Aleksandar Vucic
© Sputnik / Mikhail Klementyev
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaks at a joint press conference with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, on December 4, 2019.
NATO would not have bombed Serbia in 1999 if Vladimir Putin had been the Russian president then, said Serbian leader Aleksandar Vucic praising friendly relations between Moscow and Belgrade.

Vucic believes Serbians value the current Russian leader more than any in recent history, as they are confident of Moscow's steadfast support of their nation's sovereignty.

"We believe that in 1999, if Putin had already been president there would have never been a bombing of Serbia," Vucic told journalists at a press conference following his talks with the Russian leader in Sochi on Wednesday.

He said that the Serbs would also never "forget 2012 when Mr. Putin saved us from the West designating us a people that practice genocide." He was referring to the time when Russia blocked a UN resolution, backed by the US and the UK, which would recognize 1995 Srebrenica massacre - a tragic event from the Bosnian War - as genocide, while blaming solely the Serbs for the events of the said civil war.

Serbia traditionally enjoys cordial relationship with Russia, partly due to close historical and cultural ties. Putin in particular appears to have sway among the Serbs due to his stance on the 1999 NATO bombing of what was then still called Yugoslavia.

The Russian president has also repeatedly expressed his support for Serbia's territorial integrity, guaranteed by the UN Security Council Resolution 1244, that calls for "substantial autonomy" for the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo but still says that its final status should be determined by the UN. The resolution thus means that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence, made outside of the UN framework in 2008, is null and void.

Russia and Serbia are among about half the world's governments that do not recognize Kosovo.

Putin's firm line is often contrasted in Serbia with that of his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, who went no further than verbal condemnations of NATO at the UN during the 1999 bombing campaign. The Alliance carried out 900 sorties during the brutal 78-day war, which officially claimed at least 758 civilian lives and sided with an ethnic Albanian insurgency in Kosovo against the government in Belgrade.