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DAILY SURVEY 20.02.2018.
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SERBIA

VUCIC TO U.S. SENATOR: BELGRADE READY FOR COMPROMISE WITH PRISTINA, BUT WITH MUTUAL CONCESSIONS

BELGRADE, 18 February 2018 (Beta) - Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said in Belgrade, on Feb. 18, that he had told U.S Senator Ron Johnson that Belgrade was prepared to make a compromise with Pristina, but that it also implied concessions on both sides. "I said to Senator Johnson that Serbia was ready to compromise, but that it takes two for a compromise. There is no compromise if one side is absolutely happy, and the other completely dissatisfied," Vucic said at a joint press conference with Johnson, after a meeting in the "Mir" Villa. Vucic explained that Serbia was "open to talks in any context, and at any time," saying that in resolving the Kosovo issue it was vital to produce a solution that would be good "for our children and for the future," while Serbia "must not be humiliated, or respected any less than it is today." The president also said that he had "asked the United States, as a country that played a powerful role in creating Kosovo's independence, to assist in the stabilization of the region," by asking the Albanians for more flexible solutions and the solutions that will reflect genuine compromises. "An agreement between Belgrade and Pristina will have a very important, positive result - Serbian-Albanian relations will be settled for at least another century, providing a period of complete peace and absolute economic stabilization, so that fewer of our children leave the region to go abroad" the Serbian president said. Vucic said that he wanted to present to Johnson Belgrade's "diligent and flexible approach," and to let him know that Serbia respects its own interests, "without trying to harm the dignity of the Albanian people, offend, humiliate or do them wrong." Johnson said that everyone in the region should look to the future, and that any agreement had to be just for both sides.

SLOVENIAN PRESIDENT'S COMMENT ON KOSOVO AN UNPLEASANT SURPRISE FOR BRNABIC

BELGRADE, 19 February 2018 (Beta) - Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on Feb. 19 that she was disappointed by Slovenian President Borut Pahor's words that Slovenia would lobby for the European Union's five states that hadn't recognized Kosovo's independence to do so. Brnabic told reporters in Belgrade that the statement was contrary to the spirit of friendly relations between the two states. "It was a very unpleasant surprise for me. I'll talk about it with the Slovenian prime minister," Brnabic said. She added that the president's words in no way contributed to cooperation or regional reconciliation, and that she could "see no reason whatsoever for Slovenia to interfere." The Serbian PM explained that nothing of the sort was mentioned during a recent meeting with Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar in Brdo, near Kranj, where a joint session of the Slovenian and Serbian governments was held as well. Media reports say that during a visit to Pristina at the beginning of last week President Pahor said that Slovenia was ready to try and convince the five EU states which had refused to recognize an independent Kosovo to do so, "if Kosovo has met the necessary requirements, continuing honest talks with Belgrade and respecting the agreements reached earlier."

LAVROV: BRUSSELS IS WRONG TO MAKE WESTERN BALKANS CHOOSE BETWEEN THE WEST AND RUSSIA

BELGRADE, 19 February 2018 (Beta) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow had never criticized Serbian and regional accession to the European Union (EU), and that a decision by Brussels to make the EU hopefuls choose between Russia and the West was a very wrong one. In an exclusive interview to Beta's correspondent Zorana Bojic Sisoeva ahead of his visit to Serbia on Feb. 21-22, Lavrov said that the West had broken the gentleman's agreement that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would not spread to Russia's borders, and that it now wanted to drag the Balkans into the game. Speaking of Kosovo, Lavrov said that Russia planned to accept any solution Belgrade and Pristina might reach, adding that it was meaningless to discuss Kosovo's U.N. chair without it. The Russian foreign minister also talked about Russia's political, military and economic presence in the region, underlining that Mocow was interested in preserving historic, spiritual and cultural ties with its friends in the Balkans, and that it would not give up the plan to solve the problem of immunity for the Russians working with the Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Center in Nis. During his visit to the Serbian capital, Minister Lavrov will meet with President Aleksandar Vucic, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, and also attend the cultural festal events to celebrate the 180th anniversary of Russian-Serbian relations. The Russian foreign minister will also visit the St. Sava Church. He said the agenda included all aspects of bilateral relationship, international issues, the situation in Europe and the Balkans, and the Kosovo problem.

BALKAN STATES' DESIRE TO DEVELOP TIES WITH EU NOT PROBLEMATIC FOR RUSSIA

BELGRADE, 19 February 2018 (Beta) - In an interview to BETA, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Moscow sees no risk in the desire of the Balkan countries and other countries in Europe to develop relations with the EU, until their accession. "They are presented the accession criteria and those countries should assess whether the suit and how much they correspond with national interests. They should make their own conclusions on the usefulness of these or those actions in the development of external relations, whoever may be in question. We see no problem whatsoеver from the aspect of the maximally open expansion of a common economic area. I think it is wrong to compare the relations of the countries in the region, primarily of Serbia with the EU and the relations it has been developing with the EAEC. Serbia and Russia have a free trade agreement in place, and several months ago, talks started between Belgrade and the Eurasian Economic Commission on setting up an analogous zone between Serbia and the EAEC. To me, it seems a pragmatic and open approach by Belgrade, which aims to exploit advantages in both, the West and the East. The EAEC is a big market with 180 million consumers, and it has good infrastructure opportunities, as is the case in other fields. The fact that the EU requires every candidate country to join the EU common foreign and defense policy is the consequence of that same philosophy and mentality which is increasing tension in Europe, which served as a guideline also of those who were enlarging NATO and who were demanding that European countries, for instance Ukraine, make a choice - you are either with the West, or with Russia. It is a very erroneous practice. I regret that the EU, driven by its intention to expand its influence, has followed that logic. That logic has been expressed also in a program, called the Eastern Partnership. The EU formulated it several years ago for six post-Soviet states, and regardless of opposite assurances, in practice, that program is being fulfilled, based on the same ultimatum - you are either with Russia, or with Europe. It is bad that our European colleagues in Brussels are continuing to think that way. We would rather like to see the concept restored, which was announced on so many occasions in Brussels and other European capital cities, starting from France, when Charles de Gaulle presented his concept of one Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. Now, we are already talking about a Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok. And only recently, the actuality of that philosophy has been confirmed again. To my knowledge, after negotiations between coalition partners in Germany, a platform of the future coalition government will include an item on the necessity to advocate the idea on setting up a common economic area from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. Here, I would also like to mention the freshly launched, tenuous contacts, though still at a technical level, between the European Commission and the EAEC, which Brussels tried to avoid until only recently. It seems to me therefore that this tendency stands the highest chance of being lasting and most promising: not to think about the creation of closed alliances in military, political or economic domains, but rather to have a broader view of things and for a minimum of a period longer than four years, that is until the next elections in this or that European country, and see the prospects. And prospects open very favorably if we all are guided by the interests of concerted work for the sake of our own citizens in every country and on the European continent as whole. It seems to me that the Serbian leadership's policy proceeds from that premise and that President Aleksandar Vucic, speaking about Serbia's priority of joining the EU, has never said that it will be done at the expense of Russia. On the contrary, he has stressed that the Russian foreign policy line and the Russian course of cooperation will remain very important to Serbia, and I am assured that it corresponds with the interests of the Serbian people," Lavrov said. Commenting on some Serbian analysts' belief that Vucic will not be able to continue sitting on the fence between the EU and Russia for long, and that he will soon have to make a choice, Lavrov said that it would "the choice of the Serbian leadership" and that he was assured that "the choice will be made fully understanding the responsibility before the Serbian people." "If the requirements posed by the EU receive the backing of Serbia's citizens, it will be the choice of the Serbian people. The president, as well as any other state official, should be guided by the disposition of their people. I think that President Vucic is fully aware of that responsibility," Lavrov said.

DJURIC: BELGRADE READY TO RESUME DIALOGUE, HAS MANY QUESTIONS FOR PRISTINA

BELGRADE, 19 February 2018 (Beta) - The government's Office for Kosovo and Metohija chief Marko Djuric said on Feb. 19 that a technical dialogue with Pristina would resume in Brussels on Feb. 26, following a pause of more than 14 months. He said that Belgrade would insist on the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities, the resolution of essential issues for the Serbs and the investigation into the assassination of Oliver Ivanovic, the leader of the Civil Initiative Freedom, Democracy and Justice. "Belgrade is ready to go to Brussels and will have many questions for Pristina," Djuric told reporters during a break in the 16th round of the so-called internal dialogue on Kosovo, organized by the Faculty of Diplomacy and Security. "For us, there is no more important issue than the formation of the Community of Serb Municipalities. It is something they have owed us for 1,767 days now, and it is the priority topic," Djuric said. According to him, some of the issues involve the resolution of problems with personal identification documents and crossing the administrative line, and also the investigation into Ivanovic's assassination. He added that the Belgrade delegation would also comprise police experts who would ask questions about the investigation into the assassination of Ivanovic, who was gunned down in Northern Mitrovica on Jan. 16. Belgrade wishes to use the meeting in Brussels in the most productive way and would like it to be a true dialogue and cooperation, rather than something that would serve "to take a few photos," according to Djuric. The Belgrade and Pristina delegations will start the three-day dialogue on Feb. 26. The last technical dialogue started on Jan. 16, after a 13-month hiatus, but was interrupted amid the assassination of Oliver Ivanovic.

ECONOMY

MIHAJLOVIC, TOLEDO: SERBIA IS GOOD PLACE FOR INVESTMENTS

BELGRADE, 19 February 2018 (Beta) - Construction, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Zorana Mihajlovic on Feb. 19 met with Fadrique Alvares Toledo, the director of the Brussels Research Group which is preparing a report and guide for investing in Serbia, to discuss Serbia's priorities rail and road transport, regional connections and ways to attract foreign investors, according to a release from Mihajlovic's office. "Serbia is a politically and economically stable country, which is the most important precondition for the inflow of new investments and further economic development and connection. As the shortest route between the East and the West, as the region's hub, we have set several priorities in the transportation sector – the completion of the Corridor 10 and 11 highways, the modernization and reconstruction of the Corridor 10 railway, primarily the Belgrade-Budapest and Nis-Dimitrovgrad sections, the construction of the Nis-Merdare-Pristina highway and the development of air and river transport," Mihajlovic said. She stressed that Serbia's strategic goal was to join the EU and to have all reforms and laws passed in accordance with European standards. "Our goal is to have infrastructure connections with neighbors and further on with other European countries as it is good for the development of our national economies and regional cooperation. We want to help the entire region to move forward, to create a good investment environment, not only in Serbia, but also in the Western Balkan countries," she said. Toledo commended Serbia's hitherto achievements in the transportation sector as well as its progress on the World Bank's Doing Business list, stressing that Serbia was on a good path to attract new investments. The Brussels Research Group publishes the figures about developing economies, doing business, foreign policies and global affairs in reports that are used by influential businesspeople and investors.

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