The Bosniak and Croat members of Bosnia-Herzegovina's tripartite presidency on December 15 refused to meet with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov following his comments about the peace agreement that ended the Bosnian War in the mid-1990s.
Sefik Dzaferovic and Zeljko Komsic said in a joint statement that their decision had been prompted by the fact that Lavrov's remarks on December 14 contradict Bosnia's official position.
Lavrov had been due to meet all three members of the country’s tripartite presidency at the end of his visit which began on December 14, the anniversary of the signing of the Dayton agreement that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian War.
Dzaferovic and Komsic told journalists they refused to meet with Lavrov due to his comments which "do not respect all annexes of the Dayton agreement, which also include respect for the institutions and symbols of this country."
Lavrov on December 14 told a news conference in Sarajevo after a separate meeting with Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of the tripartite presidency, that the agreement must not be changed in any way.
Komsic also said that Lavrov's meeting with Dodik, in the Serb entity headquarters just outside the capital, Sarajevo, was insulting as no national flag was on display despite the Russian diplomat being on an official visit.
"Mr. Lavrov, as one of the worlds' three top diplomats...is sending us a message...which we interpret as disrespectful and a denial of the state he is visiting," Komsic told reporters.
Lavrov was referring on December 14 to comments by some Western diplomats and Bosnian politicians that the agreement needs to be updated to allow Bosnia to press ahead with reforms. However, Dodik has repeatedly said that any changes to the Dayton structure would be the reason for the mainly ethnic Serb Republika Srpska to secede from Bosnia.
The peace deal ended the war among Bosnian Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks in which about 100,000 people were killed and 2 million were moved from their homes.
While it stopped the fighting, the peace deal agreed at a U.S. air base outside Dayton, Ohio, formalized the ethnic divisions in Bosnia by establishing a complicated and fragmented state structure.
A quarter of a century later, Bosnia remains dysfunctional, with reforms blocked by the rival ethnic leaders. The country is split into two regions -- the Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation, all kept together through a weak central government.
However, Lavrov, in his remarks, echoed Dodik's position that the agreement should remain as is.
“I would like to say that any attempt to demolish [the Dayton agreement] can cause the most serious risks and consequences,” Lavrov said.
He added that if the agreement was amended, “the entire system could be endangered and become a threat to stability.”
Dzaferovic and Komsic did not attend a planned meeting with Lavrov at the presidency building in Sarajevo, where the Russian met Dodik again.
Speaking after meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Lavrov said "the incident...is, I believe, irrelevant to Russia's position, to the development of relations with the people of Bosnia."
"The politicians who made this decision are not independent," the Russian foreign minister said, adding: "I think [they are] clearly acting on someone's prompting and most likely expressing the interests...of external forces."
Komsic said that Lavrov, who on December 14 backed the Serb Republic parliament's resolution on military neutrality, knew a regional legislature cannot decide such strategic policy.
"We are aware that we are small and weak, but we are not ready to be a hostage in any kind of games by Russia when it comes to their relations with the European Union and NATO members," Komsic said.
The European Union accepted Bosnia’s membership application in 2016, but its government has failed to make the deep structural reforms required before the application can move forward.
Lavrov added that the Dayton agreement does not “create obstacles” to relations between Bosnia and the EU.
“We are not interfering in that process,” he said.
But he said the equality of the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, and the two entities that comprise Bosnia should be respected.