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Putin gives Bosnia Serb leader top Russia order

Published February 21,2024

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday awarded Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik a top Russian honour, officials said, in the latest sign of their close ties.

Putin gave Dodik the Order of Alexander Nevsky, one of Russia's highest medals, during a meeting in Kazan, the capital of the country's Tatarstan region.

Dodik received the order for his "contribution to the development of cooperation between the Russian Federation and Bosnia and Herzegovina and for reinforcing the partnership with Republika Srpska", according to statements by the Kremlin and reports on RTRS, Srpska's public television.

Russia has historically been an ally of Serbia and Serbs and the close relationship between Dodik and Putin has raised concerns as Dodik has challenged Bosnia's post-war ruling structure over the past several months.

This has raised tensions in a country where some 100,000 people died in a civil war during the 1990s.

Dodik vowed to continue to oppose any steps to get Bosnia closer to NATO "despite persistent pressure".

"It is neither... logical nor normal that we accept NATO membership," he said according to RTRS.

Putin hailed the "long-standing" and "absolutely constructive" relations between Moscow and Republika Srpska (RS).

"I very much expect that even more will be done in our relations," Putin said, according to a Kremlin statement.

"We know that the situation in the republic is not easy. We are ready to talk about this too," he said.

Tensions have been simmering in Bosnia for months, after Dodik signed controversial legislation that refused to recognise decisions made by Bosnia's international high representative and the constitutional court.

The high representative is charged with overseeing the enforcement of the Dayton Agreement that ended the country's bloody civil war.

Bosnia has been governed by a dysfunctional administrative system created under the Dayton pact that divides the country into two bodies: a Muslim-Croat federation and a Bosnian entity known as Republika Srpska, connected by a weak central government.

The two entities are guaranteed a large degree of autonomy.

Dodik -- a Kremlin ally under US sanctions -- has held enormous sway over RS for years and has frequently stoked ethnic tensions and threatened to secede.