Serbian pro-Russian president slams outgoing US government

AP News
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Posted: Jan 17, 2017 9:56 AM
Serbian pro-Russian president slams outgoing US government

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The Serbian president lashed out on Tuesday at the outgoing U.S. administration, expressing hope President-elect Donald Trump will be more favorable toward Serbia and its Russia-backed claim over Kosovo.

Tomislav Nikolic said in a statement after meeting U.S. Ambassador Kyle Scott that the past U.S. policies "have created much trouble" in the Balkans, referring to American support for Kosovo's independence.

"I hope that with the new (U.S.) administration that kind of behavior will stop," Nikolic said.

Serbia, backed by Russia, has sought to maintain influence in Kosovo's north, where most of the country's Serb minority lives. NATO-led troops have controlled Kosovo's territory since a three-month air war in 1999 to stop a bloody Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists.

Nikolic spoke after tensions soared over the weekend when a Serbian train, bearing signs reading "Kosovo is Serbia," decorated in the colors of the Serbian flag and Christian Orthodox symbols, was turned back from the border with Kosovo.

Nikolic has accused Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders of "wanting war" and warned that Serbia would defend "every inch" of its territory by sending its troops to the NATO-patrolled region. Kosovo leaders have branded the sending of the Serbian train as a provocation to destabilize Kosovo's statehood, proclaimed in 2008.

"For them, a train decorated in Serbian symbols is a provocation. And they went against it with bombs and long-barrel weapons," Nikolic said in the statement, referring to a special Kosovo police force that inspected the tracks after reports of planted explosives.

"Kosovo is a sovereign, independent country and we respect the right of Kosovo to manage who and what crosses its borders," the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo said in a statement. "We are pleased that there were no confrontations at the border, but the increase of nationalism benefits no one."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sided with Serbia on Tuesday in Moscow, saying "there should be no Albanian law enforcement agencies in northern Kosovo where ethnic Serbs live."

He accused the West of "imposing so-called European values in a new, modernized, post-Christian manner on all peoples in the Balkans."

Nikolic is known for his pro-Russian stands. His comments reflect the general presumption in Serbia that Trump will be more favorable toward the country.

Serbia officially is seeking EU membership, but has lately been sliding toward its traditional Slavic ally Russia. It has strained relations with most of its neighbors — something many analysts believe is the Kremlin's influence.