Serbs stage pro-Russia marches amid V-Day ceremonies

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Pro-Russia marches were staged in Serbia and the Serb-run entity in Bosnia — both traditional allies of Moscow in the Balkans — amid ceremonies Monday to mark the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.

Serbia organized military jet flyovers and officials laid wreaths as part of the celebrations. A Serbian cabinet minister and Russia’s ambassador to Serbia joined dozens of people in the Moscow-backed march in Belgrade, an annual event mirroring the one held in Russia to honor WWII victims.

Marchers carried a cardboard figure of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a big ‘Z’ sign symbolizing support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Serbia’s minister without portfolio, Nenad Popovic, who is openly pro-Russian, said Serbia and Russia “always have been on the right side of history,” as he joined in the march where people carry portraits of relatives who died fighting Axis forces.

Pro-Russia flags and banners could be seen at a Victory Day gathering in the southern Serbian city of Nis, regional N1 television said.

Serbia has joined condemnation at the United Nations of the Russian attack, but has refused to impose sanctions against Moscow — despite formally seeking to join the European Union.

Pro-Russian sentiment and support for the invasion remain high in Serbia and among the Bosnian Serbs whose populist leaders have fostered close relations with Putin.

In the main Bosnian Serb town of Banja Luka, top officials and the Russian ambassador in Bosnia took part in the march that included banners openly supporting the Russian invasion and “the fight against Nazism in Ukraine and the world.”

The banners echoed Putin’s argument for launching the attack that since Feb. 24 has killed thousands, displaced millions and inflicted widespread devastation on Ukrainian towns, cities and villages.

The Ukrainian embassy in Belgrade criticized Serbia in a statement, saying embassy officials marked Victory Day on Sunday — and without the presence of Serbian officials.

The embassy, ​​the statement said, “does not have the moral right and human desire to honor the victims of World War II together with the representatives of the criminal Putin regime.”

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