Putin: Unlike the West, we're not making Serbia choose

Russian President Vladimir Putin says his country respect the Serbian leadership's decision to join the EU.

Source: Tanjug
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(Tanjug/AP, file)
(Tanjug/AP, file)

"Unlike our Western partners, we do not try to pose an artificial dilemma for Belgrade and make Serbia choose whether to be with Russia or with the European Union," Putin said in an interview for Serbian dailies Politika and Vecernje Novosti.

The Russian leader - who is due to arrive here on Thursday on an official visit - also said that while Russia has many friends in the Balkans - "our strategic partner Serbia occupies a special place."

"To be honest, we were surprised by a rather passive response from the European Union to the decision by Kosovo's 'parliament' to transform the Kosovo Security Forces into a full-fledged army," Putin said, and added:

"It is clear that the Serbs living in the province perceive this step as a direct threat to their security. More broadly, it involves serious risks of escalating the situation in the region. It is hardly in the EU's interest to turn a blind eye to such unilateral actions, which blatantly violate international law, especially if Brussels wants to continue acting as a mediator in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina."

"We highly appreciate that the Serbian leadership remains firmly committed to maintaining neutrality," the Russian president said. "At the same time, over the years we have helped Serbia to enhance its defense capability by supplying arms and military equipment and providing maintenance and modernization support. We will continue to develop military and technical cooperation."

When it comes to the situation in the Balkans, the Russian leader said, "a serious destabilizing factor there is the policy of the US and some other Western countries aimed at securing their dominance in the region."

"As early as in 1999 NATO forces – without any UN authorization –bombed Yugoslavia for two and a half months and forcedly detached the Autonomous Province of Kosovo. And in 2008, Washington and its allies supported the illegitimate declaration of Kosovo's independence," he recalled.

The in 2017, "despite the stance of half of its population, Montenegro was absorbed into NATO."

"The authorities did not risk holding any relevant referendum – as a result, the country is suffering political instability. To ensure an accelerated accession of the Republic of Macedonia to NATO even the process of constitutional amendment and State renaming was launched last year along with the revision of the foundations of Macedonian national identity. However, the will of the Macedonian voters was ignored – the referendum on changing the State's name failed but the pressure from outside persists," the president said.

"Our country, knowing and understanding all the complexity of the Balkans and the region's history, has always regarded it as space for constructive cooperation," Putin continued.

"Thus, our unconditional priority is to contribute to enhancing regional security and stability. We support respect for the rights and interests of the Balkan countries and peoples as well as for international law," he said.

Putin stressed that good relations between Russia and Serbia are based on a true friendship between our peoples, which dates back many centuries, as well as on their spiritual and cultural kinship, shared history, including their heroic struggle against Nazism during World War II.

According to him, bilateral relations in all spheres are on the rise, with mutual trade is growing: "In 2017, the turnover reached USD 2 billion, having also retained the upward trend last year."

"Russian investments in Serbia's economy have exceeded $4 billion. Cooperation with the Gazprom Neft conglomerate made it possible for the Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS) company to become a leader on the Balkan regional energy market. The reconstruction and modernization of Serbia's railway infrastructure is proceeding at a good pace with the participation of RZD (Russian Railways)," Putin stressed.

As for the TurkStream project, he continued, "it follows its implementation schedule."

"In November 2018, the pipe-laying stage was completed on the sea leg of the pipeline; works are underway to connect it to the terminal being constructed on the Turkish Black Sea coast. The plan is to put the gas pipeline into full operation by the end of 2019," the president said, and added:

"Besides, Gazprom is currently exploring various options to extend the land-based part of the transit leg towards Europe. One of the options is to transport fuel via Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary to the gas hub in Baumgarten, Austria. In this case, Serbia will not only use Russian gas but also facilitate its transit. This will greatly benefit the Serbian economy, help create new jobs and strengthen energy security in your country and, more broadly, in central and southeastern Europe. The roadmap signed between Serbia and Gazprom in 2017 for modernizing and expanding the national gas transporting network will facilitate Serbia's participation in the project."

"Of course, we will take into account the European Commission's position when deciding on the route for Russian gas supplies. We assume that EU member states interested in Russian gas should seek guarantees from the European Union that the plans to extend the TurkStream will not be thwarted by an arbitrary political decision on the part of Brussels," Putin said.

The president also remarked that cooperation with the Serb Republic (RS) - the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina - is "mutually beneficial in strict compliance with the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement."

"We intend to further implement our projects in both the RS and the entire territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina in such areas as energy, oil refining, trade in fuel, banking, pharmaceuticals, etc," Putin said.

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