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1ST LEAD Russia's Lavrov visits Belgrade to assert close ties By Boris Babic, dpa

Europe
21.02.2018
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Belgrade (dpa) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Belgrade on Wednesday for a two-day visit aimed at reinforcing traditionally close ties with the Balkan country, even as its aspirations for EU membership begin to gain traction.

Russia and Serbia are partners, he said in a joint news conference with President Aleksandar Vucic, and Moscow welcomes Belgrade‘s efforts on the path to the European Union, but also with the Eurasian Economic Union.

"We always wanted partners to have a free choice and develop their political ties," he said.

In an interview with the Serbian Beta news agency published on Monday, he accused NATO of provoking a power struggle with Russia in the Balkans and voiced expectations that Serbia will not, regardless of its EU bid, abandon its relationship with Moscow.

Vucic said that he handed Lavrov an invitation to President Vladimir Putin to visit and pledged to maintain close ties with Moscow, hinting that it may put Belgrade under Western pressure.

"Serbia is on the European path, but will continue to build best relations with Russia," Vucic said. "I presume there will be different wishes and pressure for those relations to go in the opposite direction, but Serbia will stay on the same line." 

Serbia has been performing a diplomatic juggling act with its EU membership ambitions, boosted this month by an EU plan for enlargement in the Western Balkans, and ties with Moscow.

For example, Serbia has refused to participate in Western sanctions against Russia.

In return, Russia is blocking Serbia‘s mostly Albanian breakaway province Kosovo from joining the United Nations.

On Thursday, Lavorv was scheduled to attend the unveiling of a mosaic adorning the interior of the massive dome in St Sava‘s Cathedral and meet Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic.

Lavrov arrived from Ljubljana after attending meetings in Slovenia.

 

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