MOSOCOW, Russia (AP) -- Russia's foreign minister claimed that NATO and the EU have been considering using force to keep Serbs from leaving Kosovo following its declaration of independence, according to remarks broadcast Monday.
Russian First Deputy PM Dmitry Medvedev and Serbian President Boris Tadic in Belgrade, Serbia, Monday.
Sergey Lavrov, in an interview on state-run Vesti-24 television, said that this would lead to undermining security in the Balkans and Europe.
Lavrov suggested that the mission was seeking help from NATO forces to ease its deployment in Serb-populated northern Kosovo and to keep Serbs in the region. "We have information that the EU mission, attempting to deploy in Serb enclaves -- and the Serbs do not want this -- is trying to draw the NATO forces for Kosovo onto its side," he said.
He added that "the question of using force to hold back Serbs who do not want to remain under Pristina's authority ... is being seriously discussed."
Meanwhile Russia signed a gas pipeline deal with Serbia on Monday, underscoring Moscow's traditional ties with Belgrade even as tensions with the U.S. and other nations rise.
The plan clears the way for the construction of the South Stream pipeline through Serbia en route to Western Europe.
The agreement, expected to be worth as much as $1.5 billion, is the centerpiece of a visit to Serbia by Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's chosen successor and the man expected to easily win Russia's presidential election March 2. Medvedev said the pipeline deal, along with others, "form the foundation of energy stability for all of Europe in the future."
Medvedev also toured Serbia's oil refinery in Pancevo, just outside Belgrade, where he said that a deal to buy Serbia's state oil company, NIS, will also be signed soon.
Russia has offered $600 million, with an additional €500 million ($730 million) to modernize the run-down company -- a price government critics say is too low.
Though Medvedev's visit has focused mostly on economic issues, talks with President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica also addressed the turmoil following Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia.
Serbs consider Kosovo the heart of their ancient homeland and the cradle of their Serbian Orthodox faith, and reject its independence as illegal.
On Thursday night, a mob set fire to the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, angered over U.S. recognition of Kosovo's independence.
The United States and some European Union nations quickly recognized Kosovo's declaration of independence last week but Moscow sided with Serbia and said it will block Kosovo from joining the United Nations or other international organizations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Kosovo's declaration represented "a terrifying precedent," and warned the West that the decision would "come back to knock them on the head."
Medvedev, in Belgrade, said that "all such declarations violate the international system of security and the system of international law that the world has built in the past 100 years."
He added that Kosovo's independence declaration "absolutely" violated international law. Moscow and Serbia will "coordinate" their actions, he said.
"Serbia needs support now," Medvedev said.
President Tadic, in a statement, thanked Russia for its backing, while Prime Minister Kostunica said Serbia and Russia would continue to coordinate policy.
Diplomatic officials in Belgrade said Medvedev's statements will be watched closely for indications of Russia's foreign policy after Putin steps down in May. E-mail to a friend
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