For the past decade, Republika Srpska — a region of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) — has been governed by the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, or SNSD, a Serb nationalist party that advocates upending the hard-fought stability the Balkans have enjoyed for the past two decades. The party’s head, Milorad Dodik, has not only grown close to the Kremlin over the past few years, but he’s steered BiH closer to outright disintegration than any point in the past two decades.
In the process, Dodik — who was recently described by one regional analyst as potentially “one of the most dangerous men in Europe” — was, in the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, specifically sanctioned by the United States. (The Trump administration has not removed these sanctions.)
Dodik recently moved on from running Republika Srpska, ascending to Bosnia’s three-person presidency and leaving the region governed by one of his SNSD underlings. But now, Republika Srpska has a new partner: McGinnis Lochridge, a Texas-based law firm that recently registered as a foreign agent working on behalf of the regional government.
According to a filing in the Department of Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) database earlier this month, McGinnis Lochridge signed an agreement with the Republika Srpska government to provide legal advice, as well as potentially helping liaise with “various U.S. executive branch officials, officials of U.S. government agencies, and members and staff of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives[.]” McGinnis Lochridge will also “maintain” a website regarding BiH issues. The contract, which began May 6 and will run through the end of the year, notes that McGinnis Lochridge will make some $80,000 per month from the deal.
There’s no indication McGinnis Lochridge, which did not respond to multiple requests for an interview from ThinkProgress, has committed any illegal acts. (Conversely, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was jailed in part for failing to register his foreign activities with the DOJ.) Indeed, the filing appears to capture precisely the kind of relationship FARA originally intended to illuminate when it became law in 1938: detailing agreements between American entities and foreign governments or officials, especially with governments pushing anti-American interests abroad.
It’s unclear why Republika Srpska, which didn’t respond to ThinkProgress’s questions, selected McGinnis Lochridge. The firm does not appear in any other FARA filings, and does not have any clear connections to the Balkans. The firm has four offices across Texas, and the FARA filing lists some 45 partners total at the firm. McGinnis Lochridge partners pop up in Texas lobbying records going back to at least 2016.
According to campaign finance records at the Center for Responsive Politics, individuals affiliated with the firm have donated to a number of causes — mostly Republican — over the past few election cycles, including to Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), the Republican Party of Fort Bend County, and the Republican Party of Harris County. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) also received similar funding in 2018. None of the representatives or GOP chapters on the receiving ends of the funds responded to ThinkProgress’s questions about McGinnis Lochridge’s relationship with Republika Srpska.
Dodik steered Republika Srpska for years before ascending to the position of the Bosnian Serb representative to BiH’s rotating presidency last November, a power-sharing agreement that helped end the horrific bloodshed of the 1990s. While he’s largely unknown in the U.S., regional analysts have long pointed to Dodik as one of the primary causes of recent escalations in ethnic tensions in BiH, as well as throughout the broader Western Balkans.
It’s not difficult to see why. Recently described by the AP as an “ardent pro-Russian nationalist,” Dodik last month claimed that the 1995 genocide at Srebrenica, in which Bosnian Serb troops massacred over 8,000 Muslim men and boys, was a “fabricated myth.”
Along the way, Dodik and Republika Srpska have grown increasingly close with Russia. Last year, The Guardian reported that “Russian-trained mercenaries were helping build paramilitary units for Dodik,” and Dodik has himself described Russia as an “ally” of Republika Srpska. A recent profile of Dodik in The Atlantic also pointed out that in 2018 he “welcomed the Night Wolves, a pro-Kremlin biker group, to Bosnia, and in October even called for Republika Srpska to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea.” As the University of North Carolina’s Dimitar Bechev noted in his recent book on relations between Russia and southeast Europe, Dodik has even been spotted in the past with Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, who has helped finance Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine. (Both the Night Wolves and Malofeev are sanctioned by the U.S.)
Dodik hasn’t been shy about his desire to break up BiH outright, threatening the post-1990s peace agreement in the process. He’s claimed that all ethnic Serbs want to unite Serbia and Republika Srpska, and helped steer RS rhetoric toward outright secession. As Jasmin Mujanovic, a lecturer at Elon University and recent author of a book on political dynamics in the Balkans, told ThinkProgress, “Dodik is a categorical secessionist,” pointing out that Dodik has likewise led an aggressive policy of re-arming the Republika Srpska over the past few years.
It’s that push to break up BiH — and threaten the entire region’s stability — that led the Treasury Department in 2017 to specifically sanction Dodik. As one Treasury official said in announcing the sanctions, “Dodik poses a significant threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Ever since, Dodik has turned to lobbying shops to get the sanctions lifted. Among those who’ve helped Dodik and his SNSD party are Mike Rubino and James Osborne, two lobbyists from Turnberry Solutions LLC who were once employed by the Trump campaign. (Rubino was recently hired back into the Trump administration itself.) While there’s no language relating to Dodik’s sanctions in the latest FARA filing, Bechev told ThinkProgress that Dodik’s sanctions would likely have come up as part of McGinnis Lochridge’s work for Republika Srpska.
The website McGinnis Lochridge is maintaining, which the law firm submitted in its FARA filing, is called the “BiH Dayton Project,” and comes with a clear pro-Dodik slant. One article featured on the site’s main page has a headline reading “Dodik: Commitment to Continuation of European Path.” Another article chastises a “western media [that] has largely focused on the supposed threat to inter-ethnic relations and BiH’s [territorial] integrity” from Dodik’s recent ascension to the country’s rotating presidency.
A disclaimer on the page notes that the posts are “made available by McGinnis Lochridge,” but there is no roster of authors on the site.
For Obrad Kesic, the director of the Republika Srpska trade office in Washington, recent agreements between regional officials and lobbying firms have solely to do with making sure that Republika Srpska’s politicians are pushing ideas and legislation firmly in line with international law.
“Republika Srpska’s political leaders wanted to make sure everything they were arguing was in compliance with… international law,” Kesic told ThinkProgress. “If [Republika Srpska] is going to defend its interests, it has to defend it interests on the basis of international law, pure and simple.”
Mujanovic, though, sees the latest agreement with McGinnis Lochridge as part of a broader pattern of Republika Srpska’s — and Dodik’s — lobbying efforts in the U.S.
“[Dodik] both believed the Trump administration was an opportunity to receive a ‘fair hearing’ for his ethno-nationalist, Russian-aligned views — and that he was then stunned by the imposition of sanctions by the Treasury Department and the State Department,” Mujanovic told ThinkProgress. “The stress that he is putting on Bosnia state institutions and society more broadly is doing really damage not just to Bosnia, but the whole of the still very volatile Western Balkans.”
“It’s unconscionable to think then that this man can be under U.S. sanctions but still be allowed to legally attempt to influence U.S. policy,” he said.