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Putin, Vucic to discuss bilateral ties, mounting tensions in Balkan region

The negotiations will be held amid the growing tensions around Kosovo and their agenda will include a broad range of issues

MOSCOW, October 2. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to hold a meeting on Tuesday with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who is paying a working visit to Russia.

The negotiations will be held amid the growing tensions around Kosovo and their agenda will include a broad range of issues.

The Kremlin press service said on Monday that the Russian and Serbian leaders "will discuss key issues of further development of Russian-Serbian relations, as well as topical regional and international issues".

Earlier, Vucic said he intended to discuss with Putin the situation in Kosovo and Metohija and request his support.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday "this meeting was scheduled back several months ago, that is why it is not related to the growing tensions in the region". He stressed that the mounting tensions in the Balkan region will be included in the talks’ agenda like other issues. Peskov said "the peoples of the two countries share a common history, warm feelings and extensive trade-economic ties," noting that Serbia is a long-term partner of Russia.

Tensions around Kosovo

On September 29, more than one hundred Kosovo commandos intruded into Kosovo’s Serbian enclaves in the north of the territory, which is prohibited under international treaties. The commandos took positions around Gazivoda Lake, put under control the Gazivoda hydropower plant and intruded into the Ecology and Development Center in Zubin Potok. According to the director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija, Marko Djuric, this was done to ensure security of leader of the self-proclaimed Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, during his visit to the region’s north.

In response, the Serbian president put the country’s armed forces and special police units on high alert and voiced protest to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Vucic told reporters he plans to discuss this situation at his meeting with the Russian leader on Tuesday. "We will be speaking about the issues of concern for Serbia, therefore the situation in Kosovo and Metohija will be definitely the focus [of the talks]," Vucic said. "We will inform Putin of the latest developments and will ask for his support at all international forums. We will ask him for advice, no doubt."

Asked by reporters if he, like Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, would request Russia for military assistance, Vucic vowed he would do his utmost to preserve peace in the region. "I would prefer Serbia - with all our respect and love for Syria and its people - to be a peaceful country, a country with developed economy, a country of the future and I will do my best to preserve peace," he noted.

Serbia’s Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija unilaterally proclaimed independence in February 2008, which was recognized by the United Nations Court of Justice in 2010. By now, according to Belgrade, Kosovo has been recognized by 105 world nations, while Pristina says there are 117 such countries. More than 60 countries, including Russia, China, India, Israel and also five EU member-states, oppose recognizing Kosovo’s independence.

Over the past months, Belgrade and Pristina have been actively discussing a compromise solution related to border changes and exchanging territories. The United States backs this idea insisting that a final deal should be reached on changing the borders of Serbia and the unrecognized republic. German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposes changing borders in the Balkan region stressing that all regional states have the prospect of joining the European community.

Regular contacts

The Kremlin underlines that the upcoming talks come as a follow-up to regular working contacts between the leadership of Russia and Serbia. Last time, Vucic visited Russia in May 2018 to attend celebrations dedicated to the 73rd anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945). The Serbian leader took part in the so-called Immortal Regiment procession together with Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and laid flowers to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow.

The previous meeting between Putin and Vucic took place at the Kremlin in December 2017. Vucic also met with the Russian leader when he served as Serbia’s prime minister (2014-2017).

Putin and Vucic hold meetings and telephone conversations on a regular basis. In March, the Serbian president congratulated Putin on his re-election. Several days later, they held another telephone call, discussing the expulsion of Russian diplomats from a number of European countries. The Serbian president stressed that Belgrade would not join these measures.

During the first day of his visit to Moscow, Vucic had a private program. Together with his daughter Milica and Serbian actor Milos Bikovic, he visited Moscow’s Zaryadye Park and watched a new concert hall there, which was built with the assistance of Serbian specialists.