SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — The Bosnian Serb separatist leader on Sunday awarded Russian President Vladimir Putin with the highest medal of honor for his “patriotic concern and love” for the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia.
“Putin is responsible for developing and strengthening cooperation and political and friendly relations between RS (Republika Srpska) and Russia,” the Bosnian Serb president, Milorad Dodik, said at the awards ceremony in the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Banja Luka.
Dodik, who visited Putin in September in Moscow, has maintained close ties with the Russian president despite Russia’s war in Ukraine. The medal will be presented to Putin during the next meeting between the two, Russian Ambassador Igor Kalbukhov said.
“We believe that this award is an affirmation of the strategic determination of our relations aimed at strengthening the friendship of our brotherly people,” he said at the ceremony.
Moscow has often been accused by the West of seeking to destabilize Bosnia and the rest of the Balkans through its proxies in Serbia and Bosnia. Dodik has openly advocated tearing away the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia from a Bosniak-Croat federation to join it up with neighboring Serbia.
A U.S.-brokered peace deal in 1995 ended a war in Bosnia that left at least 100,000 people dead and millions homeless, but left the country deeply divided between its three main ethnic groups. Moscow has been exploiting the divisions by tacitly supporting Dodik’s separatist policies.
Dodik awarded Putin on the occasion of “the day of Republika Srpska,” which has been deemed illegal by Bosnia’s constitutional court. It marks the day when Bosnian Serbs proclaimed they were splitting from Bosnia in 1992 with the aim of separating the Serb-populated regions of the Balkan state and join them up with Serbia.
Tensions were running high in Bosnia as the Serbs planned to hold their main celebrations on the outskirts of Sarajevo on Monday, the town they held under siege for three years during the war. Thousands of people were killed in the relentless shelling and sniping of the Bosnian capital.