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Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy Meets With Balkan Leaders in Athens

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Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelenskyy met Tuesday with leaders of Balkan nations and the head of the European Commission on the sidelines of a meeting between European and Balkan leaders in the Greek capital.

The leaders included Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, whose country has refused to join the international sanctions imposed on its traditional ally Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

“An open, honest, and fruitful meeting with the President of Serbia,” Zelenskyy posted on the X social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “Good conversation on respect for the UN Charter and the inviolability of borders. On our nations’ shared future in the common European home. On developing our relations, that is in our mutual interest.”

It was the first time Zelenskyy, who arrived in Athens on Monday afternoon, met with Vucic since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

Speaking to reporters, Vucic described the meeting as “good and open.”

“I repeated that Serbia respects the territorial integrity of Ukraine, unlike some who respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but not Serbia,” Vucic said, referring to Serbia’s former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008 and is recognized by most European Union states, but not by Russia and China.

Ukraine also does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, but there were signs recently that it might because of Belgrade’s pro-Moscow narrative over the war.

Vucic said after the meeting with Zelenskyy that he was “almost certain” Ukraine will not recognize Kosovo.

The Serbian president, whose country seeks EU membership, said he “managed to ensure” that a formal declaration issued after Monday’s meeting in Athens of the Balkan leaders does not include a text on sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

“There are things for which we are not ready at this moment,” Vucic said. “As much as we could, we protected our interests.”

Zelenskyy also met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, whom he said he thanked “for her efforts to normalize Ukraine’s agricultural exports and transit.”

Von der Leyen said the two discussed “Ukraine’s progress on the EU path as well as our continued support in the face of Russia’s aggression.”

“We’ll continue working together to bring Ukraine’s grain to world markets and to provide economic assistance,” she tweeted.

Ukraine’s economy relies heavily on farming, and its grain is crucial for world supplies of wheat, barley and sunflower oil.

Last month, Russia broke off a key wartime shipping agreement that allowed safe passage of grain exports through the Black Sea.

The suspension marked the end of an accord the United Nations and Turkey brokered last year to allow shipments of food from the Black Sea region after Russia’s invasion of its neighbor worsened a global food crisis. The initiative was credited with helping reduce soaring prices of wheat, vegetable oil and other global food commodities.

While in Athens, Zelenskyy also met with Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov, the president of North Macedonia Dimitar Kovachevski and the prime minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenkovic.

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