Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russian Film Draws 'Balkan Line' In Kremlin's Effort To Shore Up Support

Russian soldiers entered Kosovo from Bosnia and seized Pristina Airport in 1999. (file photo)

A Russian film company is revisiting Moscow's history of involvement in the Balkan conflicts two decades ago as the Kremlin works to solidify and expand its influence and blunt Serbia's Western aspirations.

Upgrade Vision film is ramping up final production for the 2019 release of what it calls a "heroic drama" titled The Balkan Line. It's a fictionalized account of a June 1999 standoff between a small contingent of Russian forces and their NATO counterparts at the Slatina air base at Pristina Airport in Kosovo.

Support for Russian politics is growing in Serbian society, while some Serbs in the public sector have become the "bearers of the Russian idea" and aid in supporting positive perceptions of Russia's military, according to analyst Aleksandar Radic.

"This is part of the Balkan atmosphere at the moment," he told RFE/RL.

Longtime Russian ally Serbia has become a major target of the Kremlin's anti-Western operations in Europe. With Belgrade eyeing European Union membership, Moscow has played up their shared eastern Orthodox Christianity and deep cultural and historical ties.

'Russian Balkans Tour'

In March, nearly two dozen members of the Russian nationalist motorcycle group Night Wolves visited Banja Luka, the administrative center of Bosnia's predominantly Serb entity, Republika Srpska, as part of what they called a "Russian Balkans" tour.

The Balkan Line portends to be a further extension of that soft-power push by President Vladimir Putin.

In June 1999, about 200 Russian soldiers entered Kosovo from Bosnia and seized the airport. Moscow was said to have been unhappy over not being given a leadership role in supervising any of the regions that Kosovo had been divided into.

The move took NATO command by surprise and threatened to derail a fragile peace agreement while helping the Kremlin ensure that Russia had a role in the peacekeeping process.

After several hours, the standoff ended with the Russians and Serbs being given control of the northern part of the former Yugoslavia's most sophisticated airports, while British troops manned the southern end.

Serbia 'Strongly Impacted'

Russia has been a staunch supporter of Serbia's refusal to recognize the sovereignty of Kosovo since the government in Pristina proclaimed independence in 2008.

One of the authors of the film, who asked to not be identified because of the sensitive nature of the topic, told RFE/RL that, in the screenplay, "the emphasis is placed on the fact that Serbia is a strongly impacted party in the conflict."

"Numerous events in Kosovo have been invented in order to boost the NATO bombing and this will be uncovered in the film," the writer added.

Bosnian-born Serb filmmaker Emir Kustarica (right) receives an award from Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2016.
Bosnian-born Serb filmmaker Emir Kustarica (right) receives an award from Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2016.

The film, directed by Andrey Volgin and starring Yury Kutsenko, Anton Pampushnyy, and Gojko Mitic, is said to be supported financially by both the Serbian and Russian culture ministries.

"Historians consider these events as the worst deterioration of relations between Russia and the West since the time of the Cuban missile crisis, " the Russian Culture Ministry said in a statement, though it did not confirm its support role for the film. "The Balkan Line talks about the operation, whose details are still not known to the public to this day."

The film, part of which was filmed in Crimea, has already created a stir in the Balkans.

Bosnian-born Serb filmmaker Emir Kusturica, who in 2016 was awarded Russia's Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin, visited the set, raising eyebrows.

Meanwhile, the Myrotvorets website, which reveals personal details of people it considers "enemies of Ukraine," has published the names of Serbs who were involved in the project, accusing them of participating in propaganda activities and the institutionalization of Russia's Crimean annexation.