Interview: Ambassador of Russia to BiH Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko
By Nevena Šarenac
[wzslider]Ambassador of Russia to BiH Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko in an interview to ”Sarajevo Times” noted that the economic cooperation between BiH and Russia can be marked as positive, and in the past few years there was an obvious improvement in that area, concerning the fact that the talks about investments and economic development have been intensified lately. Russian investors, as he said, want bigger market in BiH, and for them there are neither state borders nor inter-entity borders. He did note that there are more interest and business initiatives for Russian investment in RS than in FBiH. Talking about oil potentials exploration in BiH, ambassador Botsan-Kharchenko said that Russian companies are very interested for this field, adding that Russian researchers are satisfied and encouraged by the current exploration of oil reserves. Also, Russian ambassador noted that the realization of the project of ‘South Stream’ pipeline through RS will be benefit to all citizens of BIH.
In his talk to ‘Sarajevo Times’ ambassador Botsan-Kharchenko, reiterated, among other thing, the stance of Russia that the process of closing down the OHR in BiH is being stalled to the detriment of all.
He noted that the OHR played a role in the peace implementation in BiH. As he said, the phase of peace implementation is behind us, and BiH is in the period when it must turn towards political stability, economy and towards creativity in every sense.
When it comes to business cooperation between your country and BIH, the imbalance is obvious, because the majority of Russian projects are being realized in RS. Does Russia have a plan to intensify the economic cooperation with FBIH? What are problems for Russian investors in both entities of BiH, and how to make this country more open for foreign investments?
Regardless the existing natural hardships, economic cooperation of BiH and Russia can be generally marked as positive. In the last few years, we’ve been talking intensely about investments and economic development, and the improvement in business relations of two countries is obvious. Russian investors are especially interested for investing in BiH oil sector, and it must be noted that this is just the beginning and that investments will be continued. One of the greatest Russian companies, Zarubezhneft, which operates in the entire world, has decided to enter the BiH market in the oil sector. This company has bought the Oil Industry in Brod and Oil Refinery in Modriča, in RS, where the process of modernization is currently being held. Realization of these projects is followed by opening of new jobs, and BiH market is being integrated into markets of the region and Europe. Russian investors in BiH fulfil all standards that European and International markets demand, including the protection of environment, and they do business in accordance with local laws and they respect social obligations of BiH. Also, the realization of large projects, such is the one in Brod and in Modriča, implies the realization of side project an side-activities, creation of smaller industries, the construction of social objects, which will be useful to common people, because it’ll open new jobs. Russian investors have already entered FBIH, because the company Gazprom Neft has a network of gas stations in this entity. On that basis, new investments to oil sector of FBiH are being planned.
Concerning the imbalance of Russian investments to entities of BiH, it is indeed quite obvious. The fact is that in RS there is a greater interest and more business initiatives for Russian investments. Also, Russian investors consider that the business environment in RS is better, and that administrative procedures are easier, faster, more transparent and simpler in comparison to FBiH. The main problem of FBiH is the current political situation, and complex political system and decision-making mechanism. Also, there is a feeling that there is some sort of political prejudice, because several times Russian investments were rejected, without any official explanation. Of course, all that reflects badly on economy and development of social sphere, and it should be stopped. Joint progress must be in the first place. It is obvious that BiH is a special country and there is division between FBiH and RS in the heads of its citizens, which is worrying. However, such division does not exist in heads of Russian investors, who talk about activities in the state of BIH. Russian investors want a larger market, and they neither know state border nor inter-entity borders. There are many hard-working people in BiH and I’ve never heard any bad remarks about the local staff that works in Russian companies in BiH. The level of expertise of BiH workers is acceptable for international standards. However, BiH must work harder on the promotion of BiH potentials and Russian investments, as well as intensifying economic cooperation between BiH and Russia. Russian Embassy to BiH will, in cooperation with Chamber of Foreign Commerce, organise a business forum, which will be held on 25 April, in order to connect Russian and BiH businessmen. In order to establish better relations of BIH and Russia, BiH must solve numerous open issues between the two countries, especially concerning the issue of mutual debts. I hope that these issues will be solved as a part of diplomatic negotiations and consultations at the expert level. Protection of investments, avoiding double taxing, etc. are some of important issues. Russian companies adapt their work to legal basis and laws that exist in BiH. We seek partner relationship and respect of mutual interests, and equal conditions, free and equal competition with other companies, without political or any other preconditions.
You said that the crowning feature of long efforts by authorities of RS and Russia is the project of pipeline ”South Stream” through RS. Will the realization of the pipeline be beneficial only to citizens of RS or will it be beneficial to all citizens of BiH.
It is impossible that only one part of the country gets benefits from the project of this size and scope, because money comes to state budget. If the realization of the project becomes reality, a part of ”South Stream” will leave Serbia and will go through RS, and probably through Brčko District and the local internal networks can be developed. Russian Gazprom is ready to participate in the development of local networks in every part of BIH, of course, in accordance with the law and with applying the most current technology. Realization of this project will be of use to BiH citizens. Gas is needed for every industry and gas heating system is necessary to every town, because its usage is profitable and more environment friendly.
The most powerful oil companies are interest in oil potentials of BiH. Two world energy giants ‘Gazprom’ and English-Dutch ”Shell’ are already in BiH hoping to find the black gold deep underground. While ”Gazprom” is checking for oil in RS, ”Shell’ intends to do it in FBiH. If they do find oil, the exploitation might start in 2014. The question is, whether it’s truly about estimates if BiH lies on oil deposits or strategic positioning? If the results do show that there is oil potential in BiH, what will that mean for our country? Will BiH become a ground for energy battle?
Russian companies Gazprom and Zarubezhneft are actively making expert research of oil potentials of BiH. They search for findings from the period of former Yugoslavia; they make new ones, all using the most contemporary technology. On the basis of past works, they are thrilled and encouraged. In May, they plan a probe digging as a part of the research, and after that the final mark and results will be known. Russian companies have shown great interest for this. They have products and the most ideal thing would be if they’d find source of oil, in order to save on oil transport. We were interested in research in FBiH, but they chose ”Shell”, which is not a problem for Russian investor, because it is necessary to have a competition on the market, which also present a possibility for good cooperation. It is important that the research is progressing, and that common citizens have use from that. The beginning phase of research has brought benefits to common people, and new jobs were opened, and accompanied work has been realized. Life in the local community is becoming more active even before achieving the final results.
You recently said that the implementation of the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Sejdić and Finci demands a great political role on state and entity levels. Leaders of BiH political parties lead intensive talks about this issue with mediation of the EU Delegation to BiH. Do you consider that leaders of the main political parties will soon reach a consensus concerning this issue?
Amends that will ensure the rights of every nation are very important in the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights. For Russia, any decision made on the basis of consensus is good. The EU, also, waits and seeks for the agreement of local leaders in relation to solving this issue which demands changes to BiH Constitution, which is a hard political and moral issue. I personally believe that the consensus beyond the ruling six parties of BiH is needed for making a deal on implementation of aforementioned ruling. And so, I, once again call for a broader consensus and broader view on the entire BiH, beyond party interests and commitments.
Many models for the implementation of the aforementioned ruling are being mentioned, and one of them, which was discussed about on 22 March in Brussels, envisages that BiH Presidency retains three members, who are elected from two electoral districts, RS and FBiH, but by erasing the national requirement of members of Presidency. How do you see the aforementioned model for solving the issue of implementation of Sejdić-Finci ruling? Do you think that statements of certain politicians who argue that this model is discriminatory for certain categories of people are legitimate?
The most important thing, concerning the election of members of BiH Presidency, is that it remains in the framework solution from the Dayton Peace Agreement. It is impossible to make a consensus regarding the changes of BIH Presidency, as joint head of state. I think that the change in giving the opportunity to everyone, regardless of nationality, to be a candidate for the member of BIH Presidency is on the right track of what is required. It is a very hard question, whether the proposed model is discriminatory, and it is an issue that local institution and political leaders must agree about.
In public, we can hear opinion that FBiH, because of its problem concerning functioning, is the topic of every meeting of Peace Implementation Council. You said, on several occasions, that Russia is not keen on proposing decisions imposed from outside. Although there were talks that OHR will use its Bonn Powers in order to solve the crisis in FBiH, it did not happen. According to you, is the existence of OHR in BiH justified? Is the work of OHR in BiH still practical?
In PIC, there is no opinion that High Representative must impose any decision, because it is not the path for solving crisis in FBiH. Current political situation must be solved by local leaders, because they were elected for it, it is their responsibility and duty. The cooperation of all political parties is what is needed, and not conflict. As long as OHR exists, there will always be an opinion that ”someone else will solve the existing problem instead of us”.
Russia thinks that the process of closing the OHR in BiH is being stalled to detriment of all. OHR in BiH has played a role in the sense of implementation of peace which was sometimes even imposed. However, the phase of peace implementation is behind us, and BiH is in the period, when it must move towards political stability, economy and creativity in every sense. Of course, I don’t want to see that the International community repeals all the help to BiH, but I do believe that OHR must be closed, and that Bonn Powers should be annulled as a decision-making mechanism.
RS Government was also reshuffled. With the arrival of new ministers, they promised the improvement of economy and social conditions in this BiH entity. The opposition claims that the government in RS is represented by one man, and that there will be no significant changes. According to you, whose claims are justified?
I think that the reshuffle of the Government is a response to severe economic crisis, which is present in RS, BiH and in the entire World. Reshuffle was made without bickering and with objective evaluation of what the previous Government did. Also, the general accent of the Government’s work is directed towards development, social sphere and economic progress. The president, based on his political program and views and not just charisma, won the elections and the support of majority. The reshuffle of the Government happened without political crises and in conditions of political stability, which is completely natural, logical and in the best democratic framework. The current Government has expressed the will to become the government of the people and to become closer to common people.
You’ve been in BiH since 2009. How do you personally see this country?
BiH is an interesting country, with excellent conditions for life and leisure. As a representative of a diplomatic corps, I’ve travelled almost the entire country. Increasing number of Russian tourists come to BiH, especially on mountains. Also, Neum can become an excellent tourist spot, with intensive investments. Russians find interesting towns such as Trebinje and Mostar, because of their vicinity to the sea. Regional cooperation is also needed for development of tourism, because all countries have tourist potentials which fulfil each other. That would show that consequences of war and suffering are overcome.