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Serbia/Russia: Do Election Results Spell Defeat For Moscow?

President Boris Tadic claimed victory in Belgrade (epa) As Western governments rushed to praise the victory of pro-Western parties in the May 11 parliamentary elections in Serbia, the initial reaction from Moscow was muted.

A reformist coalition led by President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party secured 102 mandates in Serbia's 225-seat parliament. The pro-Moscow Radical Party, led by ultranationalist Tomislav Nikolic came in a distant second, winning 77 seats.

In remarks reported by ITAR-TASS, Mikhail Margelov, head of the International Relations Committee in Russia's Federation Council, said the results showed that there was "no unity in Serbian society" and that it was "premature to make forecasts about future developments."

But analysts say that Moscow is not entirely unhappy with the results. Many say Russia is able to do business with Tadic, and that the unpredictable firebrand Nikolic is a potential liability for the Kremlin despite his loyalty.

"Formally he [Nikolic] would show loyalty to Russia, but his image and politics would compromise Moscow's efforts to improve its image and strengthen its economic position. And Russia needs this now," says Yevgeny Volk, head of the Heritage Foundation in Moscow. "Therefore, I think Russia is prepared to close its eyes to Tadic's pro-Western orientation under the conditions that he protects Russia's economic and political interests in the Balkans."

Indeed, Tadic opposes Kosovo's independence and has signed off on major energy deals with Russia -- including the sale of a majority stake in the oil company NIS to Gazprom subsidiary Gazpromneft.

Moreover, despite his plurality, Tadic needs 126 votes to form a government and will need to form a coalition with other parties in parliament. A conservative coalition led by outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia came in third place with 30 seats in parliament, followed by the Socialist Party with 20 seats.

The Liberal Democrats, a pro-Western party, won 14 seats, and smaller parties representing ethnic minorities won a handful of mandates.

In a recent interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, political analyst Sergei Romanenko said nearly any combination of parties is possible.

"It is not only Serbia's political system that is divided, but Serbian society as well," Romanenko said. "There will likely be long and difficult negotiations about forming a government. I would only rule out one combination: Tadic's Democrats and the Serbian Radical Party will not be in the government together. All other combinations are possible."

Such a situation suits Moscow well since both the Socialists, the party of late Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic, and Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, are favorably disposed toward Russia.

"Tadic doesn't have an easy situation in forming a coalition. His party can't form a government alone," Volk says. "The parties closest to Russia, most of all the Socialists, can form a coalition with Tadic and help him form a government. And this can help [preserve] Russia's influence over Tadic."

Analysts say the most likely government would include Tadic's coalition, the Liberal Democrats, and the Socialists.