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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Warns Serbia About Russian Hug

BRUSSELS -- The European Union, at odds with Serbia over the future of Kosovo, warned Belgrade on Wednesday to beware of the bear hug of Russia.

Speaking after restarting negotiations with Serbia on closer ties, European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said everyone wanted good relations with Moscow.

"But it is important to recall that one has to be careful that when hugging even a friendly big bear, one wouldn't be suffocated," the Finnish commissioner told Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic at a joint news briefing.

Russia has been Serbia's closest ally in opposing Western-backed independence for the breakaway Serb province of Kosovo, under United Nations stewardship since 1999.

Rehn stressed that the EU talks with Serbia -- resumed after Belgrade boosted cooperation with a UN war crimes tribunal -- was a separate process from that on the final status of Kosovo.

"I don't think it would be fair that we would expect Serbia to make concessions on Kosovo because of achieving or returning to the European track," he said.

"At the same time, it is important that we see ... Serbia's return to the EU integration process should help to change the terms of the political debate in Serbia from nationalist past to the European future," the commissioner added.