There were 76, but they were dubbed the 'Russian 100' —lifesavers flown in from Moscow within hours of an appeal for help from Serbia as the heaviest rainfall in more than a century inundated the Balkans in May.

Brits, Austrians and Bulgarians arrived too, deployed by the European Union to aid an aspiring member of the bloc. But the Russians arrived first, and in force. "Crazy brave," was how Serbia's prime minister described them.

Russia at the time was earning the ire of the West for dismembering Ukraine, so the public relations in the Balkans was priceless. "They won the day," said one Western diplomat.