Icon gifted to Russian FM sparks international scandal

The Russian Foreign Ministry will return the icon, which was gifted to Russian Foreign Minister  Sergei Lavrov during his visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The icon will be returned "to clarify its history through Interpol," the press service of the ministry told TASS.

On December 14, Chairman of the Presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodik presented the icon to Sergei Lavrov during his visit to Sarajevo.

The photo of the icon published by the SRNA agency shows that there is a stamp with an imprint on the reverse side:

"URSR. People's Committee of Education. Ukrnauka. Odessa Regional Commission."

On December 17, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bissera Turkovic, announced that the Ukrainian embassy had sent a note to BiH demanding that the icon be returned to Kiev. Ukraine also demanded an explanation of how the icon found itself on the territory of the republic.

According to the embassy, it is a 300-year-old icon from Luhansk, a piece of the cultural heritage of Ukraine, as evidenced by the stamp on the back of the icon. The Ukrainian side noted that Luhansk currently remains under Russia's "temporary occupation", and the lack of information about the icon would mean that "top institutions of Bosnia support Russia's aggressive policy and military actions against Ukraine, which have already led to the death of thousands of Ukrainian citizens," Radio Liberty reports.

Zeljko Komšić, Croatia's ambassador to the BiH Presidium, said that if the icon does originate from Ukraine and was taken out during the conflict in the Donbass, it means that "it was stolen, and someone should go to jail."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina sent a request for information about the icon. Turkovic said she would strive for the return of the icon to Ukraine. The BiH Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation into the incident.

The icon scandal was not the only incident that stained Sergei Lavrov's Balkan tour. Members of the interethnic presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina - Croat Zeljko Komšić and Bosnian Shefik Jaferovic - boycotted the earlier scheduled meeting with the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry because of some of his statements.

In particular, Lavrov said at the meeting with the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Milorad Dodik, that he supported the resolution on the military neutrality of the Republika Srpska, which is part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He also spoke in favor of the initiative to abolish the post of high representative of the international community to BiH as external manager. Komšić and Jaferovic were also outraged by the absence of Bosnian state symbols at the meeting between Lavrov and Dodik.

"With all due respect to the Russian Federation as a great and powerful nation, we do not agree to be Russian pawns in the Balkans in their games and showdowns with the EU countries or NATO members," said Komšić.

Lavrov, commenting on the demarche, assumed that the members of the presidium "clearly act on someone's suggestion and, most likely, express the interests of external forces, rather than their electors, at least their majority." He also said that the incident was insignificant in terms of Russia's stance and the development of relations with the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina.