Putin meets with Bosnian Serb separatist leader, praises Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (TNZT) — Bosnian Serb separatist leader Milorad Dodik met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday after endorsing Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine, Russian and Serbian media reported.

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

The visit came amid repeated warnings from the European Union that Serbia must align its foreign policy with the bloc if it really wants to join.

Dodik, a Serbian member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, has met Putin often, especially in the run-up to the election, when he wants to show the very pro-Russian Bosnian Serb electorate that he has Putin’s support. Dodik last met Putin in June, months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

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Moscow has often been accused by the West of destabilizing Bosnia and the rest of the Balkans through its proxies in Serbia and Bosnia. Dodik has openly called for the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia to secede from a Bosnian Croat federation and join neighboring Serbia.

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

On the eve of his visit to Moscow, Dodik gave an interview to the Russian state news agency TASS, where he reiterated his separatist positions, but also added his support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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“For years, the West did not respond to the extermination of the Russian population in Ukraine, there were daily killings and bombings in Donbas,” Dodik claimed in the interview, referring to the separatist pro-Russian region in eastern Ukraine. “This was all clear and Russia was forced to retaliate.”

Putin also sent a separate message to Serbia and its populist president Aleksandar Vucic on Tuesday. Serbia is the only country seeking EU membership that has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia over its war in Ukraine.

“Russia and Serbia are linked by a strategic partnership,” Putin said, according to Serbian media. “I regularly speak with President Vucic in face-to-face meetings and telephone conversations about important issues for the further development of the partnership.”

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While Serbia is officially seeking EU membership, it has moved closer and closer to Russia under Putin during Vucic’s ten-year autocratic rule.

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

Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians make up more than 90% of the population, declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, nearly a decade after NATO intervened to stop a bloody Serbian massacre against independence-seeking Kosovo Albanians.

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