* Serbia says got aide-memoire message from EU
* Says will not subsidise exports to Russia
* Serbia caught between EU ambitions, Russia ties
(Updates with EU reaction)
By Aleksandar Vasovic
BELGRADE, Aug 22 Serbia said on Friday it would
not subsidise exports to Russia, after the European Union urged
the Balkan country - a candidate for accession to the bloc - not
to exploit the Kremlin's ban on Western food imports.
Serbian food producers hope to take advantage of the trade
row but the West-Russia stand-off over Ukraine has put Serbian
authorities in a tight spot, caught between their ambition to
join the EU and economic and political ties with Russia.
Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said he had received an
aide-memoire this week from an EU official in Belgrade calling
on Serbia to refrain from boosting exports to Russia, as a
matter of solidarity with the bloc.
Vucic told a news conference Serbia had not planned to
subsidise exporters to Russia but also would not join the
Western sanctions on Moscow.
As an EU candidate, Serbia is under pressure to bring its
foreign policy into line with that of the 28-member bloc, which
wants to make sure Russia feels the effects of the embargo.
"We won't stop production or exports, but we won't introduce
new subsidies either," Vucic said. "We will behave in line with
the recommendation we received, but we will not introduce
sanctions against Russia."
"Our strategic path is the path to the EU, and because of
Serbia and its citizens we must preserve good, friendly
relations with Russia," Vucic told reporters.
Some Serbian producers, particularly fruit farmers, have
reported a spike in demand from Russia, but capacity is limited.
In 2013, just 7.2 percent, or about $65 million of Serbia's
total exports, went to Russia.
Russia this month banned all meat, fish, dairy, fruit and
vegetable imports from the United States, the EU, Norway, Canada
and Australia for one year in retaliation against Western
sanctions on Moscow.
The West accuses the Kremlin of fomenting a pro-Russian
separatist insurgency in Ukraine, a charge Moscow denies.
On Aug. 15, the EU said it expected candidate countries such
as Serbia to "refrain from measures which are aimed at
exploiting new trading opportunities arising from the
introduction of these (Russian) measures".
The bloc welcomed Vucic's remarks on Friday.
"We welcome the attention the Serbian government pays to
this issue and we appreciate the constructive approach as
announced by the Prime Minister Vucic," EU Enlargement
Commissioner Stefan Fule's spokesman, Peter Stano, said.
(Additional reporting by Martin Santa in Brussels; Writing by
Matt Robinson; Editing by Louise Ireland)