SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) - Facing an election this weekend, Bosnian Serb separatist leader Milorad Dodik blasted the West and praised Vladimir Putin over his policies in the Balkans, boasting that he is a rare European politician who can meet with the Russian president anytime he wishes.
Dodik's comments made at a preelection rally late Tuesday in the Bosnian Serb semiautonomous region of Republika Srpska came after he met with Putin in Moscow earlier this month when he endorsed Russia's war in Ukraine. Dodik also met with Putin in June.
Dodik, a Serb member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency that also includes a Bosniak and a Croat member, has frequently met with Putin, especially before elections when he wants to show to the highly pro-Russia Bosnian Serb electorate that he has Putin's support.
Moscow has often been accused by the West of seeking to destabilize Bosnia and the rest of the Balkans through its allies in Serbia and Bosnia. Dodik has openly advocated tearing away the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia from a Bosniak-Croat federation and joining it up with neighboring Serbia.
During the rally, Dodik reiterated the Bosnian Serb separatist stands, which already once in the past led to a war - in the 1990s when it left 100,000 people dead and millions homeless in what was then the worst carnage in Europe since World War II.
"We cannot stay in Bosnia-Herzegovina" he said. "Bosnia-Herzegovina is not the place for us. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a place that constantly suppresses us to take off in our development," he said, adding that the fate of Bosnian Serb children depends on how quickly Bosnian Serbs leave the joint country.
"And I think that these conditions (separation) are being created, Europe is in more and more trouble. America is losing its strength. A new world is being created, " Dodik said. "In that world it is important that the Republika Srpska has Milorad Dodik who can call Putin and see him tomorrow."
Bosnia holds a general election on Sunday in which Dodik is running for the Bosnian Serb president, a separate function from the three-member presidency. His biggest challenge comes from young economist Jelena Trivic, from opposition Party of Democratic Progress, who has pledged to fight against Dodik's alleged corruptive deals that he made in the past.
A U.S.-brokered peace deal in 1995 ended a war in Bosnia that left at least 100,000 people dead and millions homeless, but left the country deeply divided between its three main ethnic groups
Moscow has often been accused by the West of exploiting the divisions by tacitly supporting Dodik's separatist policies, and to destabilize Bosnia and the rest of the Balkans through its proxies in Serbia and Bosnia.
"We have the best possible relations with Russia," Dodik said.
"Enthusiasm for the European Union is lost here." he said. "The EU produces more problems than it brings solutions. I think that the EU has been a big fraud for us in the last 20 years."
Dusan Stojanovic contributed to this report from Belgrade, Serbia.