BELGRADE (Reuters) – In his 1949 memoir Eastern Approaches, British officer Fitzroy Maclean wrote of standing on top of Belgrade’s fortress and watching the Nazis retreat across the River Sava, leaving the capital to the Red Army and Yugoslav Partisan guerrillas.
The date, Oct. 20, 1944 became Liberation Day. It was marked initially with military parades, but once Yugoslavia split with Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union in 1948, these were abandoned in favour of memorials for those killed.
On Thursday, guns, tanks and planes will be back in the city, now capital of Serbia, for a Liberation Day parade held four days early to accommodate the guest of honour — Russian President Vladimir Putin, en route to a summit in Milan.
It is a gesture with huge symbolism in a Cold-War-style East-West split over Ukraine that has forced Serbia, politically indebted to Russia but seeing its economic future with the European Union, into a delicate balancing act.
The United States is uncomfortable about the idea of Putin and his military chief taking the salute at a parade of 4,500 Serbian soldiers while NATO says Russian soldiers are still making war in eastern Ukraine.
“You can have good relations with Russia and China, and with the United States. But our view of visits by Chinese and Russian officials differs; the Chinese haven’t attacked anyone, but the Russians have,” Michael Kirby, the U.S. ambassador to Serbia, was reported as telling the Serbian daily Vecernje Novosti in an interview last month.
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