Officials said they boycotted the meeting because of the Russian foreign minister’s ‘disrespect’ of the Bosnian state.
Ukraine has demanded an explanation from Bosnia and Herzegovina over reports that a member of the presidency gifted a centuries-old Ukrainian religious icon to Russia’s top diplomat, a minister has said.
Bosnia’s Serb president, Milorad Dodik, the current chair of the rotating post, reportedly gave an Orthodox Christian icon to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a visit on Monday.
The Ukrainian embassy has sent a note demanding an “urgent explanation regarding the possession of their cultural heritage, which according to allegations from the note, was given as a gift”, Bosnia’s Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic said.
“An investigation is sought” and the note has been forwarded to the presidency, she added.
“Such a serious accusation inflicts major harm to Bosnia-Herzegovina notably since it involves the presidency chairman.”
According to the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA, the gilded icon is 300 years old and originates from Lugansk, a region in eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed separatists.
Ukraine has been fighting rebels in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions since 2014 following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
The Ukraine embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the AFP news agency.
Zeljko Komsic, Bosnia’s Croat member of the presidency, commenting on the scandal, said Dodik needs to clarify how the icon ended up in his hands.
“If it’s true that this is an icon that comes from Ukraine, which was brought from Ukraine to Banja Luka, during the conflict in Ukraine, if it was stolen … then someone needs to go to jail,” Komsic said.
Lavrov’s trip to Bosnia was already marred by scandal after his initial meeting with Dodik, who is the ethnic Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency and prides himself on close ties with Moscow.
The Croat and Bosniak presidents later refused to meet the Russian diplomat arguing he had “disrespected” Bosnia.
They cited notably the lack of a Bosnian flag during the meeting with Dodik, at which only the flag of Bosnia’s Serb-run region of Republika Srpska was displayed.
The unusually harsh move reflected a growing rift between Bosnia’s two political halves, the pro-Russian Republika Srpska and a Bosniak-Croat federation that is pushing for NATO membership.