RELATIONS BETWEEN RUSSIA, SERBIA & MONTENEGRO ARE UNDERGOING DRAMATIC CHANGE, SERB ANALYST SAYS

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BELGRADE, June 8 (RIA Novosti's Sergei Ryabikin) - The relationship between Russia and Serbia & Montenegro is undergoing dramatic change, Predrag Simic, in charge of that country's Diplomatic Academy, told this RIA Novosti correspondent in an interview Tuesday.

Simic expects bilateral relations to gain new quality following the recent visits to Moscow by Serbian presidential hopefuls (the next presidential election in Serbia is due June 13) and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, as well as the visit to the Russian capital that Serbia & Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic is beginning tonight.

The last few months have been a turning point in the relations between Russia and Serbia & Montenegro, Simic argues.

After the change of government in Belgrade in 2000, the country became West-oriented. But, according to our interviewee, Russia has always been and will remain indispensable for peace and stability in southern Europe, specifically in the Balkans. Russia's influence in the area has had its highs and lows, but it has been around for centuries. The war in Bosnia and the conflict in Kosovo show that it will be hard to reach a settlement without Russia's mediation. No long-term solution to the post-Yugoslavia crisis will be possible to find unless Russia helps, Simic pointed out, adding that the country is as essential to the Balkans as salt is to cooked food.

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