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British Embassy Denies Reported Agreement With Belgrade Against Russian Influence

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace

BELGRADE -- The British Embassy in Belgrade has denied a report saying it had signed an agreement with the Serbian Defense Ministry on preventing Russia's influence in the Balkan country.

The Daily Telegraph on June 18 reported that British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace had said in an interview during his visit to Serbia that the two countries signed an important agreement to block Russia's influence and that Britain would help Serbia resist Russia's "evil influence" and "manipulation."

The embassy, in a written statement to RFE/RL, denied that Britain had signed such an agreement with Serbia's Defense Ministry. Earlier, the Defense Ministry in Belgrade also denied the existence of such an agreement.

The statement said the document signed during Wallace's visit last week focused on "consolidating and expanding the current bilateral cooperation between the ministries of defense of Serbia and the United Kingdom."

"The document deals with topics such as the joint participation of our countries in international peacekeeping missions. There is no mention of any other state in this document," the statement said.

"Our Minister of Defense during his official visit emphasized that the United Kingdom respects Serbia's military neutrality.“

Asked by RFE/RL to clarify Britain's position with regard to Russia, an embassy representative pointed to the public strategy document known as the Integrated Review of Foreign Policy and Defense -- a review by the British government into the foreign, defense, security, and international development policies of the United Kingdom published in March.

Belgrade and Moscow maintain close relations despite Serbia's being a candidate for EU membership.

Russia also supports the efforts of Serbian officials to block Kosovo's membership in international institutions, while Belgrade has refused to impose sanctions against Russia.