MOSCOW, October 16 (RIA Novosti) - The South Stream project will provide Serbia with more than 2 billion euros ($2.5 billion) in new investments and strengthen the country's energy security, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
"The total amount of Russian investments in Serbia has exceeded $3 billion. Most of these funds have been invested in the strategically important energy industry. One example of successful cooperation is the energy giant Petroleum Industry of Serbia, which has turned from a loss-making enterprise into a major contributor to the Serbian state budget. The South Stream project will provide Serbia with more than 2 billion euros [$2.5 billion] in new investments and significantly strengthen the country's energy security," Putin said in an interview with Serbian newspaper Politika ahead of his visit to Belgrade, scheduled for Thursday.
The Russian leader reminded that Serbia's rail infrastructure is being rebuilt and upgraded with the participation of the Russian Railways and with Russian support in the form of loans. Putin also noted the growing interest of Serbian businesses towards the Russian market. "I am pleased to see Serbian businesses play an active part in the promising Russian market. For example, they supply high-quality agricultural and industrial products," Russian President said.
According to Putin another important area of the bilateral cooperation between Russia and Serbia is disaster response activities. For example, in May, Russian rescuers helped evacuate people during a severe flood and the Russian Emergencies Ministry aircraft has delivered more than 140 tonnes in humanitarian aid to Serbia.
The Russian President also noted the growing mutual interest of Russian and Serbian people in each other's history and culture and announced plans to expand cultural, educational, scientific and youth exchanges, and to promote tourism and sports events.
"I am confident that my upcoming visit to Belgrade will give a new boost to the traditionally friendly Russian-Serbian relations, which will continue to grow and strengthen from year to year," Putin said.
On Wednesday, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Serbian counterpart Tomislav Nikolic will discuss the South Stream project, as well as a number of bilateral issues during their meeting on October 16.
Russian energy giant Gazprom started building the South Stream gas pipeline across the Black Sea in 2012 to reduce the unreliable passage of Russian natural gas to central and southern Europe through Ukraine. The pipeline is expected to be fully operational by 2018.
Brussels has long been trying to hamper the project, saying that it violates the European Union's Third Energy Package, which stipulates that pipelines in its member countries, cannot belong to natural gas producers. Moscow insists that the construction of the pipeline does not contradict the regulations in any way.
In early October, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic reaffirmed Belgrade's commitment to the South Stream project, saying it would go ahead with its construction.