Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin's likely successor, reaffirmed Russia's commitment to defend Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo despite growing criticism from the West. (Report: L. Kammourieh)
BELGRADE, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Russia's likely next president,
Dmitry Medvedev, told Serbian leaders on Monday there would be
no shift in Moscow's support for Serbian sovereignty over
Medvedev, the Kremlin-backed frontrunner for president, met
pro-Western President Boris Tadic and nationalist Prime Minister
Vojislav Kostunica, who has long leaned on Moscow for help
against the secession of Serbia's southern province.
"The point of my brief visit was to express support to
Serbia" at a time when it faces Kosovo's secession, Medvedev
said. "We assume Serbia is a single state whose jurisdiction
covers all of its territory. We will stick to this position."
Currently Russia's first deputy prime minister, Medvedev is
expected to win a presidential election on Sunday. He was
travelling with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a signal that
Russian support for Belgrade would continue after his election.
He said the Feb. 17 declaration of independence by Kosovo's
Albanian majority leaders had "destroyed the international
system and international law that mankind has been building for
more than one hundred years".
"The declaration of independence has complicated the
situation in the region and in southern Europe," Medvedev said.
"This decision will project on to other regions, where problems
of status of separate territories are acute.
IN THE PIPELINE
As part of his visit, he signed an agreement with Belgrade
to create a joint company to build the Serbian arm of the South
Stream pipeline, a 10-billion-euro ($14.65-billion) project by
Russia's Gazprom and Italy's ENI to bring gas to Europe.
The deal under which Serbia joined South Stream in exchange
for allowing Gazprom to buy control of Serbian oil monopoly NIS
was widely seen as a politically-motivated agreement meant to
thank Russia for its support on the issue of Kosovo.
"This agreement shows that apart from the political aspect,
the cooperation between Serbia and Russia is ongoing on all
levels," said Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, a
nationalist who favours cooling ties with the West over its
support for Kosovo's independence.
He has ordered the withdrawal of Serb ambassadors from the
countries that have recognised Kosovo and was the main force
between the agreement on South Stream in January over the
objections of his liberal coalition partners.
"There cannot be a normalisation of relations with states
that have recognised Kosovo's independence until they annul
their decision," Kostunica said.
Belgrade lost control of Kosovo in 1999, when NATO expelled
Serb forces accused of ethnic cleansing while fighting a
guerrilla war. The United Nations supervised the territory for
almost nine years, and the EU is due to take over by summer.
Date created : 2008-02-25