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Russia harbouring Bosnian war criminals?

The Guardian today claims that Russia is sheltering Bosnian war ciminals, including a number suspected of involvement in the Srebrenica massacre, from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

The revelation has come to light after Gojko Jankovic, a Bosnian Serb, surrended himself after four years living in Moscow and the Guardian recovered a statement his wife made to the Interior Ministry of the Republika Srpska.

Her account describes a visit largely supervised by a man driving a black bulletproof Mercedes and carrying a FSB identity card. The man produced the card over dinner, but put it away when Mrs Jankovic’s interest was roused. He was "a person of knowledge and experience in police work as he spoke about tapping devices, etc", the statement said

The man paid the couple’s bills in expensive restaurants each evening of the visit, before taking them home in the early hours to a luxury flat with which Mr Jankovic had been provided.

"I was bothered by his constant presence, and then I realised that he was the one who paid the bills. I got the feeling that Gojko feels very safe in his presence," said Mrs Jankovic. According to her statement, Mr Jankovic was given Russian citizenship, under a pseudonym.

So far there has been no comment from Russia regarding these allegations.  I’m fairly certain that they’ll turn out to be true, though.  Russia has been suspected of harbouring war criminals for a while and I’m only surprised it has taken this long for evidence to come out. If the allegations really are true, the only word I think of to describe Russia’s actions is ‘stupid’.

Russia is a signatory of the 1995 Dayton Agreement which brought the Bosnian civil war to an end and it voted in favour of the Security Council resolutions which set up the Tribunal and called on all states to actively support its investigations.  To be actively hiding people who are wanted by the Tribunal for war crimes is clearly a violation of commitments that Russia has made.   

Perhaps the decision was made to hide these men as a part of a general policy to frustrate the US and EU.  Perhaps the decision was made out of brotherly solidarity with Russia’s fellow Slavs.  Perhaps the decision was made in the hope that one day – after everyone else had given up hope of finding these men – Russia could claim the credit for magically ‘persuading’ the Serbs to hand them over.  Either way you look at it, the following questions have to be asked:

  • Did someone in Russia not stop to think that this was going to look bad when the rest of the world discovered that Russia was hiding the very war criminals it had vowed to bring to justice. 
  • Did someone in Russia not stop to think that if these men were eventually turned over the the Tribunal, someone might ask them where they’d been for the past few years?

The whole idea of harbouring war criminals seems to be indicative of a general trend in Russian foreign policy of short-sighted short-termism.  Time after time Russia is making stupid foreign policy decisions and blithely assuming that things will go well.  This wouldn’t be such a problem if there was someone in their Foreign Ministry had the ability to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.  Sadly though, there isn’t anybody in Russia with that ability and, time after time, their plans go awry. 

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