LONDON – Britain sanctioned two leading Bosnian-Serb politicians Monday, accusing them of encouraging ethnic hatred and jeopardizing the peace accord that ended the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina more than 25 years ago.
Milorad Dodik and Zeljka Cvijanovic will be hit with asset freezes and travel bans in the first sanctions the U.K. has leveled in Bosnia. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine had emboldened the pair to further erode the international rules based system in the Western Balkans.
“These two politicians are deliberately undermining the hard won peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina,'' Truss said in a statement. “Encouraged by Putin, their reckless behavior threatens stability and security across the Western Balkans.''
U.K. authorities say the pair have have used their positions to push for the de facto secession of Republika Srpska — one of two semi-autonomous regions that comprise the federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina — in direct contravention of the country’s constitution.
The U.S. Treasury Department on Monday imposed its own sanctions on seven more people from the Western Balkans.
Dodik has for years advocated separating the Bosnian Serb mini-state from the federation and uniting it with neighboring Serbia. He is the Bosnian Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, which also includes representatives of the Bosnian Muslim and Croat communities.
Secession would violate the Dayton Accords, the 1995 U.S.-sponsored agreement that ended Bosnia’s civil war, which killed more than 100,000 people and left millions homeless. The agreement established two separate governing entities in Bosnia — one run by Bosnia’s Serbs and the other controlled by the country’s Bosniaks and Croats.
The two entities are linked by joint institutions, and all actions taken at a national level have to be reached by consensus among the three ethnic groups.
U.S. authorities had previously sanctioned Dodik, accusing him of “corrupt activities” that threaten to destabilize the region. The Americans allege that he used his leadership position to accumulate wealth through graft and bribery.
Cvijanovic, the president of Republika Srpska, the Serb entity, has proposed legislation to transfer powers from the national government to her mini-state, British authorities said. She has also glorified war criminals and denied acts of genocide during the civil war, they said.
The top international official in Bosnia, Christian Schmidt, described the decision to impose sanctions on Dodik and Cvijanovic as “reasonable” and thanked the British government for its commitment to Bosnia’s stability and security.
“Dodik and Cvijanovic missed every opportunity to get back into constructive dialogue for the benefit of the people in this country,'' said Schmidt, who heads the U.N.'s Office of High Representative in Bosnia. “They will have to bear the consequences of their words and deeds, and the U.K. sanctions are the continuation of the consequences that started in January with the U.S. sanctions.”
The practical impact of Monday's actions is unclear. Both Dodik and Cvijanovic said they don't have assets in the U.K.
“All they (British) say are lies. They are old manipulators and enemies of the Serb people. I told them so many times before,” said Dodik. “They are helpless in their feud with Putin, and they accuse the two of us now of acting on orders from Putin."
Andi Hoxhaj, an expert in corruption in the Western Balkans at Warwick Law School, described the new sanctions as “appropriate.'' The lack of a clear European Union strategy to integrate the Western Balkans has created a vacuum that has allowed Russia and China to undermine democracy and pursue their own goals in the region, he said.
“However, with the ongoing war in Ukraine, there is a policy shift to sanction individuals that undermine peace and democracy in fragile states, and this attempt is to address that,” Hoxhaj said.
In addition to its January action against Dodik, the U.S. on Monday added seven more individuals and a Hungary-based company to the list of people from across the Western Balkans who have been sanctioned for corrupt and destabilizing activities.
“The people designated today constitute a serious threat to regional stability, institutional trust, and the aspirations of those seeking democratic and judicious governance in the Western Balkans,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said in a statement.
The list includes various figures from Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro.
The most prominent people targeted by the new U.S. sanctions are an ex-president of the former joint state of Serbia and Montenegro, Svetozar Marovic, former North Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and Gordana Tadic, a one-time chief prosecutor in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The sanctions mean that any property they own in the U.S. will be frozen and business transactions with U.S. companies are banned. The individuals from Bosnia-Herzegovina and North Macedonia, along with their immediate family members, are also barred from traveling to the U.S.
“The ultimate goal of sanctions is not to punish, but to bring about a positive change in behavior,” the Department of Treasury said.