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Ahead of Serbian vote, the pull of Russia is felt

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Mayor Milorad Mircic of the Radical Party said on Friday that "Putin contributed to the improvement of Serbian-Russian relations." He went on to mention a controversial energy deal signed between Moscow and Belgrade last week as part of the reason that Putin received the honorary citizenship. "We should be grateful to Putin for his activities aimed at signing an energy deal between Serbia and Russia," he told the assembly.

The $2.2 billion deal, completed in Moscow on Friday, handed control of Serbia's state-owned energy company NIS to the Russian energy giant Gazprom.

The deal also allows Serbian land to be used for the South Stream gas pipeline, a direct competitor to the US-backed Nabucco pipeline that was planned to relieve Europe's reliance on Russia for energy.

If built, the South Stream pipeline would cement the Kremlin's grip on Europe's gas supplies, prompting fears that Moscow would use its position as Europe's primary energy supplier for political advantage.

A confidential Serbian government document obtained by Reuters last week showed how concerned Washington was with the deal.

"The US side warned about the political influence Moscow would gain by controlling energy resources in Serbia and the region, and expressed a negative assessment about the economic justification of South Stream," said the minutes of a meeting between top US and Serbian officials in Belgrade.

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