Steve Rukavina John Hopkins SAIS Hosted Russia Influence in SE Europe Panel
At Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington DC February 6th, 2018. Croatian American activist, Steve Rukavina, President of the
National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation (NFCA) was one of five panelists to present at this event. The moderator was well known foreign policy analyst, Daniel Serwar,
Senior Fellow with The Center for Transatlantic Relations (SAIS). Other panelists included Jelena Milic, Director of the Euro-Atlantic Studies, Belgrade; Meto Koloski, President of the United
Macedonian Diaspora, Sinisa Vukovic, Assistant Professor, Conflict Management Program (SAIS) and Reuf Bajrovic, former Minister of Energy of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It was a unique opportunity for NFCA President, Steve Rukavina to address the distinguished group of over 100 attendees and including over 15 diplomats, US State Department officials and
many foreign policy analysts and ethnic leaders from all over Southeast Europe. The NFCA President representing the Croatian American community stressed that "Croatia entering NATO
in 2009 and into the European Union in 2013 was geo-politically very significant". Mr. Rukavina added that Croatia’s membership in these two Euro-Atlantic entities along with Croatia's
current leaders, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic looking west, have led to Croatia truly becoming a role model in Southeast Europe from a Euro-Atlantic
perspective. Mr. Rukavina's main points were based mostly on economic and geo-political realities in-country that helped him analyze Russia's influences in Croatia. He cited ten examples
where Russia has attempted to use soft or sharp power and geopolitical or economic leverage to take over a Croatian company, to stall or stop a project or make a major political statement.
Mr Rukavina shared that Russian imports are less than 2% of Croatia’s overall GDP and is one of several key elements that means a lot less Croatian dependence on Russia and why there's
limited success with the use of soft power with economic tactics by Russia. Mr. Rukavina pointed out that Russia has not created any significant partnerships with any nationalist parties,
populists or Euroskeptic type politicians in Croatia of note, like they have done in a few Central European countries. He discussed that only 35% of Croatia’s natural gas comes from Russian
controlled Prvo Plinarsko Drustvo,based in Vukovar, which is the Gazprom arm in Croatia. Mr. Rukavina cited that Croatia recently signed in September 2017 a ten year contract from Gazprom
for 1 billion cubic meters of gas per year but that Croatia is much more energy independent than their neighboring countries to the east. The NFCA president spent quality time discussing
pertinent information about the floating LNG project that the EU and US support seriously to minimize Central and East European countries from even more Russian energy dependence.
He shared nuances about the remaining challenges with the LNG project and with the need to secure binding contracts for LNG capacity for this Croatian LNG terminal. The nuances and details
about the ownership of the Adriatic Terminal Tank at the Ploce port with the Russian affiliated companies like VTTI, PPD and ENNA that constitute the majority ownership of this Ploce port
terminal were presented and all about the overall significance of this port to the energy needs of SE Europe especially Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Adriatic Tank Terminal was cited as a
success for Russian affiliated companies and there's growing proof there’s another company with a strong Russian connections, attempting to try and stop the floating LNG terminal with overt
and covert tactics. There was a spirited question and answer session with back-forth exchanges between the panelists and two representatives of the Republika Srpska who vehemently denied
that any Russians were privately training Serb police in the Banja Luka area. Both R.S. Serb representatives claim there’s only joint training sanctioned by NATO or the FBI or other European
group. Three panelists, Reuf Bajrovic, Jelena Milic and Steve Rukavina all challenged these two speakers defending Milorad Dodik and the R.S. about Russian training and presented details
and evidence that suggests an active on-going role for Russian agents in the R.S. over the past five years and officially through the R.S. Ministry of the Interior.
The NFCA President closed with the reminder that Croatia, as a NATO and EU member is clearly geo-politically, a close ally of the United States and a major contributing member of the
Euro-Atlantic community in Southeast Europe.
Andrea Novak Neumann
National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation