BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia on Wednesday sought to secure a greater Russian role in European Union-mediated talks with the former province of Kosovo, which could further strain the Balkan country's relations with the West.
Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said after meeting his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow that "Serbia cannot defend its state interests without the assistance of the Russian Federation."
Dacic also said Serbia "would not do anything without consulting Russia," adding that "Russia is our biggest friend."
The EU-sponsored talks on normalizing ties have been stalled over the Kosovo government's 100% tariff on goods imported from Serbia, which Belgrade wants lifted before resuming negotiations.
While Serbia and Russia don't recognize Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence, the U.S. and most of the West do. Serbia lost control over Kosovo after NATO intervened in 1999 to stop Belgrade's bloody crackdown against Kosovo Albanian civilians and separatists.
Although it formally seeks EU membership, Serbia has gradually been shifting toward Russia, which has lost most of its allies in the Balkans.
Serbia has been seeking the partition of Kosovo, hoping to take over parts of the state which are inhabited by the Serb minority. That has been rejected by Pristina and many Western countries, which fear it could have a domino effect on other borders in the region that saw wars in the 1990s.
Russia has repeatedly said it would accept any negotiated solution that is approved by Serbia, and indicated it would veto anything else at the U.N. Security Council.
"As for pressure on Serbia and demands to recognize Kosovo's independence, the pressure will surely continue, primarily on the part of the U.S., because the current administration is obsessed with achieving as much foreign policy success as possible in the short time until the next election," Lavrov said Wednesday, according to the Russian TASS news agency.