Serbia joins Ukraine's Crimea platform, vows friendship with Kyiv

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia on Wednesday joined a Ukraine-led platform on the reintegration of Crimea, signalling a swing away from Russia, a historical ally and its sole supplier of natural gas.

The move comes a day after a meeting of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic in Athens, described by both leaders as good and open.

In an online address to the forum, Serbia's Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said Serbia "sincerely regrets the suffering of Ukraine and Ukrainian people."

She emphasized "our commitment to upholding the principles of international law, territorial integrity and political independence of states," adding, "We genuinely empathise with ... the Ukrainian people and Ukraine who have a true friend in Serbia."

The Crimea Platform was launched by Zelenskiy in 2021 with the aim of reintegrating the Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014.

A total of 67 countries and organisations, including the United States, Great Britain, NATO and the European Union have joined the platform since.

Serbia has repeatedly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations and other international forums, but has so far refused to impose sanctions on Moscow.

Ukraine does not recognise Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Belgrade, in turn, does not recognise Russia's annexation of Crimea and parts of Ukraine which it occupies.

Serbia remains entirely dependant on natural gas supplies from Russia and maintains trade and military ties with Moscow. But Belgrade is also seeking to join the European Union and diversify its energy supplies.

In April, leaked Pentagon documents showed Serbia had agreed to supply arms and ammunition to Kyiv, or sent them to Ukraine.

Vucic said Serbia had never sold weapons or ammunition to Ukraine or Russia although Serbian arms might have reached the battlefield via third countries.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Bernadette Baum)