‘Friend of our country’: Putin praises Bosnian Serb separatist leader during Kremlin visit

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik met Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on Tuesday, in a rare visit by a European dignitary that came just a day after he openly endorsed Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine .

Bosnia is edging closer to general elections on October 2, in which Dodik is running for president of the Serb-dominated ethnic entity of Republika Srpska – one of the country’s two main administrative units, comprising around half of its territory.

“You will soon have elections in your country, and I wish you success,” Putin said, according to a transcript of the conversation published by the official Kremlin website.

“I hope the results will strengthen the position of patriotic forces in the country, allowing us to continue to develop productive and mutually beneficial cooperation,” he added.

Dodik – the Serbian member of Bosnia’s three-party state-level presidency – has met frequently with Putin, especially ahead of the election, when he wants to show the very pro-Russian Bosnian Serb electorate that he has the support of the Russian leader.

Moscow considers whether to vote in favor of peacekeeping mission in Bosnia

Moscow has repeatedly been accused of exploiting divisions between Bosnia’s three main ethnic groups by tacitly supporting Dodik’s separatist policies.

The small Balkan country was ravaged by a brutal and bloody war in the 1990s that claimed 100,000 lives and two million people became refugees or internally displaced.

The 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, designed by the international community to end the conflict, divided Bosnia into two entities, the Republika Srpska (RS) and the predominantly Bosnian-Croatian Federation of BiH, or FBiH.

Both entities have a certain level of independence in decision-making, with state-level apex institutions holding the reins in key areas, such as tax and defence.

At the end of 2021, Dodik provoked what was considered the worst internal crisis since the 1992-1995 war after announcing his intention to withdraw the RS from some of the state institutions, with the promise of dividing the small professional army of the country into ethnic groups. sub-parts considered the most dangerous of the proposed measures.

Dodik backtracked on his announcement after the full-scale invasion of the Kremlin, saying in June that his plans had been “put on hold” due to the war in Ukraine.

Since invading Ukraine in February, Bosnia has remained one of the few European countries – including Belarus, Serbia and Moldova – not to have introduced sanctions against Russia, with Dodik repeatedly blocking this decision.

The Bosnian Serb leader justified his insistence on remaining neutral by saying that Bosnia, entirely dependent on Russian gas, cannot afford to distance itself from the Kremlin due to “potentially serious economic consequences”, but also close cultural ties with Moscow .

In the meantime, Moscow has refused to continue funding the office of the international community’s peace envoy, the High Representative, withdrawing from the institution’s oversight body, the Peace Implementation Council. peace or PIC, in April.

Dodik and Putin were also expected to discuss the mandate of the 1,100-strong EU-led international peacekeeping mission, Althea, whose annual extension is scheduled for the UN Security Council in November.

Moscow is said to be considering whether to vote against it, but no further details were revealed after the two met.

Dodik brags about upcoming football friendly match

Dodik last met Putin in June, months after Russia invaded Ukraine, while attending the St Petersburg economic forum.

At the forum, Putin reportedly praised Dodik for remaining loyal to Moscow despite strong international pressure for him to join sanctions against Russia, the Kremlin’s official website reported.

Since February, Dodik and the Kremlin have also said they have discussed economic issues, including the construction of a Russian-funded gas pipeline to Republika Srpska. de facto administrative centre, Banjaluka.

Dodik also used Tuesday’s meeting with Putin to boast that Bosnia is set to become the only European country to play a soccer friendly against Russia since February, whose national soccer team has been suspended from international competitions by FIFA and UEFA due to the Kremlin invasion of its western neighbour.

“A few days ago – I would like to tell you, brag about it, in fact – we had the opportunity to ensure that Bosnia and Herzegovina played a friendly match with your football team in Saint Petersburg on 19 November,” Dodik said. , according to the Kremlin.

“Our people got this decision for the national football team of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we hope that we will respect this date … even if a part of Bosnia and Herzegovina does not want it. In any case, we ‘have done in the current circumstances,’ I explained.

Bosnian soccer stars and the Ukrainian Football Federation both condemned the decision. Still, Putin hailed the move, saying “sport should unite, not divide people.”

“I want to emphasize once again that we know you as a friend of our country,” Putin told Dodik.

“Russia was forced to retaliate,” says Dodik

Dodik has been the subject of several sets of US sanctions and was recently placed on a UK sanctions list for his disruptive domestic actions.

Last week, the US State Department released a new intelligence assessment, saying Russia has secretly spent more than $300 million in recent years trying to influence politicians and other officials in more than two dozen country.

Dodik and his SNSD are believed to be among parties sympathetic to Moscow and Putin in the Western Balkans, which have received funding to help them win elections and sway public opinion.

Upon his arrival in Moscow on Monday, Dodik I gave an interview to Russian state news agency TASS, where he repeated his separatist views and openly endorsed Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

“For many years the West did not react to the extermination of the Russian population in Ukraine, there were daily killings and bombings in the Donbass,” Dodik said in the interview, referring to the separatist Moscow-backed region in eastern Ukraine. “It was all clear and Russia was forced to retaliate.”

Dodik also rejected claims by Ukrainian authorities and international human rights organizations that Moscow and its forces are deliberately committing war crimes against civilians and bombing civilian targets.

“Russia is carrying out a special operation whose goal is to destroy the enemy, but it fulfills its mission so that there are as few casualties as possible,” concluded Dodik.