It is 65 years since the red army and Tito’s partisans liberated Belgrade from the Wehrmacht. The historic moment was remembered in the city with a special concert. But it is the bloodshed from a more recent conflict, the one in Kosovo, which has been a constant focus of debate between the two nations, which consider themselves ‘slav’ brothers.
Moscow has been a principal supporter for Belgrade since the war in 1998-99 and considers Kosovo as an integral part of the Serb nation. After the failure of peace talks at Rambouillet between the Kosovo Albanians and the Serbs, Nato began a bombing campaign lasting 70 days. The targets were strategic – military and industrial and the headquarters of Slobodan Milosevic. At this time Milosovic had the support of Boris Yeltsin in Moscow. But the Russian President surprised the international community when his troops seized Kosova’s main airport in Pristina. Milosovic finally agreed to withdraw troops from Kosovo after accepting a proposal for NATO to move in and for the province to be run by the United Nations. Ibrahim Rugova became the President in February 2002. Martti Ahtisaari, the former President of Finland, arrived in the region to act as moderator between the factions. Independance was finally proclaimed in February, 2008, recognised by 60 countries and 22 of the 27 member states of the European Union. Serbia continued to dispute the legality of Kosovo’s independance and the International Court of Justice will give its ruling on the question in early December. Moscow’s interest in the continuing debate and the future of Kosovo is linked to oil. Russia has, over several years, developed close diplomatic ties as Belgrade is essential in their future plans. Belgrade – and Serbia – is a potential gateway through which their Southstream pipeline can pass, boosting the country’s economy, providing jobs and opportunities. This is a two-fold chance to strenghten Serbia’s economy. The country will have oil and so a degree of financial security. Serbia will also – with Russia – hope to strenghten ties with the European Union.