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Vladimir Putin will use a trip to Serbia on Thursday to emphasize Russia’s close ties with the Balkans as Belgrade’s ties with Western Europe are sour.
The Russian President will convey the message that the US and other Western countries are a “destabilizing” force trying to strengthen “their hegemony” in the Balkans.
During the one-day visit, Mr. Putin will present Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic with one of the highest civilian awards in Russia, which, according to the Kremlin, reflects “Mr. Vucic’s great personal contribution to the development of multilateral cooperation with the Russian Federation”. . The Alexander Nevsky Order was previously awarded to the leaders of close Russian allies such as Belarus, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.
Mr. Vucic told the Russian news agency TASS that his father “cried” when he heard of the award.
On Wednesday, Putin told two Serbian government-affiliated newspapers that negotiations to conclude a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union through Belgrade were ongoing by the end of the year. He also highlighted the historical ties between Russia and Serbia linked by the Orthodox faith.
But he added: “Unlike Western partners, we are not trying to make Serbia an artificial choice: either you are with Russia or you are with the EU”.
Mr Putin continued to criticize the West for getting the Western Balkans firmly into orbit. He said that Montenegro was admitted to NATO in 2017 without a referendum without a referendum because “half the population” objected, and that Macedonia was moving closer to NATO because of a referendum on changing the country’s name, which was well below 50 percent got cents turnout and “ignored the will of the people”.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meanwhile accused the EU of a “colonial stance” towards Serbia and called this an “obsolete” mentality.
Lavrov said the EU’s treatment of Serbia was “disrespectful” to Russia, comparing this to the bloc’s stance on Ukraine prior to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea.
Serbia’s Parliament building in Belgrade
Moscow has repeatedly blamed the EU for fueling anti-Russian protests in Kiev, which led to violent clashes and the removal of its pro-Kremlin president.
“It is not polite to take such an approach,” added Mr Lavrov.
Serbia has tried more than any other Balkan country to maintain good relations with both Russia and the West. Belgrade chose not to follow the EU when it imposed sanctions on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s deterioration in relations with the US and Europe since the invasion of Crimea has led the Kremlin to strengthen its alliances outside NATO and the EU and make new friends, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, in order to continue to act as a global one Superpower.
Russia remains popular with Serbs because it refuses to recognize the 2008 declaration of independence by Kosovo, the former Serbian province. Moscow has also given Serbia high-profile gifts, including mosaics for the Cathedral of Sveti Sava, one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world.
Serbian media reported on Wednesday that the country’s secret service had averted an attack on Putin. A suspected terrorist was arrested and weapons and bomb-making equipment were found in his home.