European Western Balkans

Dodik, Gruevski, Marović among Balkan politicians under latest round of Western sanctions

US Department of Treasury; Photo: Wikidata

LONDON / WASHINGTON – The United Kingdom and the United States announced the newest round of sanctions on Western Balkan politicians on Monday, the most famous names including Milorad Dodik, member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, former Prime Minister of North Macedonia Nikola Gruevski, and former President of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro Svetozar Marović.

This is not the first time that the Western countries are imposing sanctions on persons from the Western Balkans in recent months. In December 2021, the United States introduced sanctions on the controversial Serbian businessmen from Kosovo, Zvonko Veselinović and Milan Radoičić, while in January 2022, Milorad Dodik was already sanctioned by the United States. He is now under UK sanctions as well.

On Monday, UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office announced that it was sanctioning Bosnian-Serb politicians, Presidency Member Milorad Dodik and President of Republika Srpska Željka Cvijanović, for their attempts to undermine the legitimacy and functionality of the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The designations, which include travel bans and asset freezes, are the first under the UK’s Bosnia and Herzegovina sanctions regime, the Foreign Office announced.

“Emboldened by Russia’s undermining of the international rules-based system, both individuals have used their positions of authority to push for de facto secession of Republika Srpska – one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 2 entities – in direct contravention of the country’s constitution”, the press release stated, pointing at Dodik’s actions to withdraw Republika Srpska from key State institutions and Cvijanović’s tabling of legislation in Republika Srpska seeking to transfer state competencies to the entity level.

“Working in coordination with the US and other like-minded partners, the Foreign Secretary hopes today’s announcement will encourage other nations to apply similar restrictive measures which hold politicians to account for their destabilising and dangerous behaviour”, the press release concludes.

It did not take long for the coordination between the UK and the US to become apparent as, on the same day, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated seven individuals and one entity across four countries in the Western Balkans.

The list of sanctioned persons included Svetozar Marović, the President of the Serbia and Montenegro common state from 2003 to 2006, who served as former deputy president of the Montenegro Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) until 2015, and who was sentenced to multiple years in prison for corruption but fled to Serbia before serving his sentence.

Nikola Gruevski, who served as Prime Minister of what was then the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (2006-2016), is also among the sanctioned persons. According to OFAC, he has been convicted and remains a suspect in numerous cases of corruption, and has been accused of abuse of office, money laundering, and other offenses. Gruevski fled the country in 2018 to avoid capture and was granted asylum in Hungary.

Other persons sanctioned by OFAC include Saško Mijalkov, the former chief of counterintelligence in North Macedonia, Aqif Rakipi, former Member of Parliament from Elbasan, Albania, Asim Sarajlić, member of the parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Gordana Tadić, Chief Prosecutor of the State Prosecutor’s Office of BiH from 2019 to 2021.

The steady pace of sanctions by the Biden Administration

Since taking office in January 2021, the US Administration of President Joseph Biden has already sanctioned multiple individuals from the Western Balkans for corruption and organized crime.

In May 2021, the US State Department announced it had sanctioned former Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, barring him from entering the country after being accused of involvement in “significant corruption.” It also barred the entry of Berisha’s wife and two children.

This step was followed by a release of an Executive Order of President Joseph Biden on “Blocking Property And Suspending Entry Into The United States Of Certain Persons Contributing To The Destabilizing Situation In The Western Balkans”, in June 2021.

According to the text, any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to be responsible for threatening the peace, security, stability, or territorial integrity of any area or state in the Western Balkans, as well as undermining democratic processes or institutions in the Western Balkans shall be subjected to the implementation of the Executive Order.

The US Treasury Department has so far taken two actions under this Executive Order. The first one was the sanctions on Milorad Dodik in January, blocking his property and banning transactions by US persons. The second action was taken yesterday, designating seven individuals, including Gruevski and Marović.

Additionally, in December 2021, the US Treasury Department announced it was targeting 16 individuals and 24 entities across several countries in Europe and the Western Hemisphere, pursuant to another Executive Order.

The sanctions targeted the Organized Crime Group Zvonko Veselinović, “one of Kosovo’s most notorious corrupt figures”, according to US Treasury Department.

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