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Economic ties pull Serbia toward EU membership, but Russia resists

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during their meeting at the Presidential Administration on January 17, 2018 in Belgrade, Serbia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Jan. 17, in Serbia. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a high-profile visit Thursday to Serbia, Moscow's closest ally in the Balkans. Serbia's leadership has long touted cooperation with Russia, but the alliance has frayed as Belgrade has come to see it as the main obstacle on the way to EU membership.

Why it matters: The EU insists that Serbia must peacefully resolve its longstanding differences with Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, before it can join. Serbia has indicated that it’s ready to do so in exchange for an accession deal, but Russia, eager to keep Serbia from joining the EU, is trying to leverage strongly pro-Russian popular sentiment to gum up, and perhaps ruin, the fledgling compromise.

Kosovo's vote to create army divides international community

President of Kosovo Hashim Thaci (C) at a state ceremony after parliament passed a law creating a 5,000-strong standing army. Photo: Erkin Keci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Kosovo voted last Friday to create a standing army. The move comes a decade after independence from Serbia, which was enraged by the move and went so far as to threaten military intervention.

The big picture: Kosovo's vote has divided the international community, writes Ryan Scherba of Balkan Insider.