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Our allies don't go to Russia, EU commissioner tells Bosnian Serb leader

EU Commissioners and members of the Swedish government meet in Jukkasjarvi

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - The head of the European Union body responsible for enlargement warned aspiring member Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday that EU allies do not visit Russia, referring to an announced visit to Moscow by Bosnian Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik.

The country, which applied to join the EU in 2016, was granted candidate status last December following concern the war in Ukraine may destabilise the Balkan region.

"We need Bosnia-Herzegovina to be our ally," EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi told a news conference in Sarajevo, referring to the need for a common front after Russia's invasion of Ukraine last February.

"Our allies don't go to Russia, that is my message," Varhelyi said in response to a reporter's question on Dodik's visit. "Who wants to be our ally, does not go to Russia."

Varhelyi, who attended a high-level political forum in Sarajevo outlining steps that Bosnia should take to join the EU, praised the progress made in "record time" to form a government and draw up budgets following general elections last October.

He also said that he was encouraged to see a commitment by stake-holders to deliver on reforms agreed when it was granted candidate status and its "very clear commitment as a European ally".

But ethnically divided Bosnia does not have a unified view on foreign policy, with Dodik maintaining close relations with Russia and President Vladimir Putin, even after its invasion of Ukraine.

Following a devastating war in the 1990s, Bosnia was split into two autonomous regions - the Federation shared by Bosniaks and Croats and the Serb-dominated Serb Republic - linked via a weak central government.

Dodik, who is the Serb Republic President, has said he would visit Moscow next week to discuss economic cooperation with Putin and what he said was Western pressure on the region to follow their policies on Russia. He would also present Putin with a medal he had awarded the Russian leader in absentia.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Sharon Singleton)