tomislav nikolić.jpg
Tomislav Nikolic
Photograph: HINA/ Damir SENČAR /ds

Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to continue supporting Serbia's territorial integrity, including its claim on the disputed region of Kosovo, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said Thursday.

"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 a meeting with Putin in Moscow, state media reported.

Serbia, which has long enjoyed close relations with Russia, relies on Moscow's support in its diplomatic fight to prevent its runaway province Kosovo 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 weaponry stockpiles. He said Russia was not alarmed by the deal and "Putin said he understands what we signed," state news agency TASS reported.

Nikolic's visit came as Belgrade seeks reforms that will put it firmly on the path to joining the European Union, a move staunchly supported by the country's more powerful prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic.

Nikolic, an openly pro-Russian leader, frequently speaks out against Serbia's approach to EU membership and, particularly, against closer ties with NATO.

Last month, Nikolic said he expected the new government - to be formed after snap elections on April 24 - to consider allowing Russia to maintain a permanent presence in Serbia.

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