Putin Arrives to Hero’s Welcome in Belgrade

When Vladimir Putin lands in Belgrade, the ruling party will welcome him as the country’s most popular foreign politician with a rally that underscores Serbia’s conflicted approach to joining the European Union.

President Aleksandar Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party is mobilizing thousands of its members in the capital on Thursday in show of support for the Russian leader. Vucic will be looking to leverage Moscow’s support in striking a deal to normalize ties with Kosovo, one of the biggest hurdles to both Balkan countries’ aspirations for EU membership.

With the outreach effort, Vucic is sending a signal that he doesn’t accept EU opposition to a deal with Kosovo to redraw their borders. Vucic and his Kosovo counterpart have turned to Moscow and Washington for support for such a deal.

The visit may be “a warning signal to the EU” that “demonstrates a continuation of Serbia’s inconsistent foreign policy,” said Sena Maric, a senior researcher at the European Policy Center in Belgrade. The country “is supposed to completely align its foreign policy with the EU” while “a considerable number of EU member states perceive Serbia’s relationship with Russia as a matter of their national interest and are ready to block its EU membership.”