BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The Latest on Serbia-Kosovo tensions (all times local):
Members of a Russian motorcycle club known for its allegiance to President Vladimir Putin say they are planning a tour linking Russia and Kosovo, a tense ex-Serbian province that declared independence in 2008.
The Night Wolves bikers spoke Tuesday at the end of a trip to Serbia and a Serb mini-state in Bosnia that they said was designed to promote common Slavic roots of Russian and Serbian nations.
The visit has coincided with a mounting Russian bid to maintain influence in the Balkans, particularly in Serbia, and a spike in tensions with Kosovo, whose statehood Belgrade doesn’t recognize.
The Night Wolves have been blacklisted by the West for supporting Putin’s policies in Ukraine.
Many Serbs consider Kosovo the nation’s cradle. Serbia has close ties with Moscow, though it formally seeks European Union membership.
Russia has waded into the bubbling conflict between Serbia and Kosovo with a strongly-worded statement directed at the West.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused the European Union and the U.S. of wanting “to crudely suppress” attempts by Kosovo Serbs to “safeguard their legitimate interests.”
The ministry statement, carried by Tass news agency, says “It is nakedly clear that the Kosovars (Kosovo Albanians) follow the advice of their U.S. and European patrons, who trample international law and act on the basis of arbitrariness.”
While Russia supports Serbia’s claims over its former province, the U.S. and most Western states have recognized Kosovo’s independence. Russia has been trying to expand its influence in the Balkans mainly through its traditional Slavic ally Serbia.
Kosovo Serbs have set up a road block in northern Kosovo, and their representatives walked out of the Kosovo government in response to the arrest and expulsion of a senior Serbian government official.
Politicians representing Kosovo’s Serb minority met Tuesday with Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, saying they will no longer support the Kosovo government.
The developments came a day after Marko Djuric was briefly detained in the divided town of Mitrovica because he entered the country illegally. Kosovo police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse Serb protesters in Mitrovica.
The incident has fueled friction between Serbia and its former province whose 2008 declaration of independence Belgrade does not recognize.
Serbs have parked trucks to block a key road linking northern Kosovo with the capital, Pristina.