President "loves only Serbia more than Russia"

MOSCOW -- The presidents of Russia and Serbia Vladimir Putin and Tomislav Nikolić will meet on Tuesday in Sochi, Russia.

Tomislav Nikolić and Vladimir Putin are seen during a previous meeting (Tanjug, file)
Tomislav Nikolić and Vladimir Putin are seen during a previous meeting (Tanjug, file)

According to announcements from the Kremlin, they will discuss deepening bilateral relations, with a focus on the priority areas of economic and energy cooperation, including the realization of the strategic South Stream project.

They will also talk about current international issues, including preservation of stability in the Balkan region.

The release made no mention of any agreement signings, even though the two countries have been expected to ink a strategic partnership deal since last year.

Ahead of the meeting between the two presidents, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov visited Belgrade, while Serbia's First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and Minister of Mining Milan Bacevic have visited Moscow in recent weeks to discuss, among other things, a potential Russian loan intended for assistance to the Serbian state budget.

Titov met with President Nikolić, Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and Foreign Minister Ivan Mrkic, and according to a release issued by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both sides expressed interest in expanding investment partnerships and creating more favorable conditions for Russian businesses in Serbia, while also reaffirming their shared views on the issue of Kosovo.

Serbian president is "Russophile"

Ahead of his meeting with Vladimir Putin, Tomislav Nikolić spoke for Russia's Channel One TV in an exclusive interview, that will be aired in Moscow on Tuesday.

He told Russian reporters that Serbia expects Russia to lend a helping hand in this "most difficult" moment, so that the country could "surmount some barriers in the empty (state) budget that were inherited by the new authorities":

"My expectations are big, huge. First, it is a great honor to speak to the president of the Russian Federation for the second time in three months - that's a sign that there is mutual desire to cooperate much better than before."

"I expect to discuss completely openly what is possible and what is in the interest of the Russian Federation, that would also help Serbia. You can ask me whether I'm satisfied when I get back," Nikolić said, but added that he was "already satisfied" because he knew that the meeting "cannot go without producing mutual benefit".

The Serbian president noted that the relations forged by the two countries are now at the level of a strategic partnership, even though an agreement formalizing this has not been signed yet.

According to Nikolić, Putin's victory in the presidential election in Russia and the outcome of the elections in Serbia, made it possible for the two countries to have "close and firm cooperation based on economic motives and friendship".

Asked whether there were any differences regarding the strategic partnership document compared to what former Serbian President Boris Tadić had in mind, Nikolić replied:

"I think it is only natural and normal for all Serbian presidents to have ideas on how to achieve as strong and as good as possible cooperation with Russia - but this did not happen in practice. The difference between myself and the others is that whatever we plan we will agree on, and whatever we agree on we will implement."

The president also said that in the past few months he noticed a new quality in the inter-state relations - it was no longer based only on recalling the past, our common history, religion, language - but also on the interests of the people in Serbia and Russia:

"What the two peoples are showing - and that is great love - their state leaderships must not and should not prevent. Our task is not to convince Russians and Serbs that they should cooperate, it seems the leaderships are the ones who need convincing - the people are completely decided. It was obvious during only one football game attended by Putin (in Belgrade), it was obvious during a recent air show in Belgrade..."

Nikolić stressed that his role was to "follow the will of the people", and that Serbia's cooperation with Russia was "utterly sincere", while the country is convinced that Russia is the rock it can rely on. Serbia is also motivated to pursue this cooperation "with a desire to fulfill other conditions that will normalize relations within Serbia, arrange it in a democratic manner so that we could possibly count on becoming an EU member".

He rejected claims of his political opponents in Serbia that he wished to make the country "a Russian province", admitting, however, to being a Russophile.

"The only thing I love more than Russia is Serbia," said the Serbian president, and added that "it was of utmost importance that Russia was a permanent member of the UN Security Council, which will never accept Kosovo and Metohija as independent - which makes Serbia's struggle easier".

Nikolić also accused previous authorities in Serbia of "never being sincere either towards Russia or towards Brussels (EU)", and proclaimed his intention that the country will now approach "everyone, friends in particular" in a sincere manner.

"We have no enemies in the world," asserted the president. "We only have lesser and greater friends. As for our relations with Russia, they will be completely open, just as they are with the EU. The EU will never hear a lie from me."

Speaking about the possibilities of military cooperation, Nikolić said there were agreements in place that will be realized with the goal of providing Serbia and Russia with joint products and entering third markets together. However, he added that it was "not true" that the Serbian military would be armed with Russian weapons.

Asked by the Russian reporters what he thought was Russia's interest to invest in the Serbian economy, he said that such investments "suited him" - while it was "up to Russia to worry about and explain its interest in investing in Serbia".

Nikolić also commented on announcements that President Putin could visit Serbia in December, to say that this is yet to be discussed, but that "it would be good if both presidents attended the start of construction works of the South Streeam pipeline in Serbia". The Serbian president noted that this investment was worth USD 1.9bn, and denied as false reports in some Russian media that Moscow was asking Serbia "to in return recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia".