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Bosnian Serb leader awards Putin highest medal of honor

January 8, 2023

The medal was to recognize the Russian president's "patriotic concern and love" for Bosnia's Serb-controlled half. The US-sanctioned Milorad Dodik has enjoyed deep ties with Russia despite the war on Ukraine.

Bosnian Serb leader and member of the Bosnian Presidency Milorad Dodik waves as he leads thousands in a protest in Banja Luka, Bosnia, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022.
Milorad Dodik has long maintained a strong relationship with RussiaImage: Armin Durgut/AP Photo/picture alliance

The leader of the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia on Sunday awarded Russian President Vladimir Putin the highest medal of honor in absentia, to recognize his "patriotic concern and love" for the Bosnia Serbs.

Milorad Dodik, the US-sanctioned leader who represents the Bosnian Serbs, was one of the three leaders forming the country's tripartite presidency in which the other two leaders represent the Muslim Bosniak and the Bosnian Croat populations.

"Putin is responsible for developing and strengthening cooperation and political and friendly relations between RS (Republika Srpska) and Russia,'' Dodik said. Republika Sprska is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina's two entities, the other being the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The awards ceremony was held to commemorate the National Day of Republika Srpska, a contentious day which marks the 1992 day when Bosnia Serbs declared their own state in Bosnia, sparking a four-year war where some 100,000 were killed.

The illegal day, as per the constitutional court, is criticized as discriminatory by other ethnic groups in the country.

What is Dodik's relationship with Russia?

Dodik maintains close ties with Russia despite Putin's war on Ukraine. The Bosnian Serb leader tried to block the tripartite presidency's efforts to join the European Union sanctions against Russia. He even visited Moscow last September.

"Thanks to the position of Vladimir Putin and the strength of the Russian Federation, the voice and position of Republika Srpska has been heard and respected," he said on Sunday.

Russian Ambassador Igor Kalbukhov also hailed his country's relations with the Bosnian Serbs during the awards ceremony, which was held in the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Banja Luka.

"We believe that this award is an affirmation of the strategic determination of our relations aimed at strengthening the friendship of our brotherly people," Kalbukhov said.

Nationalism in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

The medal will be presented to Putin during his next meeting with Milorad Dodik.

Since the end of the civil war, Bosnia has suffered deep divisions between its three main ethnic groups: Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats and Muslim Bosniaks. Russia has often exploited these divisions by supporting Dodik and his separatist policies.

Last month, Russia denounced an EU decision to grant Bosnia candidate status, a preparatory step for joining the bloc. Moscow had also warned earlier that any moves by Bosnia to join NATO would be considered a "hostile act."

rmt/aw (AP, Reuters)

Correction, January 16, 2023: Milorad Dodik is no longer a member of Bosnia's tri-partite president, instead he is president of the region Republika Srpska.