Such is the power of the Vladimir Putin brand that the Russian ruler now has a Putin café in his honour in Novi Sad, Serbia’s second city. It’s a hangout for pro-Russians who see Moscow, not Brussels, as their spiritual home, and where criticism is off the menu.
Serbia is Russia’s closest ally in Europe, and many people here at least see Belgrade’s drive towards the European Union as fundamentally flawed.
‘‘Two thirds of Serbia adore Putin, at least. One third of Russia, like here, does not like him – because the West can buy them. They can buy everything with money, but they can’t buy the heart,” said one café regular.
However some are upset that the traditional World War Two commemorations that Putin has been invited to have been moved in the calendar to suit the president’s travel plans. Others do not want him in Serbia at all.
“I think this visit is provocative. It makes no sense to celebrate the liberation of Belgrade on the 16th October, the anniversary is on the 20th October. Putin is just stopping here between two flights, which is not fair,” said the Director for the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies, Jelena Milic.
Supporters were carrying the day, however, with many people on the streets carrying Russian flags or the banners adopted by supporters of Valdimir Putin’s revived “NovoRussia” geopolitical blueprint.