Putin meets Serbian separatist leader in Bosnia, praises Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia — Bosnian Serb separatist leader Milorad Dodik met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday after he endorsed Moscow’s aggression toward Ukraine, Russian and Serbian media reported.

During a rare visit to Moscow by a politician from Europe, the Russian president praised his country’s “strategic partnership” with Serbia.

The visit comes amid repeated warnings from the European Union that Serbia must align its foreign policies with the bloc if it really wants to become a member. Serbia is the only country that wants to become an EU member that has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia because of the war in Ukraine.

Dodik, a Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, met regularly with Putin, especially before the elections when he wanted to show the pro-Russian Bosnian Serb voters that he had support. of Putin. Dodik last met Putin in June, months after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Bosnia has a general election on 2 October in which Dodik is running for the presidency of the Bosnian Serb.

“The elections are coming and I wish you success,” Putin said, according to a transcript of the conversation published by Bosnian media. will be consolidated, which will allow us to further develop a fruitful and mutually beneficial cooperation. “

Moscow is often accused by the West of seeking to destabilize Bosnia and the rest of the Balkans through its proxy forces in Serbia and Bosnia. Dodik has openly supported the separation of half of Serb-controlled Bosnia from a Bosniak-Croatian federation and alignment with neighboring Serbia.

A US-brokered peace deal in 1995 ended the war in Bosnia that left at least 100,000 people dead and millions homeless, but left the country deeply divided among three main ethnic groups. . Moscow exploited the division by tacitly supporting Dodik’s secessionist policies.

Before his visit to Moscow, Mr. Dodik gave an interview to Russia’s state news agency TASS, where he reiterated his separatist stance but also endorsed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“For many years, the West has not reacted to the extermination of Russians in Ukraine, there are murders and bombings in the Donbas every day,” Dodik stated in the interview, referring to the breakaway region. pro-Russian in eastern Ukraine. “All this was clear and Russia was forced to retaliate.”

Putin also sent a separate message to Serbia and populist President Aleksandar Vucic on Tuesday.

“Russia and Serbia have a strategic partnership,” Putin said, according to Serbian media. “I regularly talk with President Vucic in personal meetings and phone calls about key issues for further development cooperation.”

Despite officially seeking EU membership, Serbia during Vucic’s 10 years of autocratic rule has slipped closer to Russia under Putin.

Vucic is in New York for the session of the United Nations General Assembly, where he says he intends to send a message that, under international law, Serbia has similar rights to fight against independence. of the former breakaway province of Kosovo such as Ukraine for those regions. occupied by pro-Moscow separatists.

Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians make up more than 90% of the population, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, almost 10 years after NATO intervened to stop the Serb’s bloody massacre against the Albanians in Kosovo. claim independence. Serbia has refused to recognize their independence.

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