Inter-American problems and regional policy
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with the Bosnian-Serbian newspaper Glas Srpske, Moscow, October 28, 2020
Question: How would you describe Russia’s relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina?
Sergey Lavrov: I would describe our relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina as a friendly partnership. Next year we will mark 25 years since their establishment. Over this relatively short period of time, we have created, through joint efforts, a stable system of ties based on pragmatism, mutual respect and mutual understanding on a broad range of issues. There are no unsettled issues between us.
We maintain a forward-looking political dialogue and support each other at multilateral platforms. We hold similar or very close views on the main international issues. We share the view that a revision of the generally recognised outcomes of World War II is inadmissible, and we are working consistently to stem any forms and manifestations of neo-Nazism.
We are expanding practical cooperation. Russia is a leading foreign trade partner of Bosnia and Herzegovina and one of the top 10 countries when it comes to foreign direct investment in its economy. Russia’s largest economic operators – Zarubezhneft, Gazprom and Sberbank – have created hundreds of jobs in Bosnia and Herzegovina and provide multimillion investments in its economy through budgetary and tax payments.
Russia is a reliable supplier of natural gas to the country. At the same time, our market is open for your fruit and vegetables. There is increasing interest in Russia in your fruit tree saplings, and consistent efforts are being taken to maintain meat and dairy deliveries.
We have developed multifaceted cultural and humanitarian collaboration, including in education, concerts and exhibitions. We are pleased with the expansion of sister ties between our countries’ administrative centres and municipalities.
In other words, all of this is evidence of a deep mutual interest in building up comprehensive cooperation between our countries. I believe that the key factor of success is full compliance of the structure and essence of our relations with the Dayton principles. I would describe this as proof of the viability and effectiveness of the administrative structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina set out in the Dayton Peace Agreement. It is essential to comply with the established rules without trying to evade or violate them.
Question: What place does Republika Serpska hold in the system of Russia’s foreign policy?
Sergey Lavrov: There are close historical and cultural ties between Russia and Republika Serpska. We highly value the fraternal understanding that exists between us. As a guarantor of the Peace Agreement, Russia wholeheartedly supports the Dayton status of Republika Serpska and its constitutional powers.
Republika Serpska accounts for a considerable part of our practical cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our businesses have an interest in its industrial potential. We are discussing the possibility of joining local projects to connect users to the gas supply network. At the same time, I would like to point out that our cooperation is not designed to harm any third party. We intend to continue to encourage the strengthening and deepening of ties with Republika Serpska.
Question: Every once in a while there are statements that the Dayton Peace Agreement has run its course and has to be replaced. What do you think about this? Does Russia support the Dayton Agreement?
Sergey Lavrov: It is true that some argue that the Dayton Accords were not designed to last for many years and have to be replaced or adapted to fit into some kind of a framework, and so forth. In most cases, this comes from abroad. It is obvious that the rules set out in the 1995 peace agreement do not suit someone’s interests and prevent them from imposing their agenda from abroad. For Russia, this is not enough reason to raise the issue of revising the Dayton Agreement, which has successfully ensured peace, security and stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the region in general for a quarter of a century.
Moreover, the peace agreement’s enduring legacy is that it sets forth the internal structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the constitutional status of the two entities, delimits the responsibilities between various levels of government, guarantees equal status for the three constituent peoples, contains an elaborate scheme enabling them to enjoy their ethnic rights, going as far as to grant them the power of veto on the most important matters. Infringing on these tenets is tantamount to undermining Bosnia and Herzegovina’s statehood.
As a guarantor of the peace agreement, Russia advocates rigorous compliance with the fundamental constitutional principles, and calls on all its partners in and outside Bosnia and Herzegovina to act accordingly. Any changes can only result from equitable agreements reached by the three constituent peoples in keeping with the corresponding procedures.
What we do need to review is the continued existence of the Office of the High Representative. This external supervision mechanism was clearly conceived as a temporary measure. A decision to close the office has been adopted in principle back in 2006, but its implementation has been delayed again and again under various pretexts. We do not believe that the High Representative serves any practical purpose. This office has long run its course. The fact that a sovereign and independent Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has been a non-permanent UN Security Council member and chaired the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, is still under external supervision can be regarded as humiliating. The time has come to put an end to this. The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina must be able to assume full responsibility for the country’s future.
Question: We are hearing more and more speculation in the West about Russia’s “pernicious influence” in the Western Balkans. What is this all about?
Sergey Lavrov: The most interesting part about all this is that no one can actually explain what this “pernicious influence” is about. There is much empty, vacuous talk and insinuations, while no one can actually produce any evidence or facts. Besides, where could these facts come from?
We are totally transparent in developing our multifaceted ties with all countries in the region, and act in full compliance with the international law. Russia also continues to play an important role in the post-conflict settlement.
This clearly is not to everyone’s liking, since it prevents a number of international actors from fulfilling their selfish interests. What they want is turn this part of Europe into an arena of geopolitical confrontation and create new dividing lines. This is where all the talk about “pernicious influence” comes from. Therefore, we are witnessing clumsy efforts not only to deride Russia’s policy in the Balkans, but also to conceal their own unsavoury intentions.
Question: Two years ago, you visited Banja Luka, where, among other things, you took part in the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of a future Russian-Serbian church and spiritual centre. What is its importance for Russia? Will Russia be involved in implementing this project?
Sergey Lavrov: It was a great honour for me to participate, along with the leaders of the Republika Srpska and the Serbian Orthodox clergy, in the stone consecration ceremony for the future Russian-Serbian church and spiritual centre in Banja Luka. I remember the event well and the warm reception. We certainly follow the situation closely and we know that the work is making good progress. We are grateful to the leadership of the Republika Srpska and the Serbian Orthodox Church, specifically Bishop Jefrem of Banja Luka for his personal contribution to the implementation of this important cultural and spiritual project. We regard it as a landmark in the context of efforts to further strengthen the bonds of friendship, mutual understanding and cooperation between our two peoples. For our part, we are considering various involvement options, specifically taking part in designing the interiors.
Question: How do you see the future of the Western Balkans?
Sergey Lavrov: As a territory of security, stability, development and cooperation. We proceed from the assumption that there is no alternative to this. Russia is very interested in this.
The Western Balkans are unique from the point of view of their geopolitical position and their history and culture. This should enrich rather than create problems. We are convinced that a mutually respectful dialogue based on international law is a token of prosperity of all without exception states and peoples in the region. For our part, we are ready to support all constructive initiatives and undertakings aimed at strengthening regional peace and stability.