BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (Reuters) - Bosnia’s Serb Republic rolled out the red carpet with a police honor guard on Tuesday for a visiting Russian delegation in a warm VIP welcome hitherto unseen in the region’s capital, though Bosnian state flags were noticeably missing.
Bosnian Serbs see Russia as an historic ally and are blocking moves by the pro-Western state, of which they form a part, to take Bosnia into the U.S.-led NATO alliance.
Valentina Matviyenko, head of the Russian group of lawmakers, received a president’s welcome from Milorad Dodik, the region’s president who advocates the secession of the region from Bosnia and favors ties with Russia over those with the West.
Russian and Bosnian Serb flags flew in the city center, which was emptied after police warned citizens to stay indoors, while symbols of the Bosnian state were removed from public buildings.
The Russian delegation visited the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo on Monday, where Matviyenko warned in a speech to parliament that NATO membership by Balkan countries would threaten security in the region.
Dodik reassured Matviyenko that Bosnia would not join the military alliance because Serb Republic would block any move to membership.
“The cooperation with the European Union can never be at the expense of Russia and against our interests,” Dodik said at a news conference with Matviyenko.
“True friends such as the Russian Federation and its President Vladimir Putin have helped us to clearly set our goals, get back self-confidence and fight for our original rights,” Dodik said in a speech in the regional parliament.
He expressed gratitude for Russia’s support in the United Nations Security Council where the Serb Republic is often singled out for obstructing peace reforms in the region and decorated Matviyenko with an honorary medal for her role in strengthening ties between the two governments.
Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Richard Balmforth