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    RUSSIA FOR CLOSER LINKS WITH SERBIA & MONTENEGRO: PUTIN

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    BELGRADE, March 16, 2004. (RIA Novosti correspondent Sergei Ryabikin) - Russia is willing to step up contacts with Serbia and Montenegro. It will do it dynamically and consistently, and go as far as the other side wishes, President Vladimir Putin stated in his oral message. Sergei Razov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, passed it to President Svetozar Marovic upon arrival in Belgrade on a visit.

    President Putin is hopeful about bilateral relations, and sure of their ensuing progress. He is especially optimistic about economic contacts, says Mr. Razov.

    Russia has always regarded its contacts with Serbia and Montenegro among top Balkan priorities, stresses President Putin.

    A stronger Serb-Montenegrin commonwealth is essential for Balkan peace and stability, and to enhance the wellbeing of the two nations, with their close centuries-long links, he goes on.

    The say-so belongs to the public, and Mr. Putin hopes the nations will make the right epoch-making choice.

    It will take a long time and big efforts for new Serb-Montenegrin relations to take shape, for united statehood to emerge and gain strength, and for ruling institutions to become efficient. Moscow is fully aware of all that. It is up to political leaders to do all they can for commonwealth stability. They must make practical moves to prove to the public that the alliance deserves to survive. Russia is willing to offer Serbia and Montenegro all necessary assistance in the cause, reassures President Putin.

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