ROAR: “Russia to strengthen presence in the Balkans”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Moscow will continue to contribute to Serbia’s political and economic stability, analysts believe.

President Dmitry Medvedev is in Belgrade on October 20 on the first-ever visit of a Russian head of state to Serbia. His trip coincides with celebrations in Belgrade marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the city from Nazi forces.

Many Serbian politicians and media have already called Medvedev’s trip “historic,” stressing that the two countries have similar approaches to many international issues. The main topics to be discussed during the visit will be the Kosovo problem and the cooperation in the oil and gas sphere.

In recent years, Moscow and Belgrade “have significantly strengthened political relations and Russia’s assistance to Serbia in its struggle for Kosovo has contributed to this,” Kommersant daily wrote.

“Although this struggle did not prevent the proclamation of independence of the province in February 2008, Moscow and Belgrade have become strategic partners,” the paper said.

Prior to his visit to Serbia, President Dmitry Medvedev told the Serbian newspaper Evening News: “Despite the efforts by the champions of Kosovo independence, it appears impossible to present it as an irreversible process and to close the case.”

Medvedev believes that “there is an alternative to unlawfulness.”

“Without Serbia’s final word, no one will argue that the Kosovo question is settled,” he said.

However Kommersant wrote, citing its sources close to the Russian delegation that “Moscow and Belgrade understand it is hardly real to radically change the situation after 60 countries recognized the independence of Kosovo.”

“Taking this into account, Moscow has decided to underpin the strategic partnership with Serbia with a durable economic foundation,” the daily said. The main aim of Medvedev’s visit is “to convert the partnership into the expansion of the Russian presence in Serbia, first of all the economic one,” the paper added.

The Russian president is expected to sign agreements about the construction of a gas storage facility, the Russian loan to Serbia and a number of infrastructure projects. Serbia is waiting for the agreements that Medvedev should sign, even more than celebrations marking the anniversary of the liberation, RBC daily noted.

Medvedev’s visit will strengthen Russia’s relations with “one of its main partners in the Balkans,” Maksim Minaev, analyst at the Center for Political Conjuncture, said.

Belgrade helps to promote Russia’s interests in the region, despite the fact that Serbia’s political leadership, headed by President Boris Tadic, “is pursuing policies aimed at integrating into the European Union,” the analyst added.

Medvedev will address the Serbian parliament. “So far no head of a foreign state has addressed the Skupstina [the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia],” the Russian president’s press secretary, Natalya Timakova, said.

The political closeness of Moscow and Belgrade on the Kosovo issue has strengthened economic cooperation, RBC daily noted. Last year Serbia joined the South Stream project, and Russia’s Gazpromneft bought the local oil monopoly NIS.

The Serbian government has asked Russia to grant a $1.5 billion loan to weather the economic crisis. About $520 million of the sum will cover Serbia’s budget deficit, and the rest of it will be spent on joint projects in infrastructure. Among them are several projects on the modernization of Serbian railways with the assistance of Russian Railways.

A political decision about the loan is expected to be announced during Medvedev’s visit, Kommersant wrote, adding that the details of the deal will be determined later.

“Russia is interested in maintaining political and economic stability in Serbia,” Petr Klyuev of the 2K Audit – Business Consultations company believes. “This is why Russia may grant a loan to Belgrade,” he told website.

Some analysts also believe that Russia now has “more than a real chance” of strengthening positions of the South Stream project. Dmitry Aleksandrov of the Financial Bridge investment company told the same website that “partners in the Nabucco project have financial difficulties.”

On the other hand, if Gazprom gets the financial support of its partners, it may expect success in the realization of the South Stream, the analyst added.

During Medvedev’s visit, Gazprom and Srbijagas will sign the agreement on the modernization of Banatski Dvor gas storage facility. “This will actually become the beginning of the realization of bilateral agreements in the gas sphere,” RBC daily said.

Another document that may be signed during the trip is an agreement about the cooperation in preventing natural disasters and rectification of their consequences. A regional base for this purpose may be established, Kommersant wrote.

According to the paper, the idea of creating such a base belongs to Russian Emergency Minister Sergey Shoigy. The realization of these plans “will strengthen the Russian presence in the Balkans, and not only economic one,” the paper added.

As a confirmation of this, on the eve of Medvedev’s visit Russian ambassador to Serbia Aleksandr Konuzin and Deputy Mayor of Belgrade Milan Krkobabic unveiled a monument to the great Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin. The two-meter monument was erected at a park in the Serbian capital on the initiative of Russian veterans of WWII.

Konuzin is also said to have proposed returning “old Yugoslavian” names to several streets in Belgrade. They were named after Soviet generals who fought in the country during WWII.

However, sources in the Russian embassy in Belgrade told RBC daily that the initiative to rename streets belongs to locals in Belgrade, and Konuzin “is simply supporting them,” the paper said.

Sergey Borisov, RT