Russia is Using the Pandemic to Exert Influence in the Western Balkans

In late April, BiH’s foreign ministry received a letter from the Russian embassy in Sarajevo requesting permission for a 24-member medical team, as well as five specialized military vehicles used for disinfection and decontamination to enter Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territory.

According to a document sent by Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic to Defense Minister Sifet Podzic, the entry into the Federation of BiH of Russian chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense vehicles and the medical team is at the request of the member of the House of Peoples and chairman of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) Dragan Covic, aiming to assist the Mostar University Hospital, located in an area populated primarily by Bosnian Croats.

Podzic says his ministry cannot allow foreign troops to enter BiH, as this issue is only within the jurisdiction of the country’s Tripartite Presidency, and he is not aware of any such decision that would allow the Russian military medical team to enter BiH’s territory. “Neither the Ministry of Defense nor the Bosnian Armed Forces participated in talks for any bilateral agreement that would include the stay and engagement of members of the Russian Federation’s armed forces on BiH’s territory”, Podzic underlined.

The arrival of the Russian military medical team, which was supposed to take part in the disinfection of the University Hospital in Mostar, has been postponed indefinitely, according to a statement (01.05) by the hospital spokeswoman Adriana Pandza: “Their arrival was delayed due to procedural problems. Based on the positive experience of Banja Luka University Hospital, where the Russian medical team performed disinfection 10 days ago, we asked them to do the same in Mostar”, adding that the request was made by Dragan Covic.

Later it became known that Covic had done so without consulting the Tripartite Presidency, responsible for the foreign policy of BiH and is the only institution that can send and approve such requests.

Responding to this precedent, the Bosnian and Croat members of the Tripartite Presidency said BiH did not need the support of the Russian military, who arrived about a month ago at Batajnica military airport near Belgrade with 8 planes of Russian humanitarian aid to fight the coronavirus.

There is no need for a Russian military medical team to disinfect Mostar Hospital, as Bosnian armed forces can do the job faster and more efficiently, the two Presidency members said (03.05). Serb Tripartite Presidency member Milorad Dodik, who initiated the arrival of the same Russian military team ten days ago in Banja Luka, did not comment the situation, but it became clear that Covic had not acted through him, despite their close cooperation over the last year and a half, and have sent the request directly to the Russian Embassy in Sarajevo.

BiH Security Minister Fahrudin Radoncic told reporters why the Russian military unit was allowed to come to Banja Luka but not Mostar. He said the BiH MFA had approved the arrival of the Russian medical team in Banja Luka because their actions had been presented as of humanitarian nature and it had not been clearly stated that the team members were military.

“The second request in the note from the Embassy of the Russian Federation to BiH regarding the entry of the same convoy and persons across the border, this time contains a much more detailed list of military-technical resources, names and surnames of the medical team, as well as their military ranks!”, informed minister Radoncic, adding that this could no longer be treated as a humanitarian action.

In an interview with FENA, Bosniak Tripartite Presidency member Sefik Dzaferovic said (03.05) that there is no need for military personnel from any other country to assist in the disinfection of any hospital, since the BiH’s army has a team trained for such opearations. According to him, the approval procedure is as follows: “The BiH’s Ministry of Defense and the competent ministries of other countries must first reach a bilateral cooperation agreement that is further agreed with EUFOR and approved by the Presidency”.

Croat Tripartite Presidency member Zeljko Komsic said (03.05) that any clinical center in BiH has the opportunity to hire a company to disinfect the premises if it cannot manage on its own. “I am sure that the clinical centers in Banja Luka and Mostar have previously engaged such disinfection companies. Even if this is not possible, such clinical centers must turn to the Bosnian Armed Forces for help and the army can do the job even better than the Russian unit”.

“All this raises the question of the true purpose of the invitation and arrival of the Russian unit in BiH, in particular Banja Luka and Mostar”, Komsic said, adding that the presence of this Russian military unit in BiH was “completely unnecessary” and that it was invited for “completely different reasons than those stated to the public”. According to him, the Russian military carried out “so-called special psychological activity” and that “it should not have come to BiH and should not return here”.

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