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| President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia, right, welcoming his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin, before talks in Belgrade on Thursday.
Maxim Shipenkov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
|Putin visits Serbia as the country adopts his model|
|President Vladimir Putin of Russia arrived on Thursday in Serbia, a historical Russian ally where his likeness is on everything from mugs to underwear. Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, welcomed him by busing in tens of thousands of people for a rally. The two announced a big new gas deal, and many who showed up for the events said they were incentivized, including with five liters of milk.|
|Context: Serbia is once again a fulcrum of Balkan volatility, and the visit has been a display of what a researcher calls Putin’s orchestra in the country, powered by a growing number of pro-Russia media outlets and nongovernmental groups. But the acoustics are complicated by the fact that Serbia is seeking to join E.U.|
|Reaction: Tens of thousands of people have been regularly protesting through the winter against Mr. Vucic’s increasingly Putin-like and authoritarian style, and the country’s opposition leader said he feared the E.U. would further overlook his autocratic tendencies in a bid to counter Russia.|
|Looking ahead: To join the E.U., Serbia would have to compromise on Kosovo, which Russia and Serbia refuse to recognize, and which Mr. Putin accused of ratcheting up tensions. Mr. Vucic has floated partitioning Kosovo, a risky proposition that John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, has said he’s open to.|