The turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East adds urgency to the Russian project to pump natural gas to Southeastern, Southern and Central Europe by a big-diameter pipe laid across the bed of the Black Sea. After a brief hick-up over a planning permission from Turkey, the South Stream pipe is under design and construction again, and may come on stream as early as 2015. One transit country is Serbia, and its biggest energy companies have already teamed up with Russia’s Gazprom for building a land section of the South Stream on Serbian territory.
These and similar matters were under discussion in Belgrade on Wednesday between the visiting Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Serbian hosts President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic.
The visit produced agreements to cooperate in scientific research, road transport, the holiday industry and many other important fields. We hear about this from Vladimir Putin:
“Serbia is to receive another 800 million dollars in loans from Russia, on top of 200 million received in 2010. There will be massive investment in Serbia from Gaspromneft and Lukoil, including in a chain of fuel pumps. Russian companies will help Serbian counterparts build roads and power stations, and also expand electricity grids. Serbia is a big market for electricity hardware from Russian makers. The sides are also mulling broad cooperation in the farming sector.”
Symbolically perhaps, Putin’s visit came one day ahead of the 12th anniversary of NATO’s bombing campaign against Federal Yugoslavia. The Russian Prime Minister drew a parallel with the attack on Libya:
“I’m uneasy about the ease with which Western powers go to war outside their territories. Libya is the scene of a civil conflict. The initiative to enforce a no-fly zone over it was aimed at protecting civilian life. In fact, however, the anti-Gaddafi coalition is raining bombs and rockets on Libya, in a manner that brings more and more civilian casualties. Protecting civilians and killing them are two things that do not mix.”
Putin enjoys a cult followship in Serbia and even has bridges and streets named after him. Several Serbian cities have awarded him honorary citizenship.
In Belgrade Wednesday, he met with members of Serbian biker clubs, a year after first seeing them in Sebastopol, and watched a youth football match between Belgrade’s Crvena Zvezda and St Petersburg’s Zenit