Serbia's president Aleksandar Vucic has sought Moscow's continued support over Kosovo and restated his opposition to Nato membership, as he became the first foreign leader to meet Vladimir Putin since he began another term as Russian president.
Mr Vucic and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu were the only top-level foreign guests at Wednesday’s military parade on Red Square to mark Victory Day, highlighting Serbia’s status as one of Russia’s closest European allies.
The Serbian leader paid his latest visit to Moscow after meeting on Monday with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, as the EU, Russia, Turkey, China and the US all jostle for influence in the Balkans.
Moscow is Belgrade's staunchest ally in rejecting the independence of Kosovo, a former region of Serbia, and Mr Vucic said he asked Russia, "as one of the most important and strongest world powers, for help in resolving the Kosovo question".
The EU says Serbia and Kosovo must normalise their relations before they join the bloc, and it is brokering talks to help them reach a deal.
"No solution [on Kosovo] can be found in the United Nations without Russia's approval and in that sense Russia will very actively monitor our talks and everything that could happen, and will react in a timely way," Serbia's leader said.
Mr Vucic wants his country to join the EU – a move that Brussels claims could be possible by 2025 – but he rejects Nato membership, at a time when all of Serbia’s neighbours are either part of the alliance or aiming for accession.
“Serbia will preserve its independence, Serbia will preserve its military neutrality and Serbia is not planning to become a member of Nato or any other military alliance,” Mr Vucic said at the Kremlin on Tuesday night.
Russia last year agreed to donate ageing fighter jets, tanks and other armoured vehicles to the Serbian military, and last month Mr Vucic discussed a possible deal for attack and transport helicopters with Moscow’s defence minister.
He also assured Mr Putin that Belgrade would not join western sanctions imposed on Russia for its aggression against Ukraine, saying: "Serbia has shown that it is a reliable partner for the Russian Federation. In times that were not easy for Russia, Serbia never went against your interests."
Mr Vucic also hailed Mr Putin again for blocking a UN draft resolution that described as genocide Bosnian Serb forces' 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica.
“I would like to thank you again for what you did in 2015, when you literally saved the Serbian people ... from the stigma of genocide,” he said.
“I want to assure you that the Serbian people will never forget what you did. Many times you defended the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Serbia.”