Russia warns it will 'have to react' if Bosnia moves to join NATO

FILE PHOTO: Banners displaying the NATO logo are placed at the entrance of new NATO headquarters during the move to the new building, in Brussels, Belgium April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Russia will react if Bosnia takes steps towards joining NATO because Moscow would perceive this as a hostile act, the Russian embassy in Bosnia said in a statement on Thursday.

Bosnia has long proclaimed integration with NATO and the European Union as strategic goals. But the Bosnian Serbs, led by pro-Russian Milorad Dodik who currently chairs the country’s tripartite presidency, want the country to remain neutral and stay out of the U.S.-led military alliance.

“In the case of practical rapprochement of Bosnia and Herzegovina and NATO, our country will have to react to this hostile act,” the embassy said.

It continued that the purpose of NATO was a “fight against Russia” and joining NATO will force Sarajevo to take a side in the “military-political confrontation”.

Bosnia and Serbia are the only two Western Balkan countries that remain outside NATO after North Macedonia joined the alliance last year.

On Thursday, the new Russian ambassador to Bosnia Igor Kalabuhov met Zeljko Komsic, the Croat presidency member who advocates Bosnia’s integration into the alliance.

A statement from Komsic’s office did not mention NATO integration as a topic of the meeting, but said they discussed reforms that Bosnia needs to make to get closer to EU membership.

Russia has long maintained its opposition to Bosnia joining NATO.

Komsic and Bosniak presidency member Sefik Dzaferovic declined to meet visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov in December, saying he has shown disrespect to their state after his meeting with Dodik outside Sarajevo with no Bosnian national flag on display.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Alexandra Hudson