Putin arrives in Belgrade for South Stream talks

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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrived in Serbia Wednesday for a working visit that will centre on the planned South Stream gas pipeline that would cut across the Balkans, local media reported.

The Russian PM was met by his Serbian counterpart Mirko Cvetkovic and was also set to meet Serbian President Boris Tadic.

On his two-day trip to the Balkans, which started in Slovenia Tuesday, Putin is accompanied by Alexei Miller, head of Russian gas giant Gazprom.

Security was tight in Serbia's capital for the visit, with some 4,000 police officers on the streets. In the centre close to the parliament that Putin is due to visit in the afternoon riot police officers were stationed every 200 metres (yards).

Serbia has already agreed to let the South Stream pipeline, designed to get Russian gas to Europe by-passing the Ukraine, pass through its territory as part of an energy deal made in December 2008 between Moscow and Belgrade.

The pipeline project, championed by Putin since 2007, would pump gas from southern Russia to the Balkans and onwards to other European countries. It is seen as a rival to the European Nabucco project, which will bypass Russia to try and reach suppliers around the Caspian Sea and in the Middle East.

Local press reported that Putin's visit aims to iron out the final details of the project in Serbia. Moscow hopes that the first gas can flow through the pipeline in 2015.

During Putin's visit to Slovenia a deal was signed to found a joint company that would draw the possible route of the pipeline through Slovenia and run its construction.

Besides energy questions Putin is also expected to discuss the airstrikes on Libya and the status of Kosovo. Moscow is a steadfast supporter of Belgrade's refusal to recognise the unilateral declaration of independence of its former province in 2008.

The visit is not all business, Putin will have time to relax in the evening when he is set to watch a friendly football match between Red Star Belgrade and his favourite Russian club Zenit St Petersburg. Both teams are sponsored by Gazprom.

© 2011 AFP

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