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21 Feb 11

Russia's Putin Set to Visit Belgrade in March

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit Belgrade on March 23, the day before Serbia marks the 12th anniversary of the NATO bombing.

Bojana Barlovac
Belgrade

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic has confirmed that Putin is coming to Belgrade on a working visit, explaining that his agenda will include discussion on economic issues, particularly those related to energy and infrastructure.

This is the Putin's first visit to Serbia since 2001. Relations between the two countries have continued to improve since then, and it is expected that he will use his time in the country to initiate new deals between Moscow and Belgrade.

According to Jeremic, Serbian President Boris Tadic is expected to travel to the Russian capital by the end of June, when an agreement on strategic cooperation between the two countries will be signed.

This is not the first time that a Russian leader has landed in Serbia for an official visit on a symbolic date. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Belgrade on October 20, 2009, the day when the Soviet Red Army liberated Belgrade in 1944, while Putin's visit comes one day before the 12th anniversary of the NATO bombing of Serbia, a particularly poignant day for many Serbians.

The timing of Putin's visit has caused some to believe that the aim of his visit is to ask Serbia not to join NATO. Serbia is currently neutral, and the country's possible future membership in NATO has always been a sensitive issue due to the 1999 bombing during the conflict in Kosovo.

Former diplomat Radoslav Stojanovic sees Putin's visit as very advantageous for Serbia.  

"We get a chance to show the west that another great power is interested in us, and to make a decision which will show the EU that we are independent in guiding policy, in the interest of Serbia, and there is nothing anti-western or anti-eastern," Stojanovic told Belgrade daily Blic.

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