(Bloomberg) -- Croatian President Zoran Milanovic drew a parallel from Russia’s annexation of Crimea to Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, causing an uproar across the Balkans and beyond.

“Who annexed Kosovo? The international community, including us,” Milanovic said Monday in a speech in the Croatian town of Petrinja, where he spoke about the war in Ukraine. “Kosovo was taken from Serbia by force, it was extraction, a part of Serbian territory was taken away.” 

Kosovo is recognized as an independent country by the US and by 22 out of 27 EU nations, among others. 

The comments from Milanovic, who often takes confrontational positions against those of Croatia’s government, contradict the nation’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence as well as the International Court of Justice in the Hague. The Court ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence from 2008 doesn’t violate international law. 

Last year, he opposed Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO accession bids, which Croatia supported. He has also repeatedly criticized military support for Ukraine, saying Croatia — a European Union and NATO member — should stay out of the conflict.

While he reiterated his condemnation of the Russian invasion, he echoed a message the Kremlin has repeated over the past year. 

“I’m not questioning Kosovo but rather the idea that one can do anything when it suits them, but when the other side does it, it’s a crime,” he said. “It is clear that Crimea will never again be part of Ukraine.”

Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea has been condemned globally. That was not lost on the Foreign Ministry in Kyiv, which on Tuesday reacted to Milanovic’s comments.

“We consider unacceptable the statements by the president of Croatia, who actually questioned the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” said Oleh Nikolenko, the spokesman for the ministry.

Milanovic, a former premier, was elected president in early 2020 for a five-year term. His role is a largely ceremonial, though he commands the former Yugoslav republic’s armed forces. 

His comments also drew a sharp rebuke from Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, his main political rival.

“A normal reaction would be the strictest condemnation of such statements, that go against every principle that Croatia stands behind as a European Union, NATO member,” he said. “Luckily, our foreign policy is what it is.”

--With assistance from Daryna Krasnolutska.

(Updates with reaction from Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry from fifth paragraph.)

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