Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, listens to a question during a joint press conference with Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, not pictured, at Schloss Meseberg castle in Meseburg, Germany. (Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)

Putin to Visit Serbia as Pressure Mounts for Deal With Kosovo

(Bloomberg) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Serbia in October or November as his Balkan ally pushes for an agreement with Kosovo that has ignited controversy over a key step in the country’s efforts to join the European Union.

Putin’s Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic, made headlines last month when he announced that he was in favor of partitioning Kosovo, the site of the last war in the bloody breakup of former Yugoslavia. While German Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected redrawing borders, Russia’s ambassador to Serbia said Moscow would support an agreement. Vucic has said support from Russia, a key ally of his government, is crucial to any deal.

Russia, which has resisted the expansion of western alliances into its former sphere of influence, will send "hundreds" of businessmen and government officials to Belgrade next month for “important meetings that will determine plans for the coming years,” Tanjug news service reported on Tuesday, citing Russian Ambassador Alexander Chepurin. The Russian embassy in Belgrade confirmed the report, but declined to specify dates for Putin’s visit.

It will be his fourth visit to Serbia in 17 years. Vucic has courted Putin as an ally as he walks a balancing act between Russia, which shares cultural and religious ties with the country of 7.2 million, and the EU.

Russia backs Serbia’s stance of never recognizing Kosovo. The EU has said normalizing ties with Kosovo is key to Serbia’s membership bid, and if it does that and enacts other reforms it could join around the middle of next decade.

But the still-undefined partition proposal, under which Serbia and Kosovo could potentially swap chunks of territory so ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians could live in territory where their kin form majorities, may re-ignite tensions that led to Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War II.

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