Just over a week after the European Union announced its strategy for the integration process of the Western Balkans, reports that a shipment of Russian-made automatic rifles will be delivered by Serbia to the Bosnian Serb police force has raised concerns over the intentions of the ultranationalist-led regional government and the depth of Moscow’s influence in the Republika Srpska – the Serb-dominated region of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bosnian Serb separatist leader Milorad Dodik defended that arms purchase, saying they were to be used for policing purposes and for hunting down suspected terrorists in the region.
“It is an entirely legitimate action and we have nothing to hide,” Dodik said. “For 20 years we didn’t have the right to equip the police, now we have decided to do it.”
Dodik, who has the personal backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is seen by Moscow as a foil to Bosnia’s ambitions to join the EU and NATO.
The Bosnian Serbs signed an agreement with the Kremlin in 2015 to have Russian service members provide counter-terrorism training in the Republika Srpska. The deal alarmed the West as well as the Bosniak and Croat communities in the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Bosnian Serbs have attempted to calm local concerns saying they do not plan to bring any Russian personnel to the Republika Srpska.
“I would like the country to have as few weapons as possible. If one side gets these types of weapons then the other side will want them too,” said Valentin Inzko, the international community’s high representative in Bosnia