MOSCOW Russia on Monday announced plans to send humanitarian aid to Serb-populated enclaves in Kosovo at the request of the Serbian government, a step that underscored Moscow's rejection of Kosovo's independence.
Moscow joined its ally Belgrade in opposing Kosovo's independence from Serbia and has refused to recognize it as a sovereign state. The United States and most European countries have recognized Kosovo's independence.
At a meeting between Putin and members of his government, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Serbian government had requested the aid, citing a deterioration of the situation in Serb-populated areas of Kosovo.
"We considered it important to respond to this request," Lavrov said.
Putin ordered Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov to "work on this issue", Itar-Tass news agency quoted the Russian president as saying.
He did not say if Kosovo's government, which Russia has described as illegitimate, would be consulted over the aid. Putin said the despatch of humanitarian aid should not be politicized.
"When we talk about political issues, it is one side of the problem, humanitarian issues are another," Putin said.
"If we look at humanitarian issues, we should proceed from the fact that all the people of this enclave must feel alright, irrespective of their nationality. If there is a need for humanitarian aid, let's do it but without political overtones."
Serbia's ambassador to Russia hailed Moscow's plans to send humanitarian aid as a sign of support at a difficult time following Kosovo's declaration of independence.
"Russia has always played a very prominent role in the Balkans, and Russia is viewed as a close ally in Serbia and by the Serbian population in Kosovo," Stanimir Vukicevic told RIA news agency.
"We hope Russia's aid will be just the thing for those suffering great hardships, especially after Kosovo's unilateral independence declaration."
Lavrov said the Serbian government in Belgrade had asked for medicine, medical equipment, non-perishable food supplies and hygiene products for the Serb-populated enclaves in Kosovo.
(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Jon Boyle)