Russia's Putin meets Bosnian Serb leader Dodik, hails rise in trade

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik in Moscow

(Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik in Moscow on Tuesday and hailed an increase in trade during a meeting that has angered the European Union.

In a transcript released by the Kremlin, Putin told Dodik that bilateral trade with Dodik's Serb Republic region of Bosnia, while relatively small, had increased by 57% last year.

"This trend should certainly be maintained," he said, adding that Russian and Bosnian Serb companies could achieve even better results.

Bosnia receives Russian gas via Serbia and Bulgaria. After the meeting with Putin, Dodik told Russian television that the price the Serb Republic paid for gas would remain low but did not give details.

Following a devastating ethnic war in the 1990s, Bosnia was split into two autonomous regions - the Federation shared by Bosniaks and Croats and the Serb Republic, linked via a weak central government. Bosnia has no unified foreign policy.

Dodik, a Serb nationalist who has maintained close relations with Putin, said Russia had been forced to invade Ukraine to preserve its security. Putin thanked him for what he called his neutral position on the conflict.

The meeting could tarnish Bosnia's hopes of joining the European Union. The head of the body responsible for enlarging the 27-nation bloc last week warned Sarajevo that EU allies do not visit Russia.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren, editing by Mark Heinrich)