Saturday, January 26, 2008

AKI: Russia: Moscow and Belgrade sign gas pipeline dea

Moscow, 25 Jan. (AKI) – Russia and Serbia have signed an historic deal for a 1.5 billion euro gas pipeline deal.

At a solemn ceremony in the Kremlin on Friday, Russian president Vladimir Putin, his Serbian counterpart Boris Tadic and prime minister Vojislav Kostunica, signed an agreement to build a gas pipeline to transport natural gas from the Black Sea via Bulgaria and Serbia to the west.

The deal provides for Russian energy giant Gazprom (photo) to buy 51 percent of Serbian oil industry NIS for 400 million euros. Russians have agreed to invest another 500 million euros in NIS in the next four years.

Putin said it was an important event for both countries, whose bilateral relations have been on the upswing.

“Serbian people can be sure that they have a reliable friend and partner in Russia,” he said. Putin pointed out that bilateral trade between Russia and Serbia had increased six times in the past eight years and topped 2.7 billion euros in 2007.

At the centre of the Moscow talks was the fate of Kosovo, whose majority ethnic Albanians are poised to unilaterally declare independence next month with the support of western powers.

Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has blocked the independence move, but the US and most European Union countries have said they would recognise independence bypassing the UN.

The EU is preparing to send a civilian mission to Kosovo to replace the current UN administration and to enforce independence.

But Belgrade and Moscow insist such a move would be illegal without the approval of the Security Council.

“Russia categorically opposes Kosovo independence, because it would cause serious damage to the entire system of international law, with negative consequences for the Balkans, the world and the stability of other regions,” Putin said.

Tadic said Serbia would continue to defend its sovereignty over Kosovo “strictly based on the international law".

"We will use no other methods,” he said.

Serbian officials have consistently warned that Kosovo independence would violate the UN Charter, which guarantees inviolability of the existing borders of internationally recognised states.

They claim it would encourage separatist movements throughout the world.

Kostunica thanked Russia for its “principled and fraternal support” on Kosovo, and warned that plans by the EU to send a mission to Kosovo without UN approval was “a dangerous act”.

In addition to the UN administration, there are 17,000 NATO soldiers in Kosovo, which has been under UN control since 1999.

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