BELGRADE (Reuters) – Thousands of Serbs waving Russian and Serbian flags and carrying pictures of President Vladimir Putin marched through Belgrade to the Russian embassy on Friday, to protest Serbia’s government bid to distance itself from Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine.
Throngs of people, many from ultranationalist organizations, joined the march from the city center to the nearby Russian embassy, where they fired signal flares, played Russian and Serbian anthems and hailed the two countries as brotherly nations.
“I came to this rally to support Russia and to say a loud and clear ‘no’ to policies of authorities in Belgrade who made a shameful decision to vote against Russia in the U.N.,” said Mladen Obradovic, a protester.
In recent weeks Belgrade voted three times for United Nations’ resolutions that condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and suspended it from the main U.N. human rights body. Moscow calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation.”
Still, Serbia, which is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas and oil, refuses to impose sanctions against the Kremlin and it maintains regular flights to Moscow.
Protesters chanted “No NATO” and “Serbians and Russians are brothers,” and slogans against President Aleksandar Vucic who won the presidential vote on April 3, while his Progressives secured the most votes to form a government.
Earlier this week, in a move seen by experts as a departure from military cooperation with Russia, Vucic said Serbia was eyeing a purchase of two dozen new and used Western jet fighters.
(Reporting by Branko Filipovic, Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Sandra Maler)