Vladimir Putin strikes to strengthen ties with Serbia at army parade | Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin on Thursday sealed Russia’s closest alliance in Central Europe by exchanging pledges of support with Serbia and participating in a military parade in Belgrade that has not been seen in the region since the Cold War.

The Russian president promised never to recognize the independence of Kosovo, a priority for Serbia, which does not want to accept the loss of the former province after a war in the late 1990s. In return, his Serbian counterpart Tomislav Nikolić promised not to bow to pressure from the European Union to participate in sanctions against Russia because of Moscow’s role in the Ukraine conflict.

“Europe can rely on us not to impose sanctions, and that’s it,” said Nikolic in the Serbian Palace, a huge building from the socialist era on the banks of the Sava. “Serbia will not endanger its morale by hostility towards Russia.”

The reaffirmation of Russian-Serbian relations at an event to celebrate the alliance in two world wars gave Putin a boost on his way to the ASEM summit of European and Asian leaders in Milan, where he received a frosty welcome from Western and Ukrainian leaders. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she would announce the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 by alleged Russian separatists in Ukraine, which killed 298 people, including 38 Australian citizens and residents.

After arriving in Milan from Belgrade, Putin was due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said she would urge him to comply with a September ceasefire agreement, which remains meager.

“Above all, it is Russia’s task to make it clear that the Minsk Plan is really being respected,” said Merkel on arrival at the summit. “Unfortunately there are still very, very big shortcomings. But it is important to seek dialogue here. “

On Friday, Putin will meet his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko to try to strengthen the ceasefire and also reach an agreement on Russian gas supplies to Ukraine.

Much of the Russian gas supplied to the EU flows through pipelines that cross Ukraine, and Putin warned that Russia would cut supplies destined for Europe if Ukraine siphoned off European gas as it did in 2008. “Russia has always been a reliable supplier. But there are major transit risks, ”he said in Belgrade.

Putin was enjoying a short break from this pressure when he held a military march in the Serbian capital to commemorate the centenary of the First World War and the 70th. An enthusiastic crowd, estimated by the Serbian government at 100,000, lined the parade route and chanted “Putin, Putin “and” Serbia-Russia, we don’t need them ” [European] Union”.

Nikolic awarded him a large medal and necklace made of precious metals, the Order of the Republic of Serbia, the country’s new highest award, specially created for the occasion.

The march past included 300 military vehicles, including dozens of tanks, plus anti-aircraft missiles on trailers, and over 3,000 soldiers marching in lockstep amid a sudden torrential downpour. At the same time, Serbian and Russian fighter jets roared overhead and paratroopers fell from the sky. It was the largest military parade in Serbia and the Balkans region since 1985, when the Yugoslav army marched past the country’s communist leaders.

Large screens above the crowd showed footage of the national military’s past, including the reconquest of Belgrade with the help of the Red Army by the Nazis in October 1944. The screens also showed socialist-era military parades by the white-gloved, blue-uniformed Yugoslav dictator Tito.

What was missing in the picture story was the role of Serbia in the Croatian, Bosnia and Kosovo wars of the 1990s, all of which the country lost under Tito’s successor Slobodan Milosevic. However, it was recalled that the territorial and ethnic problems that fueled these wars were not resolved. The Russian and Serbian leaders made Kosovo a constant issue, and Serbian separatist leader in Bosnia Milorad Dodik was given a place of honor in the front row of the observation deck near Putin after a narrow election victory. It was a clear sign of support for Dodik, who has promised to weaken the Bosnian state and lead the country’s Serbs to independence.

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