Visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (L) shakes hands with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic during their meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, on Dec. 12, 2016. (Xinhua/Predrag Milosavljevic)
BELGRADE, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- Strategic partnership between Serbia and Russia should focus on economic cooperation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said here during his meetings with Serbian top state officials on Monday.
Lavrov said Russia was willing to balance its interests without interfering in Serbia's internal matters.
Lavrov arrived in Serbia on Monday for a two-day visit for the Black Sea Economic Cooperation's 35th council of ministers of foreign affairs meeting on Tuesday.
He was welcomed by his counterpart Ivica Dacic, after which he met separately with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and President Tomislav Nikolic.
According to a Serbian government statement, Vucic and Lavrov agreed that the focus of their strategic partnership, which started two years ago, should be on economic cooperation within the Free Trade Agreement, while Lavrov assured that Russia was ready to find a balance in its interests and "will not interfere with Serbia's internal affairs."
At a separate meeting, Lavrov and Dacic signed the consultation plan between the two countries for 2017 and 2018 and held a joint press conference at which Lavrov explained that economy and trade made up an important part of relations between the two countries.
"Because of some objective reasons and global circumstances, there was some serious decline in trade between Russia and Serbia, but this year we were already able to say with satisfaction that this trend had been reversed and that we saw some growth, although not very impressive," Lavrov said, reminding that Russian companies had so far invested around four billion U.S. dollars in Serbia.
He said relations with Serbia should be based on a mutually-beneficial partnership and suggested the bilateral free-trade partnership be expanded to other member countries of the Eurasian Economic Union.
Dacic said Serbia would never become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nor would its foreign policy become anti-Russian, like certain EU member countries, nor would it join in any kind of sanctions against Russia.
"Our willingness to become a member state of the European Union (EU) has nothing to do with our relationship with Russia and we will never let this willingness be presented as some kind of an anti- Russian sentiment or attitude," Dacic said, thanking Lavrov for supporting Serbia in maintaining its territorial integrity and independence.
He explained that Serbia planned to continue cooperation with Russia in many areas based on increasing free trade and negotiating on unifying trade with member states of the Eurasian Economic Union, including energy, agriculture and other areas in order to increase mutual turnover.
Vucic is to visit Russia on Dec. 21 where he will sign an agreement on military technical cooperation with Russian defense minister Sergey Shoygu.