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Serbian pro-Russian president slams outgoing US government

January 17, 2017
In this April 16, 2011 photo, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, right, speaks with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic during a protest rally in Belgrade, Serbia. Nikolic has lashed out against the outgoing U.S. administration expressing hope President-elect Donald Trump will be more favourable toward Serbia and its Russia-backed claim over Kosovo. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
In this April 16, 2011 photo, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, right, speaks with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic during a protest rally in Belgrade, Serbia. Nikolic has lashed out against the outgoing U.S. administration expressing hope President-elect Donald Trump will be more favourable toward Serbia and its Russia-backed claim over Kosovo. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s president lashed out Tuesday at the outgoing Obama administration and expressed hope President-elect Donald Trump will be more open to the Balkan nation’s Russia-backed claim to Kosovo.

President Tomislav Nikolic said after meeting U.S. Ambassador Kyle Scott that the past U.S. policies “have created much trouble” in the Balkans, referring to American support for Kosovo’s independence.

“I hope that with the new administration that kind of behavior will stop,” Nikolic said in a statement.

Serbia, backed by Russia, has sought to maintain influence in Kosovo, especially in the north where most of the country’s Serb minority lives. NATO-led troops have controlled Kosovo’s territory since a three-month air war in 1999 to stop a bloody Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists.

Nikolic spoke after tensions soared over the weekend when a Serbian train, bearing signs reading “Kosovo is Serbia,” decorated in the colors of the Serbian flag and Christian Orthodox symbols, was turned back from the border with Kosovo.

Nikolic has accused Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leaders of “wanting war” and warned that Serbia would defend “every inch” of its territory by sending its troops.

Kosovo leaders have branded the Serbian nationalist train as a provocation to destabilize Kosovo’s statehood, proclaimed in 2008.

Ambassador Scott said after the meeting with Nikolic “that stability in the region is a prerequisite for future progress, and that all should avoid heightened rhetoric.”

Speaking during a meeting with former EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said “Serbia’s goal of dividing Kosovo will not be accomplished.”

“Kosovo is a sovereign, independent country, and we respect the right of Kosovo to manage who and what crosses its borders,” the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo said in a statement. “We are pleased that there were no confrontations at the border, but the increase of nationalism benefits no one.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, however, sided with Serbia on Tuesday in Moscow, saying “there should be no Albanian law enforcement agencies in northern Kosovo where ethnic Serbs live.”

He accused the West of “imposing so-called European values in a new, modernized, post-Christian manner on all peoples in the Balkans.”

Nikolic is known for his pro-Russian stands. His comments reflect the general presumption in Serbia that Trump’s policies will be more favorable for the country.

Serbia officially is seeking EU membership, but has lately been sliding toward its traditional Slavic ally Russia. It has strained relations with most of its neighbors — something many analysts believe results from Kremlin influence.

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Associated Press writer Llazar Semini contributed.

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