The Novorossiya Movement, an organisation run by notorious Russian army veteran Igor Strelkov, has given Serbian citizen Stevan Milosevic its ‘Protector of Novorossiya’ award for fighting on the pro-Russian separatist side in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Milosevic, who is among 29 Serbs convicted by Serbian courts since 2015 for fighting with pro-Russian units in Ukraine, said he welcomed the award, which he received on Sunday.
“It is meaningful to me personally because it is reminiscent of the symbols of the warriors of the old Slavs, our people who were together during our history. It means that I earned it and did something good,” Milosevic told BIRN.
Despite receiving a five-year suspended sentence in Serbia, Milosevic went back to the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine in 2015.
Asked if he intended to return to Serbia and face justice, Milosevic said he did, and added that “as the father of a child I will ask for house arrest, and I will be ready to cooperate”.
In 2014, Serbia passed a law prohibiting citizens from fighting on foreign battlefields with military and paramilitary formations, unless part of an official mission of an international organisation of which Serbia is a member. Penalties range from six months to five years in jail.
Prison terms have been suspended on the condition that those convicted do not commit the same offence again within a set time period – usually between one and five years.
Milosevic’s award was signed by Strelkov, who played a significant role in organising separatist fighters in the Donetsk area, as he also did during Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Strelkov is on the European Union’s sanctions list for his actions.
Milosevic said that the ‘Protector of Novorossiya’ award is given to those who have fought since 2014 for the idea of Novorossiya (New Russia) and the unity of Slavs everywhere.
Novorossiya was the name for a proposed confederation of the two separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, although the idea was subsequently dropped.
Serbian fighters among pro-Russian separatist groups in Ukraine are one of the reasons for the currently strained relations between Belgrade and Kiev. Ukraine estimates that about 300 Serbs are or have been fighting on its territory.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Belgrade, Oleksandr Aleksandrovych, told BIRN in November 2017 that the Serbian authorities were ignoring the issue, which he believed had been complicated by Serbia’s close ties with Russia.
In December, Serbia was once again the only Balkan country to back Moscow and vote against the UN General Assembly resolution urging Russia to withdraw its military forces from annexed Crimea. Bosnia and Herzegovina abstained.
Meanwhile Russia has regularly condemned Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008, and has repeatedly voted against the membership of Kosovo in international institutions in line with Belgrade’s policies.
In turn, Serbia has refused to join Western sanctions on Russia for its perceived role in fomenting the conflict in Ukraine, despite numerous calls from Brussels reminding Serbia that – as an EU candidate country – it needs to align its foreign policy with that of the EU.