Despite, the tumultuous welcome in Serbia for Vladimir Putin, Russia-Serbia relations are not as good as they seem, Russian and Serbian journalists commented on the hidden tensions in their reactions to the Russian President's visit to Serbia.
The Serbian leadership wants the country to join the EU, but in order to do so it first has to recognize Kosovo. Serbian President Alexander Vucic well understands that acceding to this demand could cost him the next elections, scheduled for early 2020. As Maxim Samorukov (see below), Deputy Editor at the Carnegie Moscow Center, explains, Russian President Vladimir Putin is viewed by Serbs as a far more reliable defender of Serbian interests than Vucic. The Kremlin repeatedly upheld Serbia's territorial integrity by refusing to recognize Kosovo. "So if, inspired by the prospects of joining the EU, Vucic indeed dares to recognize Kosovo without Russia's approval, the Kremlin will easily be able to destroy him as a politician," Samorukov wrote.
Nevertheless, Samorukov further explained that Vucic visited Moscow last fall in the hope that Moscow would support a possible deal on Kosovo. However, Moscow has no interest in doing so. A settlement of the Kosovo conflict would mean that Serbia could join the EU, paving the way to possible membership in NATO. While, for Russia, Serbia's admission to the EU is unimportant, Serbia's ascension to NATO represents a threat for Moscow.
Vucic has repeatedly floated in the media his "demarcation plan" for solving the Kosovo issue, which has been interpreted as a territory swap. Serbian expert Dr. Stevan Gayich, a researcher at the Belgrade-based Institute for European Studies, warned in the Russian media outlet Regnum.ru against any compromise. Gyich further added that Moscow should avoid Vucic's trap, and stated that "it's hard to imagine a worse enemy for Russia, than Vucic."
Below is a survey of reactions to Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Serbia:
Vladimir Putin presented Alexandar Vucic with a state decoration of the Russian Federation – the Order of Alexander Nevsky – for his major personal contribution to the advancement of multilateral cooperation with Russia. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
Serbian Expert Novakovic: Vucic's Attitude To Putin Has Been More In Accord With Serbia Being A Region Of Russia Than A Potential EU Member
In an article for the Valdai Club, President of the Adriatic Council (Belgrade, Serbia) Dejan Novakovic wondered whether Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Belgrade may cast a shadow on Serbia's acceptance to the EU. "The numerous opponents of EU expansion will see this as proof that Serbia is 'a small Russia' in the Balkans, and that Serbia's admission to the EU could create a Russian alliance within the EU, which is inadmissible," Novakovic wrote.
Novakovic added: "It is significant that Vucic has confirmed Serbia's neutral policy, while Chairman of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency Milorad Dodik said that Bosnia and Herzegovina would do its best to avoid joining NATO. Taken together, these statements by Vucic and Dodik could create a major obstacle to Serbia's European integration. Although the EU is Serbia's largest donor and the country has been identified as a potential candidate for EU membership, Putin's visit can be interpreted as a message from Serbia that the EU cannot consider the matter of its expansion in the Balkans as closed, and possibly that its expansion is over. This is definitely Serbia's response to Brussels' lack of resolve on imposing sanctions on Kosovo over its 100 percent tariffs on imports from Serbia, which costs Belgrade 40 million euros a month… Serbia continues to emphasize that strategically it is looking towards the EU, but Putin's visit could cast a shadow on this statement, because Vucic's attitude to Putin has been more in accord with Serbia being a region of Russia than a potential EU member."
Novakovic then concluded: "The Russian president has made it plain that this was a visit to the Serbian people and that Russia will continue to closely monitor the developments in the Balkans, pursue a clear and balanced foreign policy and do its best not to undermine its fragile relations with the EU, especially in light of its energy plans for the region. This will make Russia one of the main players in the future settlement of the Balkans problem.
"Every visit has a symbolic message. President Putin was given a Sarplaninac, a fearless dog from the Sar Mountains which is not afraid of any other animal, not even a bear. The Russian president, for his part, inserted the missing fragments into the mosaic in the Church of Saint Sava, symbolically completing the mural."
During a visit to the Church of Saint Sava. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
Vucic during the visit to the Church of Saint Sava. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
Russian Journalist Yuliya Petrovskaya: Belgrade Is The Farthest Western Point In Europe Where Putin Can Hear Positive Responses To Almost Any Proposal
Russian journalist Yuliya Petrovskaya wrote in the Russian media outlet Republic.ru an article, titled "Gas, Puppy and Bro", stating that Belgrade is the farthest western point in Europe where Putin can hear positive responses to almost any proposal, savor his popularity and criticize the West a great deal. "The President of Serbia Alexander Vucic – one of the few leaders in the European expanse to openly display sympathy to the Russian authorities and is even willing to designate (for Russian listeners) Vladimir Putin's supremacy over the remaining world leader," Petrovskaya added.
Russian Expert Iskenderov: Russia-Serbia Relations Depend on Belgrade's Capability To Withstand Western Pressure Against Moscow
Petr Iskenderov, Senior scientific researcher at the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that for Russia Serbia's admission to the EU is unimportant, what really counts is that Serbia does not join NATO due to the country's strategic position. Commenting on the issue of Kosovo, the expert is certain that Serbia has no other choice but to cooperate with Russia, the guarantor of the country's territorial integrity. Serbia also needs Russian support in its relations with Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia..
(Ng.ru, January 16, 2019)
In an interview with Russia's official governmental newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta Iskenderov mentioned that bilateral relations between Russian and Serbia depend on the Serbian leadership's capability to withstand Western pressure, aimed at "severing Serbia from Russia."
Iskenderov said: "That [Western] pressure is evident in such directs as attempts to force Serbia to freeze energy cooperation with Russia, give up the intention to provide diplomatic immunity to Russian personnel of Russian –Serbian Humanitarian Center in Niš, and phase out military-technical cooperation, while the neighboring Balkan countries, headed by Croatia, are being armed with American weapons, and even join the anti-Russian sanctions... Vucic, virtually on every occasion, stresses that his country does not intend to impose sanctions on Russia, yet, there are certain doubts regarding Belgrade's future foreign policy, taking into consideration the Serbia-NATO individual partnership program, which exists since 2015 and the Serbian denial to provide diplomatic immunity status to Russian members of the Russian Serbian Humanitarian Center."
(Rg.ru, January 19, 2019)
Russian Expert Samorukov: The Serbian Leadership Doesn't Know How To Rid Itself Of This Support, Which Leaves Belgrade No Room For Maneuver At The Kosovo Negotiations
Maxim Samorukov, the deputy editor at the Carnegie Moscow Center presented a different analysis on Russia-Serbia relations. According to Samorukov, the Serbian leaderdership does not know how to rid itself of Russia's cumbersome support, especially concerning the Kosovo conflict.
Samorukov wrote: "The Kosovo conflict seemed endless, but many events of the past eighteen months have made its resolution more possible than even the bravest optimists dared to dream just a short time ago. First, Brussels finally named a possible date for Serbia to join the European Union: 2025, signaling that the country's accession is quite realistic, provided Belgrade complies with certain conditions, the main one of which is resolving the Kosovo conflict…
"In the eleven years since Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Serbian leaders have forced themselves into a very difficult, somewhat schizophrenic relationship with Moscow, which can now essentially veto any Kosovo peace proposal, thereby signing a political death sentence for the Serbian leadership.
"Deeply indignant that the West recognized Kosovar independence without even the slightest concessions to Serbia, Serbian politicians of every stripe sought solace in Russia. To demonstrate to voters that they were not just going to silently suffer the humiliation inflicted by the West, Serbian leaders developed ostentatiously friendly relations with Moscow, praising all the benefits of Russian-Serbian cooperation. Concerned with presenting themselves as true patriots inside the country, they didn't really consider the cost of this friendship in the long run.
"The years of uncontrollable praise have resulted in an almost religious cult of Russia and Putin in Serbia… A significant number of Serbs are convinced that Russia and Putin are far more reliable defenders of Serbian interests than their own president. So if, inspired by the prospects of joining the EU, Vucic indeed dares to recognize Kosovo without Russia's approval, the Kremlin will easily be able to destroy him as a politician. It can simply declare that as a true ally of the Serbian people rather than the sellout political elite, Russia will continue to defend Serbia's territorial integrity by refusing to recognize Kosovo.
"Vucic understands this risk perfectly, and came to Moscow in the fall to find out how Russia would react to a possible Kosovo deal. Apparently, he left disappointed. Moscow has no reason to support the ultimate conflict resolution in Kosovo because it would gain nothing from this move, but stands to lose its influence in the region.
"At this time, Russia is Serbia's key ally because it can guarantee that Kosovo can't join the UN and other international organizations. But as soon as Belgrade recognizes Kosovar independence (whatever the terms), the Serbs will immediately lose the need for a Russian veto in the UN Security Council. Only oil, gas, and historical ties would remain as the basis for a special relationship. Those are all well and good, but other Eastern European countries have all those things in their relations with Russia, and that doesn't make Moscow their key ally…
"In reality, the Serbian leadership doesn't know how to rid itself of this support, which leaves Belgrade no room for maneuver at the Kosovo negotiations. Serbian leaders can't come across as being less patriotic than the Kremlin. The Kremlin knows that, and makes public statements that force the Serbs to take the most unyielding positions…
"However lavishly Putin was received in Belgrade, it is hard to imagine what Vucic can offer the Russian president to induce the Kremlin to accept the resolution of the Kosovo conflict. It is Washington, not Vucic, that should make an offer here. Vucic, meanwhile, is left with a choice between political suicide or maintaining a somewhat nonsensical but quite comfortable status quo, not knowing how to escape the suffocating embrace of his closest ally."
Kommersant: The Kremlin Does Not Approve Vucic's Version Of A Settlement On Kosovo
The Russian newspaper Kommersant also summed up the points of disagreement between Moscow and Belgrade:
"Recently, Aleksander Vucic has actively pushed for a new disengagement with Pristina idea as a precondition for normalizing the relationship with Kosovo. Without such normalization Serbia's integration into EU is impossible, which the Serbian leader considers a foreign policy priority. Moscow is critical of the EU promoted agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, suspecting that it [the agreement] will turn them [Serbia and Kosovo] into NATO protectorates. Nor is Moscow in a rush to support a new demarcation agreement, as it assumes that this will effectively signify Belgrade's recognition of Kosovo's independence. Thus, even after the current talks on the Kosovo problem their interpretation by the sides may diverge – just as occurred during the October presidential meeting in Moscow. Back then Mr Vucic basically talked about nearly full Russian support, though according to Kommersant's sources the Kremlin did not approve his version of a settlement on Kosovo.
"Moscow's displeasure is also aroused by the fact that Serbia, which Russia considers a key ally in the Balkans, has taken some meaningful steps towards NATO in recent years. In March 2015, Belgrade signed an Individual Partnership Plan (IPAP ), according to which NATO was granted a right to use Serbian military infrastructure. Moreover, Serbia has provided access to NATO members to the 'South' military training facility. A year later, the Serbian parliament ratified and agreement with NATO, which brought cooperation with the alliance to a qualitatively new level: NATO forces were granted freedom of movement through Serbian territory, access to all military sites and most importantly diplomatic immunity."
Serbian Expert Gayich: People Fear That Putin May Support Vucic's Plan On Demarcation Between Serbs And Albanians In Kosovo
Ahead of Putin's visit, Serbian expert Dr. Stevan Gayich, a researcher at the Belgrade-based Institute for European Studies, wrote an article, titled "Serbs to the streets: Kosovo is Serbia! Will Russia support Vucic's capitulation?", analyzing whether Vucic can be considered as Kremlin's ally.
"On Wednesday, January, 16, a year will have passed since Oliver Ivanovich's murder – on that day in Belgrade the biggest mass protest will take place. Already on the next day, January, 17, Vladimir Putin will arrive in Belgrade for a visit– Vucic wants to exploit this visit for his personal goals. First, he needs Putin's support for his "demarcation" plan (between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo). Second. Under the guise of a welcome reception in honor of Russia's President, organized by an unknown non-profit organization from Belgrade, Vucic wants to organize a special counter-demonstration [in his support]. It's already known that Serbian Progressive Party [Vucic's party] is organizing more than 200 buses from all over Serbia to participate in the welcome for Putin… Knowing that the Serbs love Russia and its president, Vucic wants to demonstrate that the masses also support him and his policy of betrayal with regards to Kosovo. The Kremlin should understand that, otherwise it can, by its actions, facilitate the implementation of Vucic's plan on demarcation, which eventually will lead Serbia and all other neutral Balkan countries to join NATO…
"… Actually it's hard to imagine a worse enemy for Russia, than Vucic. If the Serbian President waged a patriotic policy, Putin's visit would gather way more people, who would love to see our friend and ally. Vucic, in these circumstances, spreads an anti-Putin and anti-Russian atmosphere in the society, because the people fear that Putin may support Vucic's plan on demarcation. That's why, scores of thousands of Belgrade residents, who would come to greet Putin without all the buses, won't do so, because they don't want to support Vucic."
Russian And Serbian Experts: Putin Managed To Avoid The Main Traps Rather Skillfully
Ekaterina Entina, Associate Professor at National Research University Higher School of Economics, and the President of the Adriatic Council (Belgrade, Serbia) Dejan Novakovic wrote the following in their article titled Negotiations on Kosovo 2019 — Opportunities and Limitations for Russia:
"The arrival of the President of the Russian Federation did allow Alexandar Vucic to demonstrate that he enjoys the support both of Washington (which in many ways is doubtful) and Moscow, a city beloved by a large part of the Serbian population. In terms of domestic politics, this position guarantees that the ruling party will score a convincing victory in the snap parliamentary elections, which could be held as early as this spring. The slogan being used to promote Putin's visit was 'one in 300 million' (a reference to a popular Serbian saying that translates 'The Serbs and the Russians, there are 300 million of us, but without the Russians, barely enough to fill half a bus'), which turned into a direct response to the opposition's phrase '1 in 5 million' (which came about in December 2018 as a reaction to the careless statements of the Serbian leader about the opposition's rallies) and could be used as a 'banner' during the election campaign in the country…
"At the same time, the main results of the visit were the streamlined statements about TurkStream, the 21 agreements that will be worth a total of 660 million euros in the future (five of which are concerned with providing electricity to Serbian cities) and the Russian leader's assertion that the 'the resolution of the Kosovo issue should be handled by Belgrade and Pristina, but within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1244'…
"Putin's visit to Belgrade, dare we say, was an historical event. It will take some time before we see its effects – either as a solid result in the Balkans or as the end of Russia in the region…
"To be sure, it can be stated that, despite its pomposity, Putin's visit went off without any global breakthroughs or prodigious gestures. Yet there were many fears about it: that attempts would be made to get Russia to achieve an agreement on the recognition by Belgrade of Kosovo's independence; that the Serbian side would try to draw Putin into the country's domestic confrontation; or, more importantly, that the whole deal could undermine pro-Russian sentiments within Serbian society.
"The Russian leader managed to avoid the main traps rather skillfully. Putin did say that 'Russia is in favor of Belgrade and Pristina achieving a viable and mutually acceptable solution,' words that Alexandar Vucic had longed to hear, but continued by reiterating Moscow's position that this should be done 'within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.' This is precisely what Vucic's opponents in Serbia are demanding, including the Kosovo Serbs, who fear that "bold and creative" solutions will actually turn out to be a banal form of capitulation and, instead of appeasement, the benefits of European integration will only lead to further crises and the split of the country.
"Putin was equally skillful in his refusals to engage in the domestic political struggle in Serbia. Presenting Vucic with the Order of Alexander Nevsky and praising him for his personal contribution to the development of bilateral relations (which is certainly fair, as Serbia is the only European country that does not display a hint of anti-Russian sentiment at any level), Putin made note of other Serbian greats who had the honor bestowed upon them in the 19th and early 20th centuries – the founder of independent Serbia Milos Obrenovic and the famous Prime Minister Nikola Pasic. However, Putin politely refused to take part in a mass rally organized by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) led by Vucic.
"The SPP chartered hundreds of buses to bring in activists and employees of government-funded organizations from across the country, attempting to use the meeting with the most popular foreign leader in Serbia to offset the mass protests organized by the opposition. Despite Vucic's persistence, as well as the fact that Putin's participation in the rally had been announced a week before his visit to Belgrade, the Russian leader merely thanked the people for their friendly attitude towards Russia. Refusing to support either of the sides in the domestic political confrontation helped prevent any damage being done to the Russophile portion of the opposition…"
APPENDIX I - Interviews To Serbian Periodicals Politika And Vecernje Novosti – Kremlin.ru, January 16, 2019
Ahead of his visit to Serbia, Vladimir Putin answered questions from Serbian media – the newspapers Politika and Vecernje novosti.
The New TurkStream Gas Pipeline
Question: "Serbia and Russia have enjoyed centuries of historical, cultural and religious ties; as brothers in arms they have gone through two world wars. Today, we are facing new challenges. What is your assessment of the present state of our relations, and what is your vision of their future development? The new TurkStream gas pipeline is widely discussed. Is there any chance for our country in that regard?"
Putin: "First, let me extend my warm greetings to all the readers of the Politika daily, which is one of the oldest periodicals not only in Serbia, but also in the Balkans as a whole. I would also like to seize this opportunity to convey my best New Year and Christmas greetings to Serbia's citizens.
"As you have rightly put it, 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. We have carefully preserved and are seeking to develop the precious traditions of trust and cooperation in the new, 21st century. This commitment to close cooperation in the political, economic and humanitarian spheres was reflected in the bilateral Declaration on Strategic Partnership signed in May 2013.
"Today, bilateral relations in all spheres are on the rise. Mutual trade is growing: in 2017, the turnover reached $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 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.
"The legal framework for cooperation has been consistently improved. Contacts between parliaments and political parties and public stakeholders, as well as contacts in science, education and culture are expanding. Russian experts are involved in a project to build the Temple of Saint Sava in Belgrade. Thanks to the sponsorship of our businessmen, the central dome of this majestic building has been decorated with mosaics. To sum it up, I strongly believe that such fruitful, diversified cooperation fully meets the core interests of the peoples of Russia and Serbia.
"As for the TurkStream project, 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.
"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."
'NATO Is Trying To Strengthen Its Presence In The Balkans'
Question: "At a time when certain states in the region are building up armaments and a so-called Kosovo army is being formed, can Serbia count on Russia's support to further strengthen its defense capacity, taking into account our neutrality and the fact that we are surrounded by NATO countries?"
Putin: "We highly appreciate that the Serbian leadership remains firmly committed to maintaining neutrality. 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.
"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. It is clear that the Serbians 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.
"As we have stated on numerous occasions, the NATO expansion policy, in our view, is a vestige of the Cold War, a misguided, destructive military and political strategy. Today, the Alliance is trying to strengthen its presence in the Balkans. However, by doing so, it only draws new dividing lines on the European continent and blatantly violates the principle of indivisibility of security. At the end of the day, rather than contributing to stability, all of this undermines trust and increases tensions in Europe."
Question: "Moscow has long been advocating the creation of a new security architecture, yet lately we have been witnessing some dangerous trends developing in the world, including the recent statements by Washington on its withdrawal from the INF Treaty. In your opinion, what could be done to preserve peace amid exacerbating local and global tensions?"
Putin: "Indeed, the United States is basically pursuing a course towards dismantling the system of international agreements on arms control that prevent it from bolstering its military capabilities, or trying to adhere to the agreements selectively, i.e. only insofar as they serve its interests. The declaration of the intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty has become just another step in a sequence of similar actions. It is obvious that such a course will have the gravest consequences.
"Naturally, we are not going to turn a blind eye to the deployment of American missiles, which present a direct threat to our security. We will have to take effective countermeasures. However, Russia, as a responsible and sensible country, has no interest in a new arms race. Despite the United States' declared intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty, we are open to further dialogue on ways of preserving the Treaty. In December, we submitted to the American side a number of concrete proposals concerning the issue. We are also ready to hold a serious discussion on the entire 'strategic' agenda between our countries.
"Russia has firmly and consistently championed the improvement of the overall international situation, which, as you have fairly pointed out, remains tense, and, I would also add, unpredictable. In fact, it was to a large extent the continued unilateral actions, including military ones, undertaken by the United States and a number of other Western States that have led to the current situation. The result is that the overall atmosphere of confrontation and mistrust is becoming even worse.
"We call on our Western colleagues to refrain from the practice of blackmail, threats and provocations, to respect international law, and to build interstate dialogue based on the principles enshrined in the UN Charter. That is the key to preserving peace and strengthening global and regional security and stability.
"In conclusion, I would like to wish the readers of Politika and the people of Serbia prosperity and success."
The Vecernje Novosti Newspaper
The US Policy Is Destabilizing Factor In The Balkans
Question: "The intensive cooperation of Russia with Serbia and the Republika Srpska causes irritation in the West and particularly in Washington. How will you comment on statements by Western politicians that Russia is a destabilizing factor in the Balkans, and how do you see relations between Russia and other former Yugoslav republics?"
Putin: "I am happy to have the opportunity to address the readers of Vecernje novosti – one of the most popular and influential Serbian newspapers – to answer your questions and share my views.
"As for the situation in the Balkans, 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.
"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.
"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. Today, Russia has many friends here, among whom our strategic partner Serbia occupies a special place. 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.
"Cooperation with the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina is mutually beneficial in strict compliance with the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement. We intend to further implement our projects in both the Republika Srpska and the entire territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina in such areas as energy, oil refining, trade in fuel, banking, pharmaceuticals, etc. We deem promotion of joint humanitarian initiatives equally important, taking into account the growing interest of Bosnians in the Russian language and culture and in receiving education in Russia.
"Our relations with Slovenia and Croatia are developing steadily despite the fact that our dialogue with the European Union whose members they are is facing challenges. There were a number of meetings with the Croatian leadership in the previous year. Trade is growing: over the first three quarters of 2018, it increased almost by 10 percent with Slovenia and by 27 percent with Croatia. Last year, Russia and Slovenia had cross Seasons of Culture and the State Hermitage Museum organized a major exhibition in Zagreb dedicated to the 50th anniversary of twin-city ties between the Croatian capital and Saint Petersburg. We will further develop our relations of friendship and trust, which, I am confident, fully meet the interests of our peoples."
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine Is A 'Political' And 'Secular' Project
Question: "The Serbian Orthodox Church has taken the side of the Russian Orthodox Church in the context of the ecclesiastical crisis in Ukraine. At the same time, a number of countries are exerting pressure on Patriarch Bartholomew and seek to ensure recognition of Ukrainian 'schismatics' by Local Orthodox Churches. How do you think the situation will evolve?"
Putin: "I would like to remind your readers, who are greatly concerned about the information regarding the split in the Orthodox community but are probably not fully aware of the situation in Ukraine, what it is all about.
"On December 15, 2018, the Ukrainian leaders, actively supported by the US and the Constantinople Patriarchate, held a so-called 'unifying synod'. This synod declared the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, with Patriarch Bartholomew signing the tomos (decree) granting it autocephaly on January 6, 2019. Thus, it was attempted to legalize the schismatic communities that exist in Ukraine under the jurisdiction of Istanbul, which is a major violation of Orthodox canons.
"Yet, hardly anyone in the US or in the Ukrainian leadership worries about this, as the new church entity is an entirely political, secular project. Its main aim is to divide the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, sowing seeds of ethnic as well as religious discord. No wonder Kiev has already declared 'obtaining complete independence from Moscow'.
"Once again, this has nothing to do with spiritual life; we are dealing here with dangerous and irresponsible politicking. Likewise, we do not speak about the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. It is de-facto fully controlled by Istanbul. Whereas Ukraine's largest canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has never requested autocephaly from Patriarch Bartholomew, is absolutely independent in its actions. Its connection with the Russian Orthodox Church is purely canonical – but even this causes undisguised irritation of the current Kiev regime.
"Because of this, clergymen and laymen of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are being persecuted and deprived of churches and monasteries, and attempts are made to deny the Church its legitimate name, which raises tensions and only leads to further discord in Ukrainian society.
"Evidently, Ukraine's leaders have to understand that any attempts to force the faithful into a different church are fraught with grave consequences. Yet, they are eager to put inter-confessional concord in the country at stake in order to conduct the election campaign of the current Ukrainian President based on a search for enemies, and to retain power by all means.
"All of this does not go unnoticed by Orthodox Christians.
"Naturally, Russia does not intend to interfere in ecclesiastical processes, especially those happening on the territory of a neighboring sovereign state. However, we are aware of the danger posed by such experiments and blatant interference of the state in religious affairs."
'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'
Question: "What are the prospects of economic cooperation between Moscow and Belgrade in case Serbia joins the European Union? How can this affect Russian investments in Serbian economy?"
Putin: "We respect the Serbian leadership's decision to join the EU. 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. In today's global world, integration processes are developing dynamically, involving new countries and alliances and shaping new promising structures. We are convinced, therefore, that neither Serbia's striving for integration into Europe, nor Russia's participation in the Eurasian Economic Union prevents our two countries from strengthening their multi-faceted cooperation.
"What is important is that Russia and Serbia remain committed to further increasing their economic and investment collaboration. The free trade agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union and Serbia that is being prepared is also designed to promote such cooperation. Another round of relevant negotiations took place in Belgrade recently, on January 10–11. We expect that this instrument will be signed before the year ends and will open up qualitatively new opportunities for improving the efficiency of our joint efforts in the economic area and their practical effect.
"I would like to conclude by wishing all the readers of Večernje novosti and all the citizens of friendly Serbia peace and prosperity."
(Kremlin.ru, January 16, 2019)
APPENDIX II - Ceremony for presenting the Order of Alexander Nevsky to President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic – Kremlin.ru, January 17, 2019
Vladimir Putin presented Alexandar Vucic with a Russian Federation state decoration – the Order of Alexander Nevsky.
Putin: "Mr President, friends,
"I am truly glad to present the President of Serbia with a high Russian state decoration – the Order of Alexander Nevsky.
"The name of Alexander Nevsky – a great saint and a protector of warriors and diplomats, who brought glory to Russia and himself with his military victories and defended the independence of the motherland in the struggle against foreign invaders – enjoys special respect in our country.
"The glorious names of outstanding Serbian leaders are part of the almost 300-year old history of this order. They include Prince Milos Obrenovic who led the struggle for Serbian independence in the 19th century and Prime Minister Nikola Pasic who headed the Serbian Government during World War I.
"Now your name, Mr President, has been justly put on the honor list of the recipients of this order.
"We know you as a supporter of the closest and warmest possible relations between Russia and Serbia. It is largely owing to your personal contribution that Russia-Serbia cooperation is making successful headway in all areas and is not subject to the international or political environment. We highly value your position of principle, Mr President.
"Mr President, I wholeheartedly wish you good health, prosperity and new successes in your country's highest office.
"Thank you for your attention."
Vucic (Speaking in Russian): "Mr President, my dear friend,
"Allow me to say just a few words in Russian.
"Receiving the Order of Alexander Nevsky is a great honor for me and for Serbia, but also great responsibility for my future work to expand cooperation between Russia and Serbia.
"My gratitude – it has to be said – is not just protocol: it is profound and sincere. This recognition, this decoration is very important for me.
"Why do I say this? Because I am receiving this decoration from President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. And why do I stress this fact? Because President Vladimir Putin is a very important leader for Russia, he has elevated Russia, guarded its dignity, and also guarded the vital interests of the Serbian people.
"Our people, the Serbian people, will never forget what Vladimir Putin did in 2015 when on the instructions of the President of the Russian Federation, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have declared the Serbs a genocidal people. On that occasion President Putin upheld truth and justice, and so we come to everything we will be working on in the future with a great sense of responsibility.
"Secondly, our two countries have very good political relations. Of course, we have plenty of opportunities to increase and expand our cooperation on economic matters.
"I will never speak like the many other politicians who speak only of their love for Pushkin, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.
"This decoration, the recognition I received today is a great obligation for me to work for the future relations of Serbia and Russia.
"Finally, I am proud of my native Serbia, I am proud of my country which deserves this decoration. In recent years Serbia has successfully preserved its independence, territorial integrity and military neutrality. This recognition means to us that we too have preserved Serbia as a free state.
"Once again, thank you, Mr President, for appreciating the complex situation of our country, our Serbia.
"And finally I would like to thank my family, because everything I said – it is, as I have said, a great honor for me and my family. I would like to dedicate this decoration to my father and the Vucic family from a small village of Cipulic where the Serbs have always loved Russia as they love Serbia."
(Kremlin.ru, January 17, 2019)
APPENDIX III - Official reception on behalf of President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic
President of Serbia Vucic hosted an official reception in Belgrade in honor of Putin.
Chairman of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency Milorad Dodik and Serbian Patriarch Irinej also attended the reception.
Vucic: Our Gratitude, Friendship And The Sincere Fraternal Feelings We Have For The Russian People Will Last Forever
Vucic: "President Putin, Chairman Dodik, Prime Minister Brnabic, President of the National Assembly Gojkovic, esteemed guests, Your Holiness,
"I am honored to welcome all of you in Serbia, and I would like to express my delight at the visit of President Putin.
"Mr President, my toast will be very short. Thank you for everything you have done for Serbia.
"I said before that we would never forget what you did for Serbia in 2015. I believe you can feel the love and respect of the Serbian people today, and you will have more proof of this in the evening. The police have told me that 125,000 people have gathered in Belgrade's central streets, which has never happened over the past 30 years. This is the result of your dedicated work and the respect you have shown for our small country, Serbia.
"Our gratitude, friendship and the sincere fraternal feelings we have for the Russian people will last forever. Our friendship has taken a public expression today thanks to you, Mr President.
"There is a huge difference between you and those who were before you. This is why we feel even more grateful to Russia and why we respect Russia and the Russian people even more than in the past years.
"Mr President, I wish all the best to you and your people. I wish health, every success and happiness to you. I would like to say that Serbia will forever remain a free and independent country and a friend of Russia.
"Here is to health!"
Putin: Serbia Has Always Demonstrated Its Strong Will And Independence
Putin: "Mr President, friends, ladies and gentlemen,
"Thank you once again for this warm welcome and for the invitation to visit your country.
"I have said this at the news conference, but I would like to say again that Serbia and Russia are connected by centuries-long friendship and close spiritual ties.
"Serbia has always demonstrated, both in good times and in hard times, its strong will and independence, and it has always treasured its sovereignty. Today we have every opportunity not only to overcome our difficulties and trials, but also to do so with dignity, to attain the results we strive for and to gain the upper hand.
"Mr President, you have recently shown strong will not only in foreign affairs but also in your domestic policy and in economic matters. I believe that Serbia had a surplus budget for a second year running. It is a very good indicator of your success.
"I hope that Russian-Serbian cooperation will not only contribute to our relations but also to the development of our states.
"I would like to wish every success to you and to all your colleagues and prosperity to the Serbian people. I raise this toast to your health and the health of everyone here, as well as to the strengthening of Russian-Serbian friendship."
(Kremlin.ru, January 17, 2019)
APPENDIX IV – Beginning Of Talks Between Putin And Vucic – Kremlin.ru, January 17, 2019
Vucic: Serbia Repaid Its Huge Accumulated Debt To Russia
Vucic: "Welcome, Mr President!
"Welcome to Serbia, welcome to Belgrade! I hope that you will feel nice and comfortable here.
"Serbia and Russia are genuine friends, and I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mr President, for investing your energy, effort, work, love and respect in making the relations between our countries even better, even stronger.
"Trade between our countries is growing all the time. Imports from Russia grew by 30 percent, exports from Serbia – by 4.1 percent.
"All the areas we work together in are developing, everything is moving forward. We signed several agreements today. There are major new areas for cooperation such as innovative technology and digital technology.
"We receive your proposals with great interest and very much hope that this Boiling Point [collaborative center of Russia's Agency for Strategic Initiatives to Promote New Projects] under your patronage will be extended to Serbia, and we will have this kind of hub here.
"I would also like to say that all our agreements and contracts in the field of infrastructure and energy are not only developing, but are moving forward at the highest level, in leaps and bounds.
"Regarding military-technical cooperation, we in Serbia are very pleased with this area. Thank you for your willingness and desire to help us in this matter.
"If you remember, Mr President – I am very proud of what I am about to say – six years ago, when we met in Sochi, we were talking (Mr Lavrov was also there), discussing how Serbia could repay its huge accumulated debt. Well, now Serbia has no debt, and what's more, it pays for everything on time, it makes advance payments and is a truly reliable partner in this sense.
"In closing, I would like to thank you very much for all your effort and your support for Serbia's independence, for the preservation of its territorial integrity, and other matters. And you can always count on us. Although Serbia might not be a large country geographically, you can still count on us.
"Thank you and welcome."
Putin: The Roots Of Our Relations Are Deep And Long-Standing
Putin: "Thank you for the kind words and the invitation.
"You and I are in constant contact: recently we met in Russia and I remember my visit to Serbia.
"I would like to thank the residents of Belgrade and the entire fraternal Serbian nation for giving me such a warm reception. It is visible on the faces of people in the streets of the city.
"The roots of our relations are deep and long-standing, and the spiritual affinity of our people is obvious. All this is helping us build on our relations today.
"Indeed, trade is on the upswing and has already reached $2 billion. I am particularly pleased to note that our relations are becoming more and more diversified, from engineering to energy and infrastructure. We also have new advanced areas that, I know, were discussed on the eve of my visit and we will also talk about them today.
"I am very happy to visit the friendly and fraternal nation of Serbia, discuss what we have done recently and map out prospects for our cooperation in the near future.
"Mr President, you have done much recently, in the past few years, to advance Serbia-Russia relations. And today I have the welcome task and great pleasure of presenting you with a Russian Federation state decoration for everything you have done on this highly righteous and noble front.
Vucic (Speaking in Russian): "Thank you very much. This is a great honor for me and Serbia.
"Thank you once again."
(Kremlin.ru, January 17, 2019)
APPENDIX V – Beginning Of Russian-Serbian Talks In Expanded Format – Kremlin.ru, January 17, 2019
Russian-Serbian talks in expanded format. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
Vucic: It Is Important For Me To Emphasize Our Gratitude To you, Mr President, For The Support That You Provide To Ensure Preservation Of The Territorial Integrity Of Serbia
Vucic: "Mr President,
"It is a great pleasure to have you here in Serbia.
"I want to state that during our one-on-one conversation in the Russian-Serbian format we covered almost all the subjects. But it is important for me to emphasize once again our gratitude to you, Mr President, for the support that you provide to Serbia, the Serbian people, the support that you provide to ensure preservation of the territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia, because you have been helping us on this matter all along in all forms through various organizations and institutions.
"Our friendship shows concrete examples of economic growth which can be seen in the yearly expansion of trade. Our cooperation today is different, more comprehensive and more extensive than in previous years.
"This cooperation is marked by good mutual understanding in all key areas. It seems to me that what was previously only in words is now in deeds, especially in the sphere of energy, military cooperation, infrastructure and transport, as well as education, culture, sports, tourism and all other areas of public life.
"We are convinced, Mr President, that we can further develop our trade, and there are still many areas in which we can do so. So, I am grateful to the Russian representatives for opening to us new avenues and chapters, namely, digitization, innovative technology and the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
"I am especially grateful to your numerous representatives, including Mr Borisov, of course, if we talk about energy, and Mr Miller and Mr Ushakov, who are here with us.
"I would also like to thank the ministers of the Government of Serbia, beginning with Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, – Nenad Popovic, (Aleksandar) Antic, Zorana Mihajlovic and many others, Mr (Nebojša) Stefanovic and (Ivica) Dacic. You have already heard how satisfied they are with cooperation in the areas of which they are in charge.
"I also want to say to the Russian people that here, in Serbia, Russia will always find true and loyal friends.
"I would like to use this opportunity to invite as many Russians as possible to visit Serbia. I think the number of tourists can be even bigger. I believe we can take part together in organizing efforts in different fields of public life – this is also one of the areas that we can discuss in the future.
"Mr President, thank you for your visit once again. Today's circumstances are exceptional: I am being told that over 30,000 people in the central streets of Belgrade are awaiting your arrival in two hours. This shows how our citizens, our people feel about you.
"Thank you very much again. Welcome to Serbia."
Putin: We Continue Cooperating In Defense And Security
Putin: "Thank you very much, Mr President.
"First of all, I am grateful for the invitation.
"And, of course, I would also like to start with our trade and economic ties.
"We had a very detailed discussion of the development of our relations at a restricted-format meeting, one on one. In the year before last, our trade increased by 23 percent and continued growing last year, too. Trade has already reached $2 billion. Russia is probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest investor in the Serbian economy,
"Indeed, our relations are progressing in a host of areas. You just mentioned practically all of them. These include trade in the direct sense of the word, energy, high technology, which is particularly gratifying, as well as transport and transport infrastructure. You have essentially covered everything.
"Humanitarian, cultural and educational ties also play a major role in our relations.
"We continue cooperating in defense and security. Our law enforcement bodies and prosecutor-general's offices are working together, which is also very important. We continue training Serbian personnel.
"Speaking about defense cooperation, I must say we not only supply military equipment but also buy munitions, including military equipment from Serbia.
"In other words, the efforts are completely mutual, it is a two-way street. And I would like to thank you and all of your colleagues for taking this attitude to the development of Russia-Serbia relations and express the hope that during today's joint work we will create conditions for further steps on developing our bilateral cooperation.
"Thank you for your attention."
(Kremlin.ru, January 17, 2019)
APPENDIX VI - Joint News Conference With Putin And Vucic
Joint news conference with President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
Following Russian-Serbian talks, Vladimir Putin and Alexandar Vucic gave a joint news conference.
Vucic: "… We have also signed many agreements in different areas of public life.
"Our trade is increasing every year and our economic relations are improving.
"Today, we talked a lot about our tasks for the future in our one-on-one discussion, at the restricted and expanded meetings.
"In energy, that is gas supplies, Serbia practically fully depends on the Russian Federation. We have reached agreements on building a gas pipeline in the future, expanding our gas storage that will hold 750 million cubic meters of gas in Banatski Dvor, building a power station and providing gas for the whole of Serbia.
"I would like to explain to our ordinary citizens what this means. It means that we will never hear the question that was asked in Vladicin Han: why do companies opening a plant not have gas. We will do everything, and it will mean greater industrialization and economic development for this country.
"We also spoke today about infrastructure cooperation, especially on railways. I think rail will become a key mode of transport in the future. We have big plans ahead. We have signed large agreements and memorandums on the current maintenance of railways.
"If we accomplish all this, I am sure that rail will become one of the most profitable modes of transport. Our citizens will appreciate it and be proud of it.
"These contracts are already worth $230 million and if we organize everything as we started, they will be worth 660 million euros.
"What is important for us is that our defense cooperation with Russia has been not just adequate, we are very grateful for all the support and assistance, and for the favorable preferential prices of military equipment. I am sure that Mr Putin has always taken into account the interests of the Serbian people and always met us halfway.
"What I am particularly proud of – it is true, and Mr President mentioned this today in his remarks – is that Serbia is a disciplined country, and its Government is the same, a reliable Government, and we fulfill our obligations and pay everything on time. We have no delays, no debts, no arrears, no such problems. Serbia is a reliable partner of Russia.
"When we first met, I was only thinking about how to meet our obligations in the next two or three years, to repay all our debts. I think I became a real nightmare for Mr Miller [Gazprom CEO]: every time he saw me, I asked him to give us an extension on our payments. This is no longer the case; Serbia has repaid everything, met all its obligations, and the Serbian economy is growing.
"It is also important to say that we have discussed almost all spheres of public life; we spoke about everything today.
"Many thanks to Russia – for all the funds provided for the decoration and construction of the Church of Saint Sava. Russia is to allocate another five million euros for our holy site. Russia will return to us the 166th page of the Miroslav Gospel. I just want to demonstrate how well we prepared for these meetings, how fruitfully we worked in all areas and how much we have achieved.
"I would like to say with satisfaction that we have reached a high degree of agreement on all issues, and I told Mr Putin about my gratitude for supporting Serbia. I told both Mr Putin and Mr Lavrov that we appreciate their support for Serbia at all international forums, as well as their support for the territorial integrity and independence of Serbia.
"I updated the President on the developments in Kosovo and Metohija. I told him about the illegal duties that the Albanian authorities have introduced contrary to the will of Republika Srpska, as well as about the creation of the so-called Kosovo Army contrary to UN Resolution 1244. Mr Putin expressed support for our position on this matter.
"I told President Putin that Serbia is always willing to hold talks and make compromises, but it will never accept humiliation. I believe that some people are not ready for compromise, but we will continue to act in this spirit. As I pointed out to President Putin, we will look for compromises, but we will not tolerate humiliation.
"Mr President, once again, I would like to say, make yourself comfortable in Serbia.
"I have been told that a vast number of people are waiting for you in Belgrade's central streets and at the Church of Saint Sava. This is evidence of what you have done for us. These people can see me every day, yet they have not come for me. They have come for you, which is evidence of the great respect everyone in Serbia has for you.
"Once again, thank you for the fruitful talks we have had and for signing agreements. It makes me especially proud that Ana [Brnabic] and Nenad [Popovic] have done a great deal for the development of digital technology and our cooperation in the field of artificial intelligence. Russia has been investing a great deal in these fields, and together we can attain great results.
"Thank you. I am confident that cooperation between Russia and Serbia will continue to improve, including at the top level."
Putin: "Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,
"First of all, I would like to thank President Vucic for inviting me on an official visit to Serbia.
"President Vucic and I maintain regular working contacts. Only recently, in October of last year, we held useful and constructive talks in Moscow. Before that in May, Mr Vucic came to Moscow for the celebrations of the 73rd anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. He also joined the Immortal Regiment march in Red Square, holding up a photograph of his grandfather.
"I remember our visit to Belgrade in 2014 for the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the city's liberation from the Nazis. I remember the warmth and hospitality of our Serbian friends.
"Today we discussed in detail the entire range of bilateral relations and exchanged opinions on current international and regional affairs in the same partnership-based and constructive way. Both sides confirmed their intention to continue the development of multifaceted Russian-Serbian strategic partnership in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation, which is traditional for our countries and peoples.
"Of course, special attention was paid to trade and investment cooperation and interaction.
"Mutual trade continues to increase: it grew by 2 percent in the 11 months of 2018 (it was 23 percent in 2017 and now it gained two more percent) and reached almost $2 billion.
"The Russia-Serbia Intergovernmental Committee for Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation is conducting a large-scale job to improve our bilateral economic partnership. The committee's co-chairs delivered reports today at the expanded meeting.
"Contacts between the countries' industrial and agricultural enterprises, as well as business circles and scientific communities are being maintained.
"We also agreed that at its next meeting in the first quarter of this year the Committee will discuss matters concerning the practical implementation of the agreements reached today.
"In our common opinion, additional opportunities for the expansion and diversification of commodity flows will become available after the conclusion of an agreement on a free trade zone between Serbia and the Eurasian Economic Union. Belgrade has recently hosted another series of consultations. We expect the document to be signed before the end of the year.
"Energy is a key area of Russian-Serbian cooperation. Russian natural gas exports to Serbia grew by 20 percent and reached 2.3 billion cubic metres in 2018. By 2022, Gazprom plans to increase deliveries to 3.5 billion cubic meters. To that end, in 2019 a project will be launched to increase the capacity of the Banatski Dvor underground gas storage facility in Serbia from 450 million cubic meters to 750 million. Work will also continue to expand the Serbian gas transportation network. These measures will significantly improve the energy security of Serbia and the entire Balkan region.
"As the leading Russian investor in the Serbian energy sector, who invested about $3 billion in its subsidiary NIS Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS), Gazprom Neft is planning to invest another $1.4 billion by 2025. NIS is currently Serbia's largest taxpayer and one of the leading oil and gas corporations in Eastern Europe.
"Another Russian company, Power Machines, helped Serbia modernize the Iron Gate I hydroelectric power station, and continues to partake in the reconstruction of other power stations in Serbia.
"The realization of joint plans in the sphere of peaceful use of nuclear energy reflected in the signed intergovernmental agreement would, without a doubt, give an additional impetus to the growth of Serbia's economy. This agreement focuses on Serbia's use of advanced Russian radiation technology in healthcare, industry, and agriculture.
"The company Russian Railways is making a significant contribution to the modernization of Serbia's railways. With the help of this Russian company, Serbia is now creating an up-to-date single dispatch center, which will significantly increase the crossing capacity of the country's transportation network.
"We also discussed the issues of defense and military technology cooperation with our Serbian partners. We will continue meeting the Serbian leadership halfway, contributing to improving Serbia's defence capacity, further developing scientific and production cooperation with the country's defence enterprises, and carrying on the practice of holding joint military exercises.
"We also paid attention to our dynamic cultural and humanitarian links. Serbia regularly hosts tours by Russian performers as well as cultural festivals. In February, this country will host large-scale events within the framework of Days of Russian Spiritual Culture.
"The project to decorate the interior of the Church of Saint Sava in Belgrade is currently being successfully implemented, as Mr President mentioned earlier. I am glad to have had the opportunity today to visit this church, which has special importance for Serbia, and meet with high representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
"The understanding we have reached for Russia to return Page 166 of the Miroslav Gospel (an ancient Serbian Cyrillic manuscript), which is currently being held in the National Library of Russia, to Serbia and for Serbia to return Nicholas Roerich's paintings to Russia is a landmark event for the Russian-Serbian friendship. Mr President and I agreed for our culture ministers to work on the implementation of this exchange.
"And, of course, Russia cooperates and will continue to cooperate with Serbia in personnel training. This year 120 scholarships were allocated for Serbian students.
"The agenda of our talks also included topical international and regional issues.
"Russia, like Serbia, is interested in a stable and secure situation in the Balkans. In particular, Russia's position on Kosovo is well known. We are in favor of reaching a viable and mutually acceptable agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on a Kosovo settlement based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244.
"Unfortunately, recently the Kosovo authorities have taken several prevocational steps, which have raised tensions significantly. I mean above all the announcement made by Kosovo on December 14 on the establishment of the Kosovo army. Of course, this is a direct violation of the resolution I mentioned, which does not allow for creating any military units except for the international UN forces.
"Russia completely shares the concerns of the Serbian leadership and people and understands that such irresponsible actions by the Kosovo authorities can result in destabilization in the Balkans.
"In conclusion, I would like to say that our meeting was a success. I would like to once again express my gratitude to Mr President and all our Serbian colleagues for substantive and fruitful talks and thank all the people of Belgrade for welcoming the Russian delegation so warmly.
"I am sure that the agreements we reached today will further strengthen Russian-Serbian friendship.
"Thank you for your attention."
Question: "I have a question for both leaders.
"Did you discuss the possibility of extending TurkStream to Europe via Serbia? If you did, when can we expect to receive the necessary permits? What can prevent the implementation of this project in light of the ongoing EU pressure on Serbia, sanctions and also problems created for Russia's Nord Stream project?
"I also have a question about Kosovo, if I may. Did you discuss in any form the possibility of Russian mediation for normalizing relations between Belgrade and Pristina? Thank you."
Vucic: "Regarding the first question, Serbia has great expectations of the TurkStream pipeline, and we have done everything we could by this time, which is a great deal. We have signed documents and completed many procedures.
"I do not know about any pressure on other countries where the pipeline will be built, but Russia has not had any problems with Serbia. We respond in kind, and we are resistant to pressure.
"Our enterprises need gas. Until now, we received it via Ukraine and Moldova, but now we want to receive it via TurkStream and Bulgaria, which is why we are building the gas pipeline you have mentioned. It is of vital importance for Serbia.
"I know that the Germans have done everything in their power for Nord Stream, and that the 500 km underwater part is finished. Like all other nations, we have a right to receive gas.
"I heard very many deliberations yesterday about the sources of gas from across the world, but I have never seen any gas other than Russian. They mentioned liquefied gas, which costs twice as much. Why should we pay double? We cannot and will not do this. We are economically better off now, and we keep our public funds in check. But we want the best gas and the best price, and that is Russian gas.
"As for your second question, we did discuss Kosovo and the dues introduced there, as well as holding talks with EU mediation. But the problem is, as we see it, that the Albanians do not want a compromise. Maybe they will want it one day? We would like to see this happen.
"Speaking about Russia, no decision can be taken without Russia and its weight at the UN Security Council. And I will certainly discuss any decisions with President Putin.
"You know, we keep talking about decisions. Everyone loves to talk about decisions and to receive good news. I am a realist. I cannot be an all-out optimist speaking about a decision now, because I do not see any. I hope for a decision on this matter, but I am not sure it will be made soon."
Putin: "With regard to the subject of energy, we are ready to implement projects to extend the TurkStream to European countries, to European consumers. Many are interested in this. We only need to arrange everything appropriately. We are ready and we have enough resources, as you know, more than enough. There are no problems at all. We are working with Serbia on this. This also applies to the development of infrastructure, including for transit across Serbia. We are ready to invest the necessary funds; they are estimated at $1.4 billion.
"We are preparing for this work, even actually starting it. But in the end everything will depend on other countries, including the EU countries, and how far they are willing to go to protect their sovereign national interests in the dialogue with European agencies.
"We once tried – we planned and launched work on the South Stream project. As you know, that project was discontinued through no fault of ours. Now Bulgaria, for example, is interested in extending TurkStream across Bulgaria and further on to Serbia, Hungary and so on. We are ready for this, and are even doing preparatory work, I repeat; we are ready to invest in it. Therefore, little depends on us here.
"We will do this; next week I will meet with visiting President Erdogan, and I know his position. Turkey is also positive about it, and is working towards this, eager to build relations with its partners in Europe and intends to do so. Therefore, we will start working and see what happens.
"As for whether our other large energy infrastructure project, Nord Stream 2, will get in the way of this project, I can assure you – absolutely not.
"Next week, the leadership of Gazprom will be in Brussels to discuss a number of cooperation matters, including, by the way, transit through Ukraine, taking into account the growing volume of supplies of our natural gas to Europe. Last year it hit a record high – over 200 billion cubic meters – and continues to grow. We will load not only Nord Stream legs, not only the TurkStream pipeline, but with this volume of supplies to European consumers, the possibility of continuing transit through Ukraine also remains.
"Regarding the mediation in the Kosovo peace process, Russia has always been actively involved in resolving these crises. As for direct mediation, we know, and Mr President also said that the EU was an intermediary in resolving a number of issues, but, unfortunately, few agreements are actually being fulfilled.
"For example, Serbian municipalities should have been created in Kosovo – they were not. Resolution 1244, which has already been mentioned, provides for the presence of Serbian police and even border guards in Kosovo. Where are they? They are not there.
"Therefore, it is necessary, it seems to me, to show more respect for international law, and only in this case can we achieve any fair solutions."
Question: "A question for President Vucic.
"What comments would you make concerning the unusually great interest of the British and other media to Mr Putin's visit? Do you expect that after this visit, the country will be put under pressure in order to spoil our relations with Russia?
"You already mentioned this, but do you think that Serbia can expect international support from Russia in the Kosovo issue?
"(Speaks Russian) And a question for the President of Russia.
"Mr President, I am sure you know that Serbia considers Russia one of its key and most important partners in the world, especially in solving such important international problems as Kosovo. You know, almost 80,000 people have gathered now near the Cathedral of Saint Sava, which you will visit soon. And as President Vucic said, they are waiting for you; they want to see you, greet you and hope to hear words of friendship and support, especially relating to Kosovo. What will you say to them?"
Putin: "You know, there are no rallies planned for my visit, but I am very pleased to hear your words, however unexpected they might be. Therefore, I doubt I can say something there, especially without an interpreter. But here I can say that we greatly appreciate such examples of friendship, and value them very highly.
"As for our relations, I only can add that the relations between Russia and Serbia did not appear yesterday; they have deep and strong roots and date back centuries. The Russian and Serbian peoples have always been spiritually connected. I would like to mention a Serbian saying, which goes like this: “If we are together, we will win.” This is what I would like to say to those people on the square, and to everyone who wanted to hear Russia's opinion.
"You just heard our opinion of what is going on in the region, including Kosovo. We consider the violation of the common rules of international law, in particular, Resolution No 1244, unfair and very dangerous. Of course, we will work together with all our partners to ensure that international law is observed and that decisions are just.
"We are monitoring the situation in the region. Sometimes it seems that the decisions made earlier were only made to disengage the Serbian people. And these decisions will unlikely be viable if they are not just, this is what I would like to emphasize.
"Together – the Serbian party, Serbian leadership and President Vucic contribute to this a lot – we will have to convince all of our partners, if we want to reach stability in the regions, to be able to find compromises, and when they are found, we must stick to them."
Vucic: "As for your question, I asked the Protocol department to address questions only to President Putin, because we are already late with our program, and people want to hear President Putin; they are here because of him.
"I have no problem with who will be speaking and what they will be saying. I am proud of everything that is happening and I want to tell other countries in our region and everywhere else: Serbia is proud that it is an independent and free state, not only regarding its territorial integrity and military neutrality, but also in our decisions; Serbia makes decisions based on its citizens' will, not some other governments' will.
"We respect Great Britain, it is a great nation. However, neither the British nor any other nation will decide for us what political course we will follow. It is for the Serbian people to decide.
"Speaking about newspapers around the globe, here or elsewhere – do not be angry, Mr President, – I will say that it does not matter to me. Serbia will continue with its policy; it will not change. It will be difficult for anyone else to influence it.
"Of course, at some time any individual can hope to win the election and take Serbia's policy in another direction. While I remain the President of Serbia, Serbia will continue to implement its policy, and Serbia will continue to be an independent and free state that takes into consideration the interests of the people living here."
(Kremlin.ru, January 17, 2019)
APPENDIX VII - Meeting with Chairman of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency Milorad Dodik
Putin with the Chairman of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency Milorad Dodik (Source: Kremlin.ru)
Dodik: Bosniaks Say They Will Agree To Anything If We Adopt A Policy Of Joining NATO, But We, The Serbian Part, Do Not Accept This
Vladimir Putin met in Belgrade with Chairman of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency Milorad Dodik.
Putin: "I am delighted to meet with you again and to have this opportunity to congratulate you on your election as Chairman of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency.
"Our relations are developing very well. I am familiar with the projects we are implementing in various fields. I hope we will have an opportunity to discuss some of them, even if in brief.
"I am glad to meet with you again."
Dodik: "I am also pleased to meet with you again and to be able to welcome you.
"Thank you for your congratulations. We have scored a very good election result.
"We are still in the process of shaping Bosnia's government agencies. Of course, there are quite a few problems. As it always happens in Bosnia, conditions have been put forth. Bosniaks say they will agree to anything if we adopt a policy of joining NATO, but we, the Serbian part, do not accept this. In other words, it will take us time to make use of our election results.
"The establishment of all bodies of power has been completed in Republika Srpska, and they are operating normally. But the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole remains at the level of a technical mandate. Some people there are not satisfied with their results, which is why the process is taking time.
"I would like to express our satisfaction with the progress of the projects we previously discussed and coordinated. We hope that we will remain involved in the TurkStream project, just as we were involved in South Stream. We have the necessary documents, all the engineering documents, for this."
(Kremlin.ru, January 17, 2019)
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7858, Putin's Visit To Serbia A Rousing Success; No One Expected Otherwise, January 24, 2019.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7858, Putin's Visit To Serbia A Rousing Success; No One Expected Otherwise, January 24, 2019.
 Valdaiclub.com, January 22, 2019. Dejan Novakovic is Co-President and Director of the Adriatic Council, Former State Secretary in the Ministry of Energy, Development and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Serbia.
 Republic.ru, January 18, 2019.
 Ng.ru, January 16, 2019.
 Rg.ru, January 19, 2019.
 Carnegie.ru, January 22, 2019.
 Kommersant.ru, January 17, 2019.
 Oliver Ivanovich a leader of the Kosovo Serbs, in the past – Secretary of State in the Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija affairs in the government of Serbia. Since January 2014, Ivanovich, along with four other Serbs, was imprisoned for war crimes against the Albanian civilian population in Kosovo and Metohija in 1999 and 2000.
 Regnum.ru, January 15, 2019.
 Russiancouncil.ru, January 17, 2019.