Vladimir Putin swung through Belgrade, Serbia, on his way to Milan for talks with Germany’s Angela Merkel and Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko, and was greeted with a hero’s welcome. Serbia, a country aspiring to join the EU which has nevertheless staunchly refused to join the sanctions regime against Russia, moved up the celebration of the anniversary of its liberation by the Red Army in World War II to accommodate Putin’s schedule, and accorded the Russian leader a lavish hero’s welcome.Putin’s remarks at the event were generic and anodyne, invoking the Soviet Union’s role in defeating fascism. But they come on the heels of an interview he granted to a Serbian newspaper before setting off on this trip that ought to give pause to Western leaders:
“Unfortunately, the vaccine against the Nazi virus, developed at the Nuremberg trials, is losing its effectiveness in some European countries. A clear sign of this trend is open manifestations of neo-Nazism, which have become common in Latvia and other Baltic states,” Putin told Politika, according to early excerpts published by the Russian agency RIA Novosti.“Today, our common goal is to counter the glorification of Nazism, firmly counter attempts to revise the results of world war II and consequently fight any forms and manifestations of racism, xenophobia, aggressive nationalism and chauvinism.”
Ominous noises about the Baltics aside, the wounds of the Balkan wars are still only recently healed, especially in Serbia, which has had a pretty rough decade or so since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic. Kosovo is still a very live issue in Serbia (witness the spectacle of a near-riot at a Serbia-Albania soccer match in Belgrade after a provocateur flew a drone into the stadium flying an Albanian flag superimposed over a map of Kosovo), and Bosnia, though at peace, is a fragile construct held together as much through inertia and European stewardship as it is from any real national feeling.Putin has bigger fish to fry at the moment, and Russia’s reach is far from infinite. But with this trip, he is carefully reminding his Eurocrat counterparts in just how many places he can actively cause trouble.