By Bojana Barlovac
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has held talks on energy and Kosovo with Serbian President Boris Tadic in Belgrade.
Putin and Tadic talked behind closed doors for an hour and 45 minutes, an hour longer than planned.
Following their meeting, Tadic told reporters that Putin’s visit to Belgrade was very successful and would raise the level of cooperation between the two countries.
The president explained that he received assurances the South Stream natural gas pipeline project would go ahead as planned. Putin said the Serbian section of the pipeline was discussed today, adding that he informed his hosts about opportunities that it would bring to the Balkan country.
He stated that Russia’s oil and gas giant Gazprom, which recently bought a majority stake in Serbia’s previously state-owned oil company NIS, has already invested $250 million, and plans to spend a further $500 million this year.
The two leaders also addressed the situation in Kosovo, with Tadic noting that Russia had expressed continued support for Serbia’s position.
“We have the highest possible degree of agreement on international policy issues, while Russia’s contribution at the UN to the preservation of Serbia’s sovereignty and integrity in Kosovo and Metohija is of exceptional importance,” Tadic said.
Putin and Tadic discussed Russian support for Serbia’s initiative before the UN Security Council to have an independent investigator look into the claims made in Council of Europe rapporteur Dick Marty’s report of human organ trafficking in Kosovo and Albania.
The Marty report alleges that members of the Kosovo Liberation Army kidnapped and killed civilians in Kosovo in 1999 and 2000 and harvested their body parts.
“This is needed in order to identify all the culprits, so they can be tried, which would allow for reconciliation in the region,” Tadic explained.
Putin said that Russian companies will help Serbia build railway lines, while Serbian construction companies would participate in the preparation of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014 and the Football World Cup 2018.
“Russian companies will help Serbia build railway lines, and on the other hand, we would like to take advantage of the extensive experience of Serbian partners in building tourist facilities,” Putin said at the joint press conference with Serbian President Tadic.
Addressing Serbia’s European Union membership bid, Putin said that Moscow is not concerned about Serbia’s aspirations to join the bloc.
“We will carefully monitor this and work together so European integration does not harm Russian-Serbian relations,” Putin told reporters.
Tadic stressed that “the strategic orientation of Serbia is to be a member of the European Union” but that Serbia also has a “strategic interest regarding cooperation with Russia, including energy.”
“I do not see the possibility for the EU to solve its energy needs without a partnership with Russia,” Tadic said, and expressed confidence that “Serbia will be part of that arrangement.”
The two delegations signed several bilateral agreements in the fields of tourism, scientific cooperation and road transport.
Putin is also set to meet with his Serbian counterpart, Mirko Cvetkovic, and the Russian delegation will visit the Serbian parliament to meet parliament speaker Slavica Djukic Dejanovic and the heads of parliamentary groups. After this, Belgrade is set to host a special lunch for both delegations in the Presidency building.
Putin arrived in Belgrade this morning, and was welcomed by Serbian President Tadic and other Serbian officials.
Tadic said that the two countries are bound by centuries of friendly relations, explaining that Belgrade and Moscow have historical and spiritual ties, with similar languages and flags.
The Serbian president told reporters that they had “reached agreement to build relations for the future based on mutual interests”, announcing that Belgrade and Moscow would sign an agreement on strategic partnership in the coming months.
“That would not have materialized without your contribution,” Tadic said, addressing Putin.
“I was here ten years ago and want to see how Serbia is now,” Putin said.
As Putin’s visit to Belgrade will last only a few hours, it is not certain whether he will have time to meet with Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej, or watch the football match between Belgrade’s Red Star and St Petersburg’s Zenit, of which he is a huge fan, local media have reported.