                                                                 

[1] IFIMES - The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018. It is also the publisher of the international scientific journal European Perspectives.