"Lavrov to check Belgrade's readiness to turn toward Moscow"

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is in Belgrade "formally in order to prepare the visit of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev."

Source: Beta
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(Thinkstock)

That is what the Moscow-based newspaper Kommersant is writing on Monday, according to the Beta agency.

However, continued the daily, "the results of the talks should show to what extent Belgrade is ready to orient its foreign policy toward Moscow."

The article states that "the main objectives of the official visit are to make an inventory of bilateral relations and prepare Medvedev's visit, which had been long planned but delayed several times."

Kommersant reminds its readers that Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said recently there were "no unsolved issues" and adds, citing "unnamed sources close to the Serbian government" that Moscow "not only to insist on the visit having serious contents, but is effectively tying its realization to resolving of the status of the (Russian-Serbian) humanitarian center in Nis."

According to this, Moscow wants the Russians working at the center to have diplomatic immunity, analogous to the rights granted to NATO soldiers in the territory of Serbia. "Belgrade is delaying the decision, fearing problems in relations with the EU, which is strongly opposed to granting diplomatic status (to the Russians), and considers it a step towards creating a military base," writes the daily.

The newspaper said, again citing sources in Belgrade, that it was "unlikely that (PM) Vucic's stance will change during his talks with Lavrov, all the more so since the EU decided to strengthen Vucic's position."

The newspaper notes that on Tuesday, while Lavrov is still in Belgrade, "the decision is expected in Brussels to open new chapters in EU (accession) negotiations with Serbia."

The pushing of EU negotiations with Belgrade is also explained by Kommersant's sources "in Western diplomatic circles in the Balkans" as "the fear of Brussels that Serbia could change the political course and turn toward Russia."

The paper writes that Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic favors closer ties with Moscow, while Vucic is "more in favor of balancing between Russia and the West."

"But, since Nikolic's mandate expires in the spring, he will not be able to run again without Vucic's support. The prime minister is in no hurry to offer such support and is not ruling out he may run himself," adds Kommersant.

The newspaper said that "sources close to the Serbian government" are not ruling out that Lavrov will during his visit to Belgrade "make it clear that Nikolic is an absolutely acceptable candidate as far as Moscow is concerned."

Russia has "economic leverage to influence Belgrade," said the daily, adding that there have been "negotiations for several months on the delivery of six MIG-29s to Serbia under conditions that suit the Serbian side."

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