Sec Blinken compares Bosnian Serb leader to Putin

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has compared the Bosnian Serb separatist leader’s policies to those of Russian President Vladimir Putin after he tried to curb dissent and LGBTQ rights.

Blinken tweeted late Wednesday that “Milorad Dodik’s attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms in Republika Srpska show he is on President Putin’s authoritarian path.”

Republika Srpska is the name for half of Bosnia that is dominated by the country’s Serbs. Dodik is the entity’s president and a leading politician who has repeatedly advocated Bosnia’s dissolution and clashed with Western officials in the Balkan country.

Earlier this month, Dodik’s government was criticized by the US and European Union for pushing ahead with a law to recriminalize defamation and libel offenses, which was seen as an attack on freedom of expression and independent media.

Dodik also announced in the coming months a law banning LGBTQ activists from kindergartens, schools and universities. This came just days after a group of hooligans attacked LGBTQ activists and journalists in Banja Luka, the administrative center of Republika Srpska.

Dodik, who is staunchly pro-Russia, has dismissed Western criticism and said his company will cut ties with the US and UK embassies in Bosnia. He has dismissed the need for US support and blasted Washington’s involvement in Bosnia, including continued financial support.

“It would have been better if they (the US) hadn’t given a single dollar if they weren’t so committed,” he tweeted Thursday.

Washington and London have imposed sanctions on Dodik and his close allies over their policies of undermining Western efforts to promote reconciliation and democracy in Bosnia following the devastating ethnic conflict. Dodik often traveled to Moscow and met with Putin there.

Blinken said the US “represented by Amb. (Michael) Murphy remains committed to the democratic and prosperous future that all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina deserve.”

The 1992-95 Bosnian ethnic war erupted when Serbs launched an uprising to break away from the country’s Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslims and Croats. More than 100,000 people died in the conflict before the US negotiated a peace agreement in 1995.

The agreement divided Bosnia into two entities, but held them together through common institutions. Fears have grown since the war in Ukraine that Russia may seek to stir up trouble in Bosnia and elsewhere in the Balkans to divert attention from its full-scale invasion.

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