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Russian Lawmaker Matviyenko Meets With Bosnian Serb Officials In Banja Luka

Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the Federation Council, Russian parliament's upper chamber (center) reviews an honor guard with Milorad Dodik, president of Republic Srpska

Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, held a series of meetings with Bosnian Serb officials on a visit to Banja Luka on April 24.

Matviyenko was met on her arrival by Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik and spoke of the need to strengthen ties between Russia and Republika Srpska.

She said that Russian President Vladimir Putin strongly supports the republic, which was established within the framework of the Dayton peace accords settling the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Later, Matviyenko met Republika Srpska National Assembly speaker Nedeljko Cubrilovic at a ceremonial session of the legislative entity and addressed the lawmakers.

Matviyenko also attended a cultural and artistic event organized in honor of the Russian delegation.

Traffic in central Banja Luka was blocked as a security measure for the visit, and the sale of alcohol was temporarily banned.

Matviyenko's trip follows a visit to Sarajevo on April 23, where she made a speech condemning NATO enlargement in the Balkans, asserting that it is "undermining security and stability in the region."

Western governments see NATO and European Union membership as the best way of preserving peace and stability in the Balkans after a decade of wars with the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Montenegro joined the NATO military alliance last year, and Macedonia also aspires to membership.

Bosnia hopes to activate a NATO preaccession Membership Action Plan, but its plans for membership in the alliance are opposed by Bosnian Serbs, who see Russia as their main ally.

During her visit to Sarajevo, Matviyenko called Balkan ambitions to join the alliance a "dangerous experiment" that goes against the will of sizable pro-Russian factions in the population.

With reporting by Reuters