A woman passes by graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin in a suburb in Belgrade, Serbia.
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A week before a crucial election, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik traveled to Russia for a Formula One race not because he's a big fan but for yet another meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.The brief photo opportunity with Putin helped Dodik win the race to fill the Serb seat in Bosnia's three-member presidency Sunday, deepening the ethnic divisions that have held Bosnia back since its devastating 1992-95 war.Latvia's Russian minority is a major domestic political force, accounting for about 25 percent of its nearly 2 million people, a legacy of nearly 50 years of Soviet occupation that ended in 1991 .Russia staunchly opposes any more Balkan countries joining NATO. Western officials have expressed fear that Russia has used its historic Slavic and Orthodox Christian ties in the region to undermine Western policies of integration.Russia has denied meddling in any Balkan or Baltic country. But Russia's soft-power strategy has found fertile ground among Serbs, due to NATO's bombings in 1999 that halted a bloody Serb crackdown on Kosovo and forced Serbs to pull out.In return for Russia's support for Serbia's claim over Kosovo, Serbia has been a faithful ally even though it formally pursues EU integration and uses millions in Western recovery funds.
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