Russia: Putin meets Serbian PM Vucic to discuss bilateral ties
According to analysts, with his visit, Putin wants to demonstrate; the existence of Russian influence
With an abundance of T-shirts, mugs and murals featuring him, Russian President Vladimir Putin can look forward to a warm welcome when he arrives in Serbia on Thursday, Moscow’s key ally at the edge of Europe..
Although Serbia aspires to join the EU, it maintains close ties with Russia, the historical “Orthodox elder brother” with whose people it shares common Slavic roots..
But these are “more emotional than rational relationships,” explains Serbian economics expert Biljana Stepanovic from Belgrade..
A 2017 poll by the Serbian government showed that a quarter of the country’s population considers Russia to be the main donor. The same proportion of the population believes that the EU is such a donor.
In fact, 75 percent of financial aid comes from the EU or EU countries, while Russia is not even in the top nine..
The West is also ahead of Russia in terms of direct investment and trade..
However, attachment to Moscow continues unabated thanks to its strong support from Belgrade over Kosovo, a former Serbian province that was broken off by the 1998-1999 guerrilla war..
Serbia has never recognized the split, as has Russia, which used its veto at the UN, dashing Kosovo’s hopes of joining the organization..
In turn, Belgrade refuses to join the international trade sanctions imposed against Russia in connection with its annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea in 2014..
Realizing that the people of his country have sympathy for Russia, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic often talks about his relationship with Putin..
On Monday, he revealed details of a recent visit to Putin in an interview with pro-government Pink TV..
“When I came to his home to give him the icon, he received me at 22:45. We were alone and he played the piano, ”said Vucic, who critics say is becoming an increasingly authoritarian politician..
However, all this pomp cannot hide Russia’s recent setbacks in the Balkans, where the West is increasing its influence..
Moscow failed to prevent Montenegro from joining NATO in 2017, and Macedonia is also close to achieving this goal..
If Macedonia achieves this, then all countries bordering on Serbia, which does not seek to join the alliance, will be in the NATO sphere, with the exception of Bosnia – due to the veto of the Serbian population of this country.
Putin will also meet with Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik.
Maxim Samorukov, an expert on Russia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, believes that Putin is going to Serbia mainly in search of “political prestige” and to show the existence of “Russian influence in all regions of the world.”.
“The Balkans in themselves are not of great importance” and are not “a priority of Russian foreign policy,” he adds..
But Moscow still has certain interests in the region..
Serbia imports two-thirds of its natural gas and oil from Russia, and Russia’s Gazprom owns Serbian oil company NIS.
In an interview with Pink TV, Vucic said he was willing to buy “cheap gas elsewhere.”.
“But I haven’t seen him yet,” he added..