Bosnia's Muslim, Croat leaders boycott Russian top diplomat

Bosnia’s Muslim and Croat representatives in the country’s three-member presidency have boycotted a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a major snub to Moscow’s top diplomat

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Bosnia’s Muslim and Croat representatives in the country’s three-member presidency boycotted a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Tuesday, citing his “disrespect" of the war-ravaged state in the way he met with the third member, a Serb.

On the second day of his two-day visit to Bosnia, Lavrov was due to hold talks with all three presidency members, including Sefik Dzaferovic, a Bosniak Muslim, and Zeljko Komsic, a Croat. Only the Serb member, Milorad Dodik, showed up.

Dzaferovic and Komsic said they boycotted the meeting — a major snub to Moscow's top diplomat — because during Lavrov's meeting with Dodik on Monday he supported Dodik's rejection of NATO membership for the country and opposed changes to a U.S.-sponsored agreement that ended Bosnia's bloody civil war in the 1990s.

They said he should have started his official visit in Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, instead of first meeting Dodik in the semi-autonomous Serb half of the country.

Dodik, who is known for his staunch pro-Russian stance, has been advocating the separation of Bosnian Serbs and their joining neighboring Serbia. Although Moscow formally does not support Bosnia’s breakup, it has never openly criticized Dodik’s separatist policies.

Komsic said the meeting was rejected because Lavrov showed disrespect of the Bosnian state at the press conference late on Monday, where there was no Bosnian flag and where he hailed Dodik’s comments that Bosnia will remain militarily neutral and will never join NATO.

“Lavrov knows that only the state can make such decisions,” Komsic said at a joint press conference with Dzaferovic.

“With respect to the Russian Federation as a big and powerful country, we will not agree to become a Russian pawn in the Balkans in their games and conflicts with the EU countries or NATO member countries. We expect them to understand and support this,” Komsic said.

Lavrov later traveled to neighboring Serbia where he said he doesn't believe “the incident will be essential" for Russia's relations with Bosnia.

“I believe that the politicians who made that decision (to boycott the meeting) are not independent, they obviously work under someone’s instructions," he said.

Dodik called the boycott a “diplomatic scandal."

“If they thought that with the action they could downgrade Russia as a world power, they became laughable in front of their own public and the world political scene,” Dodik told the Bosnian Serb Srna news agency.

The Russian foreign minister’s visit to the Balkans coincided with the 25th anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-mediated Dayton peace agreement that ended a four-year war in Bosnia in the 1990s.

Although the deal ended the bloodshed, it left Bosnia largely dysfunctional and divided in half between the Bosnian Serb Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation.

Lavrov said on Monday the agreement must not be changed, referring to comments by Western diplomats and Bosnian politicians that it needs to be upgraded to enable Bosnia to make progress on reforms.

“I would like to say that any attempt to demolish (the Dayton agreement) can cause the most serious risks and consequences,” Lavrov said.

In Serbia, Lavrov was greeted by President Aleksandar Vucic as a true friend of the Balkan country. Serbia formally wants to join the European Union, but has also been developing close political, economic and military ties with its traditional Slavic ally.