Putin receives five-star welcome in Serbia

Belgrade: Ceremonial canons fired and church bells pealed in Belgrade on Thursday as President Vladimir Putin arrived to a rousing welcome in Serbia, a key Moscow ally, where he will confer Russia’s top award to his counterpart.
Tens of thousands of Serbs marched through the capital in a parade in Putin’s honour.
“Welcome honoured President Putin, dear friend,” read one of many billboards around the city bearing a mix of Russian and Serbian flags.
“I’m delighted to be able to visit friendly, brotherly Serbia,” Putin said after being welcomed at Belgrade airport by his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic.
The parade, whose participants come from across Serbia, will culminate at the massive Saint Sava church, one of Orthodox Christianity’s largest houses of worship.
In recent days vendors have been selling T-shirts, mugs and books bearing Putin’s face, while a central Belgrade fountain has been lit up with the red, white and blue colours of the Russian flag. Although Serbia aspires to join the European Union, it has kept up close ties with Russia, its historical “Orthodox big brother” whose people also share Slavic origins.
But it “is more an emotional than a rational relationship”, explained Serbian economic analyst Biljana Stepanovic.
According to a 2017 Serbian government survey, a quarter of the population believe Russia and the EU are the country’s joint top donors for development aid.
In reality, 75 per cent of donations come from the EU or its member states, while Russia doesn’t make the top nine.
The West also outpaces Russia in terms of direct investment and trade. However, the affection for Moscow is fanned by its unyielding support on the emotive issue of Kosovo, a former Serbian province that broke away in a 1998-99 war. — AFP