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Putin Promises Serbian Leader Russia Will Back Claim To Kosovo

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to back Serbia's claim to Kosovo.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic says he has received assurances from Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow will continue to back Belgrade's claim to Kosovo.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and is now recognized as an independent state by some 110 countries.

"Putin said clearly that Serbia can count on Russia everywhere that Serbia is defending its territorial integrity and independence, especially in Kosovo," Nikolic said after meeting with Putin in Moscow on March 10.

Serbia relies on Moscow's support in its diplomatic fight to prevent Kosovo, populated mainly by ethnic Albanians, from joining the United Nations.

Putin and Nikolic also discussed Serbia's recent agreement to allow NATO personnel to maintain a presence in the country.

Nikolic said the deal was mostly to enable the troops to destroy weapon stockpiles. He said Russia was not alarmed by the deal and "Putin said he understands what we signed."

Nikolic's visit came as Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic seeks reforms that will put the Balkan country on the path to joining the European Union.

Nikolic is an openly pro-Russian leader who frequently speaks out against closer ties to NATO and the EU.

Based on reporting by dpa, Interfax, and TASS