September 21, 2018 / 1:37 PM / 10 months ago

Russia backs Bosnia's integrity amid Serb calls for secession

SARAJEVO/BANJA LUKA (Reuters) - Russia supports the peace accords that ended Bosnia’s war in the 1990s and the country’s territorial integrity, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday, dismissing allegations about any negative influence by Russia in the Balkans.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik attend a welcoming ceremony in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, September 21, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Lavrov arrived in Bosnia two weeks before Bosnia’s national election, a visit described by local media as a show of support for Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, even though the Russian said he was not making a recommendation as to who to vote for.

Dodik, who is running for a Serb seat in Bosnia’s inter-ethnic presidency, is campaigning on a ticket of wider autonomy for the Serb Republic that he currently presides over and its ultimate secession from Bosnia.

The country has two autonomous regions, the Serb Republic and the Federation dominated by Muslim Bosniaks and Croats.

Dodik, who favours closer ties with Russia rather than the West, hopes that Russia will support his separatist plans at the time when a land swap has been discussed between Serbia and Kosovo, meaning that borders at the Balkans may change again but this time with international blessing.

Lavrov, however, gave no public support for the separatist move, saying there is no alternative to the Dayton peace agreement, the U.S.-brokered peace deal that ended Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.

“We support Bosnia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and the authorities granted by the constitution to its two entities and three constituent peoples,” he told reporters in Sarajevo.

In answer to a question from a journalist, he denied Russia was favouring or supporting any particular politicians ahead of Bosnia’s Oct. 7 vote.

“... (we) will always respect the choice of Bosnian citizens and work with those who they entrust,” he said.

But he also said that other world powers should not interfere in the Balkans to create new confrontations in the volatile region.

When Lavrov later arrived in Banja Luka, the Serb Republic’s de facto capital, Dodik said the peace deal has been eroded through the interventions of international envoys over the years.

“They took away the authorities we were granted in the original peace accords and forced Republika Srpska to staunchly fight for its status,” Dodik said.

Lavrov lashed out at the West, which he said accuses Russia of negative influence in the Balkans while interfering in the internal affairs in Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia.

“Russia, along with Europe and the United States, co-authored the Dayton accords and the U.N. resolution for Kosovo, and we don’t see any reason why Russia would step back from these issues and turn the Balkans into an area of conflict,” Lavrov said.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Alison Williams

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