In light of Sergey Lavrov’s recent statements reflecting Russia’s disappointment with the West and the country’s intention to “stop judging ourselves on the basis of marks given by the collective West or individual Western countries”, it might have been expected that the Russian foreign minister’s mid-December Balkan mini tour would be a good chance to see how this new Russian awakening was going to be reflected in practice. Especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B-H), perhaps the most famous hamlet in the Potemkin village built by Western “humanitarian interventionism” during the, thankfully, relatively brief unipolar moment lasting approximately two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
As it turned out, the visit did not disappoint, with the highlight being a staged diplomatic incident made to order for the Russia! Russia! Russia! crowd and their media support puppies, perhaps even more alarmed by the air of easy, unapologetic confidence with which Lavrov handled it while breezing through Sarajevo, Belgrade and Zagreb.
Lavrov’s main message, repeated at each stop, was to reiterate Russia’s continuing support for the two major peace agreements that served to at least freeze the conflicts arising from the ugly breakup of Yugoslavia during the 1990s – the Dayton Peace Agreement for Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995) and UN Security Council Resolution 1244 regarding Serbia’s breakaway Kosovo and Metohija province (1999). Ironically, although these two agreements were brokered by the U.S. and its main EU vassals as a way to at least partly secure the fruits of their interventionism, for the past couple of decades it has been Russia that has been their main champion and defender.
That is not as paradoxical as it appears at first glance. It fits into Russia’s approach to international relations, as an arena in which peace agreements and UN resolutions are to be respected if one wants to avoid Darwinian global disorder and free-for-all. (Respect for what is signed… What will those dastardly Russkies think of next?) Pragmatically speaking, this approach is also the best currently available vehicle for at least partially restraining Western unilateralism and “exceptionalist” arrogance, by which agreements and treaties are to be honored only so long as it serves one’s purposes, after which they’re to be expeditiously changed or discarded, with no dissent tolerated, and new rules imposed. That, in a nutshell, is what the collective West means when it speaks of the much-touted “rules-based order”.
In any case, as it seems to be its fate, and the fate of the Balkans in general, B-H was once again turned into a proving ground and the place where opposing worldviews clashed. Fortunately, this time only on the diplomatic front. In short, Mr. Lavrov’s scheduled meeting with the over-bureaucratized country’s three-man presidency was boycotted by two of its members – the Muslim representative Sefik Dzaferovic and the (faux) Croat representative Zeljko Komsic, leaving the Serb representative, Milorad Dodik, as the sole host of the meeting.
The main reason given for these theatrics was the Russian foreign minister’s alleged “disrespect” for B-H, since the B-H flag was not on display during his previous day’s visit to the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska – one of the two federal “entities” that currently make up B-H, the other being the Muslim and Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina), where he was also hosted by Milorad Dodik. The second reason was Lavrov’s endorsement of the Serb Republic parliament’s resolution on military neutrality, as this is something that supposedly only the joint institutions at the central level can decide upon.
Lavrov’s pithy response to the incident, given a day later at a press conference during his Belgrade stop, was nothing if not direct:
“I think the politicians who made that decision are not independent, and clearly acted on someone’s instructions. They most likely express the interests not of their voters, but of external forces that have no interest not only in the development of Russian relations with Bosnia and Serbia, but in general of the Western Balkans countries exercising their right to develop mutually beneficial cooperation with all external partners.”
Furthermore, recalling the words of former EU foreign policy commissioner Federica Mogherini who called B-H an exclusive interest zone of the EU in which Russia had no business, the Russian foreign minister added:
“This is a philosophy deeply rooted in the ancient colonial and half-colonial legacy of many European countries. We can’t do anything about it, obviously, except counter this absolutely unacceptable line and mentality.”
Of course, it can hardly be concluded that Lavrov deliberately picked B-H as one of the first places to showcase Russia’s disillusionment with the West and a more assertive foreign policy. For it was the said boycott that provided the perfect occasion to talk about local politicians serving foreign agendas or reminisce about Europe’s colonial ways. So, in a way, it was precisely this gesture done in the name of “independence” and “lack of respect” that provided the necessary foil for the Russian foreign minister to drive home his point.
And that point is actually just a logical extension of Russia’s consistent foreign policy approach over the years. While Russia – together with the Serbs both in B-H and Serbia itself – insists on strict respect for the Dayton Peace Agreement, it is also a champion of doing away with its frankly (neo)colonial aspects, which were expected to wither away in time in any case – the so-called High Representative, practically a Western viceroy claiming the right to interfere in B-H politics at any time, and the presence of foreign judges in the country’s supreme court. (While we are on the subject of neocolonialism, the B-H flag over which much of the tiff was raised, is actually a bland, unpopular, non-descript piece of cloth with absolutely zero connection to its people’s history, imposed by the High Representative more than two decades ago.)
On the other hand, the Bosnian Muslims adamantly oppose Bosnia’s decolonization. After all, it was the Western states, led by the United States, that supported their radical Muslim leader, Alija Izetbegovic, in his quest to not only separate B-H from the former Yugoslavia but also to, as clearly stated in his Islamic Declaration, gradually transform it into a majority Muslim state, in which Christians would necessarily become second-class citizens.
Now why would the proud Western democracies support such a project? The short answer is – Russia! Russia! Russia! The West’s three-decade long feelgood Bosnian project is and has been just a geopolitical extension of Brzezinski’s Afghanistan strategy, whereby Islamists of various degree of militancy are used to box out Russian influence and weaken local Russian allies. Underneath all the “pro-democracy” and “Euroatlantic (read NATO) integration” talk, that is the crux of the matter. In the 1990s, the U.S. facilitated the arrival of jihadists to B-H, while the EU for the most part politely held its nose and averted its eyes. Today, the collective West just as firmly supports Izetbegovic’s successors, led by his son, Bakir. The goals haven’t really changed – keep the Russians out at any cost – only the rhetoric. And tried and true Western colonial methods and structures are still needed to achieve them.
Naturally, the Russians are wise to what’s happening, as are the Serbs. The new wrinkle is that the Croats (who are Roman Catholic, while the Serbs are Orthodox Christians), both in B-H and Croatia, are also showing increasing willingness to come at least partially aboard, as their wartime shotgun marriage to the Muslims, brokered by both sides’ U.S. patrons in order to strengthen the regional anti-Serb coalition, is turning increasingly sour. Not only are the much more numerous Muslims less and less willing to take into consideration Croat vital interests, they now take it for granted that they can use their superior numbers to elect the Croat member of the B-H presidency on a regular basis, as is the case with the current “Croat” member of the presidency, Zeljko Komsic, whom Zagreb considers to be “legal but not legitimate,” as his election runs afoul of the Dayton architecture by which the three constituent peoples are supposed to be represented by their own elected representatives.
That is why, in addition to the traditionally warm welcome he received in Belgrade, Lavrov was also able to visit Zagreb for the first time in more than 16 years and have quite cordial meetings with Croatia’s otherwise traditionally Russo-skeptic leadership. For, lacking any significant sympathetic ear among their EU and NATO allies, the Croats are obviously seeing benefit in at least a partial turn towards Russia or, more precisely, its principled B-H policy. It is now music for Croat ears when Lavrov speaks not only of respect for the Dayton Agreement, but for the main principles upon which B-H has been constructed under it: one country, two entities and three equally constitutive peoples.
To sum it up, 25 years after the signing of the Dayton Agreement, Bosnia and Herzegovina is still a Western protectorate. The Western powers want to keep it as such, until it becomes a Muslim-dominated state that, together with a Greater Albania whose formation the Western powers are also encouraging (hence their insistence on recognizing the secession of Kosovo from Serbia), would form a stout bulwark against the dreaded Russian “malign influence.”
Just as the West’s faux prosperity, based on endless money-creation and markets permanently addicted to various “stimuli,” is now being fully exposed as a rigged game in which the rich only get richer while the rest descend into various degrees of debt slavery, so is the West’s feel-good “democratization” mantra of the past three decades being exposed for what it truly is – a cynical, zero-sum geopolitical game, in which, as always, the ends justify the means and lofty-sounding goals are used as the cover.
This is especially the case with the humanitarian-interventionist West’s poster child, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In contrast, as everywhere else, Russia’s goals in B-H are comparatively much more modest and reality-based. The goal is to maintain the stability of a country based on internal, interethnic consent and consensus, without foreign “high representatives” and such. And, of course, without NATO membership.
If this is “malign influence” – then bring it on!