BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Russia's top security official on Wednesday urged closer cooperation from Serbia, the latest of Moscow's efforts to boost its influence in the Balkan country.
Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of President Vladimir Putin's Security Council, asked Serbia to sign a "memorandum of understanding" on security next year to pave the way for "consultations on regular basis."
"We have such documents with partners of utmost trust," said Patrushev, a former Russian secret police chief who is believed to be one of Putin's most influential allies.
Although never part of the Soviet bloc, Serbia remains a rare Russian ally in Europe. Belgrade wants to join the European Union, but has refused to impose West-backed sanctions on Russia, a historic Slavic and Orthodox Christian friend.
Serbia's pro-Russian President Tomislav Nikolic said in a statement issued after the meeting with Patrushev that Belgrade will not introduce sanctions against Moscow "because it would have grave and very punishing consequences for the interests of our country."
Belgrade also has ruled out joining NATO, while Russia has backed Serbia's claim on Kosovo, a former province that declared independence in 2008 against Serbia's will.
There have been signs recently that Serbia was shifting away from the EU and closer to Russia. Some analysts have warned that Moscow is stepping up pressure to derail Serbia's EU path.
"Russians were against NATO, now ... the propaganda started saying that the EU is also a non-attractive project," said political analyst Bosko Jaksic. "They are very aggressive in delivering that propaganda and combining both open pressure and other sophisticated techniques."
"When we have ex-KGB chief coming to Belgrade, it's just stamping that influence and stamping the pressure we are witnessing," Jaksic added.
In Belgrade, Patrushev received a ceremonial welcome from Serbia's honor guard, usually reserved for highest state officials.
Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said during his meeting with Patrushev that "there is room for improvement" in security ties. He said topics in the talks also included the threat from extremism and the migrant crisis.
"It is our task to achieve an even better cooperation with Russia's security services," he said.
Dusan Stojanovic contributed to this report.