Speed Reads

To Sanction a Serb

U.S. slaps new sanctions on Bosnian Serb leader, calling him a threat to Balkan 'territorial integrity'

The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced Wednesday that it was imposing additional sanctions against Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik and a media company he allegedly controls, Reuters reports.

A Treasury Department statement accused Dodik of "corrupt activities and continued threats to the stability and territorial integrity" of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Last month, the lower house of the Republika Srpska passed a non-binding resolution that would decouple the semi-autonomous republic from Bosnia and Herzegovina's tax system, military, and judicial system.

Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia's three-person inter-ethnic presidency, supported the vote. He favors removing the framework established by the 1995 Dayton Agreement, which ended the war that devastated the country following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. "Bosnia is an experiment ... I don't believe it can survive because it does not have an internal capacity to survive," Dodik said at the time.

Under the Dayton framework, Bosnia and Herzegovina remains one nation but is divided into two enclaves: the ethnically Serbian Republika Srpska and the ethnically Croat and Bosniak Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most governmental functions devolve to the semi-autonomous governments of these entities. The nation's presidency is constitutionally required to be made up of a Serbian, a Croat, and a Bosniak.

Even before the December vote, Dodik's rhetoric was causing concern among international observers.

"The [Bosnia and Herzegovina] population is truly afraid of a new war, noticing the same worrying signs as in the 1990s," a pair of left-leaning Dutch members of European Parliament wrote in a November op-ed.

The MEPs concluded that unless Dodik and his followers faced "the realistic threat of targeted sanctions or another form of serious international pushback, they will continue to escalate this crisis, which could eventually result in secession, thereby risking a violent conflict."

Samuel Ramani, an associate fellow with the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, wrote on Twitter that the new U.S. sanctions were a "sign of growing U.S. assertiveness in Bosnia and pushback against [Russia's] influence in the Balkans."

Ramani told The Week that Dodik and Russian President Vladimir Putin have "a cordial personal relationship" and that Russia "has expressed concern about discrimination against Serbs within Bosnia and Herzegovina."