Beset By Protests, Serb Leader Stages Lavish Reception For Putin | 1/17/2019 | Staff
trainmantrainman (Posted by) Level 3
BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia’s pro-Western President Aleksandar Vucic staged a lavish welcome for Vladimir Putin on Thursday – even presenting the visiting Russian leader with a puppy – in what critics called a bid to deflect attention from weeks of anti-government protests.

Tens of thousands of people all over Serbia were bussed in to Belgrade to greet Putin in front of the Saint Sava Church in the evening. They waved Russian and Serbian flags and held banners reading “Thank you President Putin” in Serbian and in Russian. Russian songs were played on loudspeakers.

Serbia - Balancing - Act - Ambition - Trading

Serbia has been performing a delicate balancing act between its ambition to join its biggest trading partner the European Union, and its historical ties with Russia, which shares its Orthodox Christian faith and backed it diplomatically during a 1999 NATO bombing campaign.

Displaying his close relationship with Putin is particularly important for Vucic, a former ultranationalist who abruptly switched sides to become a leading advocate of closer relations with the EU but who still relies on rightwing support.

Vucic - Weeks - Protests - Rule - Supporters

Vucic has faced weeks of protests against his rule by supporters of both the liberal and nationalist camps. Demonstrating his warm ties with Russia could help him counter accusations of selling out Serbia’s interests to the West.

“It very important for us to have friends in the world and Putin and Russia are the most important,” said Stefan, a 25-year old from the southern town of Novi Pazar who came to Belgrade for the event and declined to give his surname.

Putin - Gas - Transport - Infrastructure - Serbia

Putin promised to invest $1.4 billion in gas transport infrastructure in Serbia, which now buys all its natural gas from Russia via a pipeline over Ukraine, and hopes to be hooked up to...
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