Page last updated at 13:39 GMT, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 14:39 UK

Russia sends aid to Kosovo Serbs

Russian relief plane arriving at Belgrade airport
This is the first of at least three shipments Russia is due to deliver

The first planeload of Russian humanitarian aid has arrived in Belgrade for delivery to the Serb minority in Kosovo.

The relief flights were ordered by President Putin after a request by the Serbian government.

Distribution will be carried out by the Serbian Red Cross.

Russia strongly supports Serbia in its opposition to the declaration of independence by Kosovo, 90% of whose people are ethnic Albanians.

"A plane left this morning at 0900 (0500 GMT) for Belgrade, with 40 tonnes of humanitarian aid, including baby food. It is for the Serbian population of Kosovo," said Veronika Smolskaya, of Russia's emergency situations ministry.

"We are planning more flights for a total of 140 tonnes of aid," she added.

Mr Putin had ordered the deliveries in March, after the Serbian government requested food, medicine and medical equipment.

Block UN membership

While the US and most European countries have recognised Kosovo's independence, Russia has opposed it.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has now said Russia will not allow Kosovo to become a member of the United Nations.

Speaking to the lower house of the Russian parliament on Wednesday, Mr Lavrov said Russia would use its power as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to block Kosovo from joining the world body.

"Russia cannot allow Kosovo to become a fully-fledged member of the UN," Mr Lavrov is quoted as saying by the Tass news agency.

"We have done all we can to derail the plans of the rapid and broad recognition of Kosovo's independence."

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