During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the biggest challenges Bosnians faced was the lack of capacity and equipment needed for medical treatments, protection, and disinfection. The crisis triggered a lot of apolitical humanitarian support from the international community. Nonetheless, there have been instances of malign foreign actors seizing the opportunity to advance their anti-democratic agendas by amplifying propagandistic disinformation around Russian aid to Bosnia and Hercegovina.
In early April, a Russian military sanitation team bearing a convoy of vehicles for disinfection visited Banja Luka and elsewhere in Republika Srpska (RS). Their stated purpose was to assist helped the University of Banja Luka’s clinical center, as well as several other medical facilities there. They were greeted by Milorad Dodik, a member of the Presidency of BiH, vociferously promoting his Russian benefactors. The visit was requested by the Russian embassy in BiH and was declared as medical humanitarian aid.
A few weeks later, there was another request by the Russian embassy in BiH for the visit of a Russian humanitarian convoy with a military component to Mostar to disinfect medical facilities there. Because the Russian embassy explicitly stated the inclusion of a military element, Bosnian authorities failed to decide on this request in time, leaving the Russian mission to Mostar canceled.
Several pro-Russian media outlets seized on the government’s refusal, propelling a half-balked story on how “Sarajevo forbid the convoy to enter and blamed Russia“ and the like. Sputnik Serbia joined in asking “What is Sarajevo afraid of?“. As usual, this storyline was picked up by other media, building on the narrative with new disinforming claims. The Serbian tabloid Informer used this event to argue that Bosnia and Herzegovina is not a sustainable state and that it should dissolve. Several other portals used the same premises to amplify this narrative. Tellingly, within these portals, we can find both pro-Serb and pro-Croat right-wing voices. For instance, the Happy TV portal with its strongly pro-Serbian stance claimed how “The decision made in Sarajevo has brought Croats to their feet: they are not letting the Russians help us“. Meanwhile, Poskok, a virulently pro-Croat nationalist portal asked, “Bosniaks destroying the country? Why did they prevent Russians to help Mostar? “
Regardless of whether the discrepancies between the two Russian embassy letters were intentional or otherwise, it is clear how these and similar events are captured in order to maliciously craft narratives designed to divide.