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Putin accuses West of 'destabilizing' the Balkans

Putin accuses West of 'destabilizing' the Balkans

One day before arriving in Belgrade, Putin, in an interview with Serbian newspapers Novosti and Politika, revealed that he is carrying a "strong" package of proposals in his luggage.

The affection for Moscow is fanned by its unyielding support on the emotive issue of Kosovo, a former Serbian province that broke away in a 1998-99 guerilla war.

Putin, who was accompanied during the visit to the church by Vucic and Serbia's Orthodox Patriarch, Irinej, addressed the crowds, thanking the Serbian people "for its friendship".

Of Serbia's eight neighbours, five are North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members and two more are seeking membership; four are in the European Union and two more are working towards accession.

"Welcome honoured President Putin, dear friend", read one of many billboards around the city bearing a mix of Russian and Serbian flags.

In turn, Serbia has refused to join Western sanctions on Russian Federation for its perceived role in fomenting conflict in Ukraine, despite reminders from Brussels stating that Serbia - as an EU candidate country - needs to align its foreign policy with that of the union.

In a ceremony, Putin presented Vučić with the Order of Alexander Nevsky, which in the past has been awarded to the autocratic leaders of Kremlin-friendly, post-Soviet countries.

The Russian president's visit was celebrated on the streets by tens of thousands of Serbs who marched through the capital in a parade supporting the two leaders.

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Putin's stopover comes as long-running EU-sponsored talks to normalise ties between Serbia and Kosovo have taken a dip, and appear to be going nowhere fast.

But it "is more an emotional than a rational relationship", explained Serbian economic analyst Biljana Stepanovic.

Speaking during the visit, Vucic said that "Without Russia.it is clear that there will be no solution" over Kosovo.

If Macedonia succeeds, all countries bordering Serbia - which does not aspire to join - will be in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation sphere, with the exception of Bosnia due to the veto of its Serb population.

"The EU is falling apart, when we will join it will not exist anymore", the 66-year-old told AFP.

Putin however accused the West of pressuring Macedonia and Montenegro, a new North Atlantic Treaty Organisation candidate, against the will of their people. Whether successful or not, partition in pursuit of ethnic homogenization of any state in the Balkans could trigger demands for secession, annexation, or border changes in several potential flash points, including the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, western Macedonia, and the Muslim-majority Sandžak region divided between Montenegro and Serbia. Serbia remains Moscow's only ally in the region.

"Russia shares the concern of Serbian leadership and citizens because these moves can lead to a destabilization of the Balkans", Putin added. He revealed that GazProm's plans are to reach the South Stream pipeline through Serbia and Hungary to Austria, where there is a large gas distribution center to Central Europe.