By Mladen Lakic
After the UK announced it will deploy around 40 military personnel to ensure ‘free and fair’ elections in Bosnia this autumn, the Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, has accused Britain of interfering in the country’s affairs.
Russia’s ambassador to Bosnia, Petar Ivanov, and Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb President, have criticised the UK for “meddling” in the October general election campaign” after Britain’s Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, recently announced that the UK will send 40 extra military personnel to counter any “malign external influence” and to ensure “free and fair” general elections in Bosnia.
Williamson made the announcement at the recent NATO defence ministerial meeting in Brussels.
“Republika Srpska does not need this, nor have its authorities asked for it. If this is done by the British on their own, it is only their action, and it is meddling in internal affairs.
“This is an act that borders on intrusion into this country,” Milorad Dodik, president of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska entity, said on Sunday night.
Russian ambassador Petar Ivancov told regional TV station N1 on Saturday that Russia had received an assurance from the British embassy that the mission is not directed against Russia and that the UK soldiers are being deployed on the request of European Union’s military operation, Operation Althea.
“We see that such plans have already caused a sharp reaction in Republika Srpska. Sending 40 intelligence specialists is being interpreted as meddling in the election campaign,” Ivancov noted, describing this move as unnecessary.
Bosnia is due to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in October this year.
The British embassy in Bosnia told the Bosnian Serb news agency, SRNA, on Friday that the UK is not sending soldiers and officers to prevent Russia from interfering in the election but to reinforce EUFOR’s capacities, on request of the force’s commander.
While Williamson did not mention Russia in his announcement, the UK media have described the move as aimed essentially at countering Russia’s growing influence in Bosnia – above all in in the country’s Serb-dominated entity.
Only seven of the 600 soldiers currently serving in EUFOR’s Operation Althea in Bosnia are British.
The international peacekeeping mission has been on the ground under various names in Bosnia since the Dayton Agreement of 1995 ended the 1992-5 war in ther country.