The Biden administration announced sanctions against Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik who has been at the centre of an escalating political crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the most significant in the country since the end of the 1992-1995 war.
The statement accused him of “corrupt activities” that threaten to destabilise the region and undermine the 1995 Dayton agreement, a peace accord that doubles as the country’s constitution.
The US-sponsored Dayton Peace Accords created two main administrative units in Bosnia — the Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska, or RS, and the Bosniak-Croat majority Federation of BiH.
The two entities were given a certain level of autonomy. Above them, there is a state-level government and a three-way presidency — with each member representing one of the three main ethnic groups — and a council of ministers.
The Treasury Department, which made the decision public on Wednesday, also alleged that Dodik used his position as the leading Bosnian Serb politician in the country to accumulate wealth through graft and bribery.
Dodik, a hard-line populist widely considered to be one of the most nationalist politicians in the Balkan region, spent the latter part of 2021 pushing for laws that would see almost half the country withdraw from its central institutions.
The laws aim to weaken the country’s central government, and include threats of creating a separate mono-ethnic Bosnian Serb army.
In December, the entity of Republika Srpska assembly voted yes on a set of provisions that would see the government of one of the two entities in the country opt-out of several national institutions.
The adopted measures come with a six-month period needed to draft the new laws, including changes to the entity's constitution.
Monitors of Bosnia's peace trajectory have been discussing possible sanctions for months, but this marks the first concrete move to penalise Dodik for his actions.
The US government also sanctioned a Banjaluka-based media outlet, Alternativna Televizija or ATV, saying it was owned by a company linked to Dodik's family.
The administration says Dodik acquired the organisation to advance his own agenda and exerts behind-the-scenes control over its content, including by mandating approval of politically sensitive stories.
The Biden administration's actions — Washington's second round of sanctions against Dodik since 2017 — also mean that any property or interest belonging to Dodik in the United States is blocked.
“I’m being punished again, and I don’t know what for,” Dodik told the RS news agency SRNA on Wednesday after the sanctions were announced.
“If they think they will discipline me like this, they're terribly wrong. This is only giving me further motivation to fight for the rights that have been taken away from us for the past 26 years,” he stated.
Bosnia’s recent history was marked by a bloody war that saw 100,000 casualties, with two million people becoming either refugees or internally displaced in a country of 3.5 million.