* Cautions that Serbia must reach own deal with Kosovo
* Serbia has rejected EU-brokered plan, seeks more talks
* Russia to disburse $300 million tranche immediately
By Darya Korsunskaya
GORKI, Russia, April 10 Russia granted Serbia a
$500 million loan on Wednesday and promised to back Belgrade in
its dispute with Kosovo but warned it must broker a deal with
its former province on its own.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told his Serbian counterpart
Ivica Dacic in Moscow that Russia would "always support our
Serbian friends" but said the push for a deal with majority
Albanian Kosovo must come from Belgrade itself.
Serbia on Monday rejected the principles of an accord that
emerged from six months of EU-mediated negotiations, saying they
fell short of the broad autonomy it seeks for a small ethnic
Serb pocket inside Kosovo.
But Kosovo, which seceded from Serbia in 2008, said on
Tuesday it held out hope for a deal and for more talks, with
Serbian hopes of starting European Union accession talks hanging
in the balance.
The EU says it wants a deal in place before it considers
this month whether to recommend the start of membership talks
with Belgrade this year - a process that would help propel
reform and unlock EU funds for the ailing Serbian economy.
Russia's $500 million credit to Serbia, a 10-year loan
carrying interest of 3.5 percent, was half the amount Belgrade
was seeking to help restore growth this year after a recession
in 2012 caused by a spillover of the euro zone crisis.
Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told reporters that Russia
would disburse a $300 million tranche immediately to help plug
Serbia's budget deficit.
In 2013, Belgrade faces a budget gap of about 3.6 percent of
national output and needs about 4.8 billion euros ($6.2 billion)
to finance debt seen at 65 percent of gross domestic product,
higher than a 45 percent limit set by domestic fiscal rules.
Siluanov said Serbia would receive the second tranche of
$200 million once it strikes a deal with the International
Monetary Fund in talks next month on a precautionary loan after
the lender suspended a 1 billion euro deal last year.
ORTHODOX, SLAVIC TIES
Serbia has already borrowed $800 million from Russia - the
biggest investor in its economy and its traditional Slavic and
Orthodox Christian ally - to overhaul railways. It has also
sought other sovereign lenders, including the United Arab
Emirates and China. [ID: nL5N0CK3GD]
Russian President Vladimir Putin met Dacic on Wednesday,
greeting him warmly with a hug and saying Russian-Serbian
relations were "especially close".
But Medvedev's comments, punctuating a visit underscoring
Moscow's warm relations with Belgrade, showed a rare lapse in
patience over Belgrade's handling of talks with Pristina.
Moscow has the impression that Serbs "expect more from
Russia than from Serbia itself", he told Dacic at his residence
outside Moscow. "This is wrong," Medvedev said.
"The process needs to be fostered by Serbia, not us."
Dacic said he wants Russian support to resume talks under
the auspices of the United Nations over Kosovo, a province of
1.7 million people which broke away from Serbia in a 1998-99 war
and declared independence with the backing of the West in 2008.
"Serbia can continue to aspire to join the European Union
but never forget that Russia and the Russian people are our
greatest friends," Dacic said. "We are ready to continue talks
(on Kosovo). Now Serbia asks Russia to help bring these
negotiations with the U.N. framework."