What was the purpose of Putin's visit to Belgrade?
Russian president Vladimir Putin and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić made a show of solidarity in Belgrade last week. During their meeting they discussed joint infrastructure projects and collaboration in the energy sector. But for both sides cooperation is also important for other reasons.
Both sides have gained from the meeting
Jutarnji list explains why both heads of state stand to benefit from this visit:
“Putin came to lend his support to Vučić. Because the latter is currently facing protests and most likely also early elections. ... Putin, on the other hand, comes away reassured of Serbia's loyalty. And he needs this to show that Russia has strong support in the region at a time when the situation in the Balkans is getting out of hand as far as he's concerned: Montenegro has joined Nato, (Northern) Macedonia is moving in that direction, and even Bosnia and Herzegovina want to join the alliance, at least in part.”
Putin wants to keep Serbia away from the West
In maintaining close relations with Serbia, Russia is above all pursuing geopolitical interests, Republic comments:
“Compared with other countries in the region Serbia may seem pro-Russian. (It's no coincidence that Vučić goes to great pains to show how much of a Russophile he is.) But from a realistic point of view Serbian policy continues to be largely coordinated with the EU and Washington. And Vučić is equally at pains to show them that he isn't loyal to the Kremlin. Moscow's representatives are trying to convince Belgrade with increasing vehemence that Serbia would gain nothing from joining the EU. Even more important for the Kremlin, however, is to stop the rapprochement between Serbia and Nato which started in the 2000s. ... The Kremlin needs an 'anti-Nato' Serbia to show that it still has allies in Europe.”
Vučić exploiting Russian superstar's fame
Vučić used Putin's visit to divert attention from the ongoing anti-government protests, Večer suspects:
“Roughly 120,000 people, bused in by Vučić from across Serbia, welcomed the Russian political superstar outside the Church of Saint Sava in the evening. In this way Serbia's increasingly autocratic president tried to use Putin's fame to thwart the mass demonstrations against his regime and the media clampdown. But not all Serbians are fans of Putin. The signs in Vojvodina Province bearing the words 'Putin go home!' made that perfectly clear.”
Moscow has more to offer than Brussels
The lack of EU accession prospects explains why Vladimir Putin was given such a warm welcome in Serbia, The Times comments:
“The EU is beset by internal challenges that have undermined any public appetite for further enlargement. At the same time the EU's increased focus on the rule of law in response to backsliding by previous entrants has raised the bar for potential new members. A commission report last year found 'clear evidence of state capture including links with organised crime at all levels of government' in all six [Western Balkan] countries. To the region's authoritarian leaders, including Mr Vučić who has been the focus of mass protests in recent weeks, Mr Putin may appear a more reliable partner.”