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

Serbia's pro-Russian president and Vladimir Putin will meet in Moscow on Thursday to discuss their close ties as the government in Belgrade seeks reforms that will put it firmly on the path to EU membership.

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic will visit his Russian counterpart to discuss their countries' "strategic partnership."

Serbia, which has long enjoyed close relations with Moscow, is soon expected to sign an agreement for cooperation with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, a bloc of former Soviet countries, Russian state news agency TASS reported last month.

Serbia's ambassador to Russia, Slavenko Terzic, said in February that Belgrade plans to increase agricultural exports to Russia and attract more Russian investments into Serbia's economy, TASS reported.

Serbia also relies on Russia's support in its diplomatic fight to prevent its runaway province Kosovo from joining the United Nations.

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, he signed a law that opened the door to closer ties with NATO, but said he expected the new government - formed with snap elections on April 24 - to consider allowing the same conditions for a Russian presence, through a disaster-relief regional centre the two countries jointly launched in 2014.

Nikolic's increasingly uneasy political partner, the more powerful Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, is on a clearly pro-EU course despite refusing to join Western sanctions against Russia.

A far-right, anti-Western nationalist during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, Vucic moved towards the centre over the past seven years and became a fervent supporter of Serbia's membership in the European Union.

Putin and Nikolic will "exchange views on key aspects of further strengthening of cooperation in political, trade, economic and humanitarian spheres," the Kremlin said Tuesday.

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