Russia-Serbia energy deal to be ratified, Serbian FM says

Moscow - Serbia's foreign minister said Thursday he is confident a gas pipeline deal with Russia will be approved by the Balkan nation's parliament.

Vuk Jeremic's remarks came as Serb lawmakers met in Belgrade to debate the energy deal, which provides for a leg of Russia's South Stream pipeline to pass through Serbia to Western Europe.

"The energy agreement between Russia and Serbia has the highest strategic value," the Interfax news agency quoted Jeremic as saying. "Today there is a session of the Serbian parliament and there it will be ratified."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sealed the deal in a February visit to Belgrade, when he was a presidential candidate and chairman of the Gazprom energy monopoly.

Ratification of the deal would also pave the way for Gazprom to buy a controlling 51-per-cent stake in Serbian oil monopoly NIS for some 400 million euros (635 million dollars).

The agreement "is an important factor for the energy industry and economic development of Serbia ... Once again I wish to confirm that this agreement will be carried out," Jeremic said in Russia on his first foreign trip since a new cabinet was formed in Belgrade last week.

Kosovo was also high on the agenda in Jeremic's meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Russia has been Belgrade's main supporter in rejecting international recognition of Kosovo's independence from Serbia.

"Russia supports any decision, any resolution, which is acceptable to Belgrade. This is our basic position and it remains strong," Lavrov said, renewing a plea for direct negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade.

Serbia's Foreign Minister in turn affirmed that ties with Russia were a foreign policy priority over EU accession.

"The maintenance of our sovereignty and territorial integrity will be the absolute priority for the new government. Russia is undoubtedly Serbia's closest ally in this struggle," Jeremic said in an interview with the state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta published on Wednesday.

"The country's European integration will be our government's second most important priority ... I am pleased to note that we have been witnessing Moscow's support in this area, too," he added.

Analysts point out that Russia advocates Serbia's speedy EU accession to smooth energy ties with its Balkan ally. (dpa)