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Russia's Presidential Favorite Vows Support For Serbia


The man expected to become the next Russian president has vowed Russia will support Serbia in its campaign against Kosovo's independence. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev made the pledge after meeting Serbia's President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica in Belgrade. Stefan Bos reports for VOA from Budapest.

Speaking in Serbia's capital after meeting Serbian leaders, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev made clear that if he becomes the next Russian president there will be no shift in Moscow's support for Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo.

Medvedev is the favorite to win Russia's presidential poll Sunday. He warned that, if unchallenged, Kosovo's declaration of independence could destabilize the whole region.

Medvedev says in his talks he underlined that the declaration of Kosovo independence realistically caused a complicated situation in the province and in the southeast part of Europe. He adds the declaration will cause the most negative consequences for all other regions in the countries where questions of independence exist.

As he spoke in Belgrade, more than 1,000 people demonstrated against independence for a seventh day in Kosovo's Serb stronghold of north Mitrovica. The protesters burned a European Union flag and a picture of Serbia's President Boris Tadic, who is seen as pro-western.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica condemned the United States and several European countries for recognizing Kosovo as an independent state, and ordered the withdrawal of Serb ambassadors from these nations.

He says there cannot be a normalization of relations with states that have recognized Kosovo's independence until they annul their decision.

Mr. Kostunica wants to establish closer ties with Russia, which is seen as Serbia's traditional ally. But critics say Russian diplomatic help does not come cheap.

Prime Minister Kostunica has been criticized by his liberal coalition partners for allowing Russian gas monopoly Gazprom to buy control of Serbian oil monopoly NIS, a deal which is seen as a political move meant to thank Moscow for its support on the Kosovo issue.

Serbian officials say Gazprom offered about $600 million for a 51-percent stake in NIS - a fifth of the estimated value of the company. As part of that deal, Medvedev signed an agreement with Belgrade to create a joint company that will build the Serbian part of the multi-billion-dollar South Stream pipeline, a project by Gazprom and Italy's ENI, to bring gas to Europe.

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