Huge crowds greet Putin in Belgrade

Huge crowds greet Putin in Belgrade
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje January 17, 2019

Thousands of people welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin in Belgrade on January 17 as he arrived for a one-day visit to Serbia to discuss the Kosovo issue and bilateral cooperation.

Russia is one of the biggest allies and supporters of Serbia and one of the biggest investors in the country. Most Serbians consider Russia as a brotherly nation with historical, cultural and religious ties.

“I am delighted to visit friendly, brotherly Serbia,” Putin said as he arrived at Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport. During the arrival Putin’s plane was escorted by a guard of MiG-29 fighter jets.

Putin was accompanied by business representatives from more than 40 companies to meet his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic.

During the visit, delegations of both countries signed a series of agreements and memorandums of cooperation, the Serbian government said in a statement.

One of the most important is the agreement signed by Serbia’s railway infrastructure company and Russia’s RZD International worth €230mn for railway upgrade projects.

The contract deals with the design and conduct of construction works on Serbia’s railway infrastructure, and the construction of a dispatch centre for train traffic management.

The two sides signed an agreement on Russian-Serbian cooperation in the research and use of space for peaceful purposes, signed by Dmitry Rogozin, general director of Roscosmos.

The agreement concerning the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes was initialed by the general director of Russia’s Rosatom Alexey Likhachev and the Serbian minister without portfolio in charge of innovation and technological development, Nenad Popovic.

At a joint news conference with the president of Russia, Vucic said that he and Putin had achieved a "high degree of consensus on all issues."

Vucic said that he had informed his Russian colleague about everything that has happened in relation to Kosovo.

“We stand for the mutually acceptable solution for Kosovo in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1244," Putin said.

He added that Pristina's latest moves, the introduction of 100% customs tariffs and the establishment of the Kosovo army, have caused serious tensions as they can lead to the destabilisation of the Balkans.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but it is still not recognised as a country by either Serbia or Russia. Belgrade and Pristina are engaged in EU-mediated talks on the normalisation of their relations, which stalled last year and worsened after Kosovo imposed the 100% taxes on goods imported from Serbia in December.

Vucic said that without Russia there will be no solution to the Kosovo issue.

"Before each solution, I will consult Putin," Vucic underlined.

He expressed his gratitude for Russia's support in maintaining the integrity and independence of Serbia.

In a ceremony during the visit, Vucic was awarded the Order of Alexander Nevsky by Putin for his contribution to the development of relations between the two countries.

At the end of the visit, according to media, 120,000 people waited for Putin in front of the Orthodox church St. Sava, carrying Russian and Serbian flags, before he and Vucic visited the temple. 

Big projection screens broadcasted the speeches of Vucic and Putin during their news conference. Street sellers were selling badges with the image of Putin for RSD150 (€1.3) and the Serbian flag for RSD200.

Putin addressed the crowd in the Serbian language saying "Thanks for the friendship!"

International media wrote that Putin was welcomed in Serbia as a hero.