Serbia has indicated it is ready to loosen its traditionally strong relations with Russia, saying it will not defy a European Union warning against building a Moscow-controlled gas pipeline.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said Wednesday "it makes no sense" to start construction of the South Stream pipeline, which is to bypass Ukraine to transport Russian natural gas to Europe, without an agreement on its legality between the EU and Moscow.
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Earlier Wednesday, the EU warned Serbia in a report that its bid to join the EU could suffer if it builds its sector of South Stream in defiance of the EU.
Serbia, which has refused to impose sanctions against Russia, is caught in the middle of Moscow's row with the West over Ukraine. It is increasingly being pressured to make a choice: continue down its path toward EU membership, or give up that goal and forge even stronger ties with Russia.
The South Stream pipeline would transport gas through the Black Sea to Bulgaria, Serbia and other European countries, bypassing Ukraine. But the EU has called for member states to not start building the project, citing concerns over Russia's dual role as pipeline owner and gas supplier.
"The construction of South Stream does not depend on us, but depends on an agreement between the EU and Russia," Vucic said. "It makes no sense for us to start construction for a pipeline that starts and ends in Serbia."
The pipeline is expected to be on top of the agenda of Oct. 16 talks with Vladimir Putin in Belgrade, with the Russian president expected to exert pressure on Serbia to ignore EU warnings and start the construction of the pipeline later this month.
But Vucic said he will tell Putin "that Serbia is on a European path and not on some other road."