European Western Balkans

“Putin stabbed a knife into Serbia’s back”: Tabloids turn against Russian President for the first time

President of Russia Vladimir Putin addressing the nation on 21 February 2022; Photo: Kremlin.ru

BELGRADE – Today’s editions of the leading pro-government tabloids in Serbia published front pages with highly critical headlines about Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time since the war in Ukraine began.

The headlines are a reaction to the statement of the Russian President on 26 April that the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics have the same right to decide on their sovereignty without the permission of the central government as does Kosovo.

“Putin stabbed a knife into Serbia’s back: He traded Kosovo for Donbas” is the biggest headline on the front page of today’s Srpski telegraf.

Other tabloids also published negative reactions to the statement: “We pay the price for the global conflict: Putin plays the Kosovo card” (Informer), “Celebration in Pristina, Zagreb and Sarajevo after Putin’s statement” (Alo), “The bare interest: Putin protects the interests of Russia… without taking into account Serbia’s position over Kosovo” (Kurir).

Putin has already referred to the case of Kosovo in the past, using it to justify the annexation of Crimea. However, there have been no harsh reactions from these newspapers until today.

The tabloids are seen as close to the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, which is assumed to have an influence over their editorial policy. They are the papers with the highest circulation in Serbia.

These newspapers have been firmly pro-Russian in their reporting for years, often publishing lavish praise of Putin as the protector of Serbia’s interests in the world, particularly over Kosovo. They have also been the source of disinformation about the war in Ukraine and Russia in general, with a famous headline “Ukraine attacked Russia” published by Informer on 22 February.

The reporting of the tabloids has evolved rapidly since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. It featured openly supportive headlines in favor of Russia in the early days of the invasion, followed by a more neutral stance towards Kyiv and Moscow, but with a consistent interpretation according to which the West and Ukraine itself are the main culprits for the conflict.

Serbia has been facing increasing diplomatic pressure from the United States and the EU to align with the sanctions on Russia in recent weeks.

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