Russia renews support for Serbs over Kosovo

BELGRADE – Russia’s likely next president, Dmitry Medvedev, told Serbian leaders on Monday there would be no shift in his country’s support for Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo.

“We assume that Serbia is a single state whose jurisdiction covers all of its territory,” Medvedev said. “We will stick to this position.”

Medvedev, the Kremlin-backed frontrunner for president, met pro-Western President Boris Tadic and nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who has long leaned on Moscow for help against the secession of Serbia’s southern province.

Currently Russia’s first deputy prime minister, Medvedev is expected to win a presidential election on Sunday. He was traveling with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a signal that Russian support for Belgrade would continue after his election.

Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin have condemned the February 17 secession of Kosovo and charged the United States and major European Union states with breaching international law by recognizing it as independent.

In a statement on Sunday, the Russian foreign ministry again demanded a “compromise” on Kosovo.

It also recalled that Russia had a peacekeeping contingent in Kosovo from 1999 to 2004 — possibly pointing to plans to propose a return of Russian troops to the territory, in ethnic Serb areas that resist Albanian rule.

Belgrade has pulled its ambassadors from the countries that have recognized the Albanian-majority province, and counts on Russia as its main ally.

“This visit comes at an extremely important moment, it’s an opportunity to confirm our common positions concerning the illegal snatching of Kosovo,” Serbian Trade Minister Predrag Bubalo told local media.

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