Emboldened by events in Ukraine, the leader of Bosnia’s Serbs called on Tuesday for Bosnia to become a confederation of three states, and again threatened a referendum on secession if the proposal fails.
Milorad Dodik, president of Republika Srpska, has long advocated Bosnia be scrapped as a state, but has grown increasingly bold as elections approach in October.
Dodik, who has courted Russian political backing, has seized on Crimea’s referendum to split from Ukraine – which was followed by Russian annexation – as a prime example of self-determination in action, unnerving Western capitals uncertain about his true intentions.
“Our next step is the opening of a dialogue … on the restructuring of Bosnia as a confederation consisting of three states,” he told a news conference in the Serb Republic’s administrative center, Banja Luka.
“If this proves impossible, Republika Srpska retains the right to hold a referendum on its status.”
A confederation is a non-starter for Bosnia’s Muslim Bosniaks but may win some support among ethnic Croat hardliners who have long called for their own entity within Bosnia.
British politician Paddy Ashdown, a former international overseer in postwar Bosnia, accused Russia last month of stoking Serb separatist sentiment, citing among other things Moscow’s offer of a loan to the Serb Republic after the International Monetary Fund halted funding for the country.
Dodik said he expected a first installment of 70 million euros ($95 million) in April. Another 200 million euros were available over the coming year, he said, but did not specify the terms of the loan or whether it came from the Russian state or through a commercial bank.
Most analysts say Dodik’s rhetoric has more to do with playing the nationalist card among voters than any real intention.
Crimea was “convenient” for Dodik, said Sarajevo-based Kurt Bassuener, a senior associate at the Democratisation Policy Council think-tank.
“But obviously this is unlike Ukraine – Bosnia does not border Russia, there is no Russian troop presence here, and I don’t foresee the Russians flying paratroopers to Republika Srpska to support its independence bid.”