SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia has banned leaders of the Russian Night Wolves motorcycle club from entering the country next week because of security concerns, local media reported on Thursday.
The club is under U.S. sanctions for its role in a pro-Russian separatist insurgency in Ukraine.
The Night Wolves announced the tour of Bosnia’s autonomous Serb region as part of a swing through the Balkans under the slogan “Russian Balkans” but Bosnia’s top security official said the visit was driven by political motives rather than tourism.
Security Minister Dragan Mektic told Reuters this week that Bosnian Serb leaders want to use the Night Wolves to intimidate opponents of the region’s president, Milorad Dodik, and sway voters ahead of an election in October. [ID: L8N1QU68A]
Bosnia’s security agencies banned club leader Alexander Zaldostanov, known by the nickname the Surgeon, and Sasa Savic, the leader of the club’s branch in Serbia, the Sarajevo-based Dnevni Avaz daily reported. They were due to enter on March. 20.
“Both men are marked with an entrance ban in our data base,” Dnevni Avaz quoted Zoran Galic, the director of Bosnia’s Border police, as saying. Reuters could not immediately obtain comment from the agency or security ministry.
Dodik is also under U.S sanctions over an illegal referendum in the Serb region in 2016. He and other ethnic Serbs look to Russia rather than Western Europe because of a shared Orthodox religion and culture.
Russian volunteers fought on the Serbian side during a war in the Balkans in the 1990s. Sarajevo-based investigative magazine Zurnal reported that the Night Wolves are expected to meet Dodik during the visit.
Zurnal also said the Russian embassy helped organize the visit. The embassy in Sarajevo was not available for comment.
U.S. Ambassador Moreen Cormack, commenting on Wednesday on the Night Wolves for Bosnian state television, said political actors in Bosnia should maintain stability and security.
The United States sanctioned the organization in 2014 for contributing to the detribalization of Ukraine, she said.
Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg