Pro-Russia marches have been staged in Serbia and the Serb-run entity in Bosnia — both traditional allies of Moscow in the Balkans — amid ceremonies to mark the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War.
Serbia organised military jet flyovers and officials laid wreaths as part of the commemorations.
A Serbian cabinet minister and Russia’s ambassador to Serbia joined dozens of people in the Moscow-backed march in Belgrade, an annual event mirroring the one held in Russia to honour Second World War victims.
Marchers carried a cardboard figure of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a big ‘Z’ sign symbolising support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Serbia’s minister without portfolio, Nenad Popovic, who is openly pro-Russian, said Serbia and Russia “always have been on the right side of history” as he joined in the march, where people carry portraits of relatives who died fighting Axis forces.
Pro-Russia flags and banners could be seen at a Victory Day gathering in the southern Serbian city of Nis, regional N1 television said.
Serbia has joined condemnation of the Russian attack at the United Nations, but has refused to impose sanctions against Moscow — despite formally seeking to join the European Union.
Pro-Russian sentiment and support for the invasion remain high in Serbia and among the Bosnian Serbs whose populist leaders have fostered close relations with Mr Putin.
In the main Bosnian Serb town of Banja Luka, top officials and the Russian ambassador in Bosnia took part in the march, which included banners openly supporting the Russian invasion and “the fight against Nazism in Ukraine and the world”.
The banners echoed Mr Putin’s argument for launching the attack that since February 24 has killed thousands, displaced millions and inflicted widespread devastation on Ukrainian towns, cities and villages.
The Ukrainian embassy in Belgrade criticised Serbia in a statement, saying embassy officials marked Victory Day on Sunday — and without the presence of Serbian officials.
The embassy, the statement said, “does not have the moral right and human desire to honour the victims of World War II together with the representatives of the criminal Putin regime”.
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