While the European Union (EU) is tightening Russia’s isolation, a member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is doing the exact opposite.
Milorad Dodik is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on September 20.
He confirmed the visit to journalists on September 8 in Banja Luka.
Then he said that he had “confirmation that we will build two gas thermal power plants that will be a sure guarantee of our energy stability in the future”.
By visiting Moscow, Dodik will become one of the rare high-ranking officials of a country who will meet with the Russian leader twice since Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February of this year.
The first meeting was in June, in St. Petersburg, at the International Economic Forum.
Apart from the meeting with Dodik, the member of the BiH Presidency from the Republika Srpska (RS, one of the two BiH entities) and the leader of the largest party in the RS, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), has often met with the Russian ambassador to BiH since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Igor Kalabukhov.
Dodik, who in the previous 16 years held the functions of the Prime Minister of the RS, the President of the RS and a member of the BiH Presidency, opposes the joining of BiH to the sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia due to the invasion.
Considering the veto that Dodik invested in the Presidency on all punitive measures against Russia, it is obvious that even those sanctions that were adopted cannot be implemented.
In the general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, scheduled for October 2, it will be seen how much pro-Russian rhetoric and closeness with Russian leaders isolated by the EU brought to Dodik, who is this time a candidate for the president of the RS, and his political option.
However, what is undoubted, the economic dependence of BiH, as well as its entity, is not insurmountable.
Investments from 27 member countries of the EU bloc make up 64 percent of total foreign investments in BiH, while Russian investments amount to less than four percent.
In the RS, Russia is in fifth place as an investor, behind neighboring Serbia, EU members Italy and Austria, and Great Britain.
SUSPICIOUS SALE OF THE OIL INDUSTRY
Like many countries in Europe, Russia’s strongest foothold in Bosnia and Herzegovina is by far in the oil industry, specifically in the Optima Group, the largest oil company in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
That group is engaged in all activities from the procurement of crude oil, through its processing to wholesale and distribution.
It is 100 percent owned by the Russian “NeftegazInKor”, which is a subsidiary (daughter) company of “Zarubezhnefta”, the Russian state company in charge of oil operations abroad.
It was created in 2008, by the merger of the “Petrol” network of pumps, the Brod Oil Refinery and the Modriča Oil Refinery, which were sold to the Russians a year earlier, during Dodik’s visit to Moscow as Prime Minister of the RS.
Back then, Transparency International (TI) BiH warned about the non-transparency and harmfulness of the contract on the sale of the oil industry, and identified as many as 44 disputed points.
Namely, according to the conclusion of the BiH Competition Council, according to the data at the time, Zarubezhnefta owned only 40 percent of NeftegazInKor, while 20 percent were held by the companies “Invest-tehnologije”, “Nepat” and “Junik Development”, whose ownership structure has remained unknown to this day. .
When the privatization of the oil industry was brought up again in 2014, at the sessions of the entity parliament, TI BiH reminded of this.
“(There is) room for doubt that the majority owners of the Refinery are not Russian companies or the Russian Federation, as it is presented to the public, but precisely the highest level of the government of the RS, which carried out the process of criminal privatization, or persons closely connected to the government,” he states. in the announcement at the time.
Today, “Optima Group” is 100 percent owned by the Russian state.
RUSSIAN INVESTMENTS – OIL AND LITTLE SOMETHING ELSE
Last year, investments from Russia in the RS were negative, according to data from the Agency for Foreign Investments of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FIPA).
They amounted to -94.6 million marks, and FIPA states that these are possible obligations based on indebtedness.
As of December 2021, a total of 453 million marks were invested in the RS from Russia, which makes this country the fifth investor in Bosnia and Herzegovina. entity.
Investments in the oil industry represent an almost complete investment profile of Russia in BiH, more specifically, in the RS.
In relation to the RS, Russian investments in the Federation of BiH entity are negligible. 4.4 million marks were invested.
In April 2014, Dodik announced that a loan had been agreed with a commercial bank from Russia, and that the first tranche of 70 million euros would soon arrive, followed by an additional 250 million euros.
The terms of this loan were never made public, nor was it whether the money reached the accounts of the RS.
DEALINGS WITH RUSSIAN OLIGARS
The company “Comsar Energy”, owned by the Russian billionaire Rašid Serdarov, has been trying for years to build the thermal power plant “Ugljevik III” in the northeast of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In 2013, the company received a concession for the construction of a power plant, and was supposed to build it using bank loans from China, but that source of funds is no longer available, as China stops financing the construction of coal-fired power plants abroad.
However, “Comsar” confirmed to Radio Free Europe (RSE) in July that they are not giving up on the project. So far, the preparatory work has not moved away.
In 2014, Serdarov and Milorad Dodik jointly laid the foundation stone for the construction of the “Mrsovo” Hydroelectric Power Plant on the Lim River in the municipality of Rudo, in the east of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The construction of the hydroelectric power plant has not yet started, and the concession issued by the Government of the RS is valid until 2062.
In 2011, Serdarov, as a significant investor in Bosnia and Herzegovina, received the BH citizenship.
Oleg Burlakov died last year from the corona virus, and ten years ago his company “Privredni preporod” wanted to open a brown coal mine near Novi Grad, in the northwest of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
That business started from a “dead point” at the beginning of this year, and the concession for coal exploitation is valid for another two decades.
Due to negotiations on the mine, Burlakov visited Banja Luka in 2018.
The Russian businessman appeared in BiH for the first time in 2008 when he bought the paint and varnish factory “Turpentine” from Višegrad, in the east of BiH, which started working again 12 years later.
At the time, Burlakov was also interested in Banja Luka’s “Unis – Cold-rolled strip rolling mill”, “Famos” engine factory in East Sarajevo, Ljubija mine near Prijedor and Miljevina mine near Foča, but without concrete results.
“A KILOGRAM OF GOLD” AFFAIR
Burlakov found himself in the public spotlight in 2015 when the former ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to Russia, Gordan Milinić, accused Milorad Dodik of receiving a one-kg gold bar as a bribe from Burlakov as the prime minister of the RS.
Milinić stated for BN television that in front of his eyes, the Russian businessman handed Dodik a “nicely packaged kilogram of gold”.
He was later questioned before the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which launched an investigation, but the report against Dodik was ultimately dismissed.
POLITICAL RELATIONS AND THE “ICON” AFFAIR
During his visit to Moscow in 2007, Dodik had one of the first meetings with the Russian head of diplomacy, still current today, Sergey Lavrov. Among other things, the purchase of the RS oil industry was also discussed.
Later, they met regularly, and the cooperation, which is based on the idea of deepening economic integration, gave more and more space to political connection.
Within the political process, the affair from 2020 is particularly memorable. Namely, two years after he first visited Banjaluka, Lavrov visited the RS again, this time in East Sarajevo.
During the meeting with Dodik, he pointed out that the Dayton Peace Agreement is the foundation of BiH, but that arrival remained in the shadow of the “Ikon” affair.
Namely, Dodik presented Lavrov with a 300-year-old gilded icon, which the Ukrainian authorities claim originated from Lugansk, a city in the east of the country that was still under the control of pro-Russian separatists.
The icon was returned to Dodik, and the investigation into this case is still ongoing.
Russia has been supporting the RS in the UN Security Council for years and often opposes the reports of the high representative on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In June 2021, Russia in the Council was against the election of Christian Schmidt as the new representative of the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
According to the decree of the Russian Prime Minister from May of this year, that country plans to build the Office of its embassy in Banja Luka.
In May, RFE/RL sent a query to the Embassy’s address about what this Office will deal with, which was not answered.
REGULAR MEETINGS WITH PUTIN
In recent years, in the position of President of the RS, or as a member of the BiH Presidency, Dodik often met directly with the Russian President.
Since 2014, this has happened every September before the elections, except for 2020, which was marked by the corona virus pandemic.
According to the official transcripts of the meetings, available on the Kremlin’s website, the talks were mainly based on Russia’s support for the Republika Srpska, as well as economic cooperation.
They were held in Russia, except for the one in Belgrade in 2019, during Putin’s official visit to Serbia.
After the last meeting, in St. Petersburg on June 19, Putin said that the relations between Russia and BiH “are complicated because of BiH’s support for sanctions against Russia”, but that Russia is aware of Dodik’s position and appreciates it.
Member of BH The Presidency then replied that cooperation with Russia continues, that Russian fuel “has no alternative”, and that he “understands the context” of the situation in Ukraine.
CONVERSATION WITH LAVROV AFTER THE INVASION
Shortly after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in February, BH. The embassy of that country announced on Facebook that Dodik and Sergey Lavrov talked.
They stated that “an exchange of views on the implementation of the agreements reached after the meeting of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and Milorad Dodik in Moscow in December 2021 took place, and that “steps for intensifying efforts in this direction have been outlined.”
The official Kremlin did not issue a statement about the December meeting, but later confirmed it.
After his return from Moscow, Dodik told the Radio and Television of Republika Srpska (RTRS) that he informed Putin about the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as his wishes to return jurisdiction from Bosnia and Herzegovina to the RS, which was abandoned in the meantime.
The awards also went in the opposite direction. While he was the president of the RS, in 2018, Dodik awarded the Order of the RS on a necklace, the highest award in Bosnia and Herzegovina. entity, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as well as Valentina Matviyenko, President of the Council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly of Russia./RSE