Amra Sabic-El-Rayess

Putin is copying the propaganda playbook of Serbian war criminals

Photo by Contributor/Getty Images

A year ago, Ukrainian soldiers discovered evidence of the Bucha massacre in which Russian forces slaughtered hundreds of Ukrainians in cold blood. Far from owning up to its crimes, Russia has spent the past 12 months trying to spin the massacre as a Western-inspired conspiracy.  The Kremlin said the allegations are a ‘monstrous forgery’ aimed at denigrating the Russian army. This attempt to whitewash the truth has disturbing parallels with the cover up of atrocities that occurred in my home country, Bosnia, during the 1990s.

There are chilling links between today’s war crimes denialism by Russia and the genocide denialism that continues in Bosnia to this day, over the murder of  more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys in and around the town of Srebrenica in 1995. In fact, the comparison with the Kremlin’s response is so clear that Russia appears to be acting according to the Bosnian-Serb playbook from that era. 

Anti-West conspiratorial narratives, the ruthless crackdown on alternative narratives at home, and the deliberate use of these atrocities to rally domestic support – the similarities are uncanny. But not surprising. 

Russia has been a stalwart supporter of Bosnian Serb genocide denialism: in 2015, it vetoed a United Nations security council resolution that would have condemned the Srebrenica massacre as a genocide. Even since the war in Ukraine, Russia maintains strong ties with the Republic of Srpska (the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia). The Republic’s leader Milorad Dodik awarded Vladimir Putin its highest medal of honour last year as recognition for his ‘patriotic concern and love’ for the Bosnian Serbs.

Beneath this alliance, there is a sinister edge. As a Bosnian genocide survivor, what’s most disturbing to me is how Russia is replicating methods Bosnian Serb leaders used to make political mileage from war crimes they caused. 

During the war in Bosnia, Serbian-controlled media presented international war crimes claims as evidence of a western-led conspiracy to unfairly target Serbs for atrocities they did not commit (or that did not happen).

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