Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday warmly received Serbia's president-elect Tomislav Nikolic, saying Serbs are Russia's spiritual brothers and promising Belgrade an $800 million loan.
Nikolic -- who is due to be inaugurated by June 1 -- had symbolically chosen to make Moscow his first foreign destination following his presidential poll win against the incumbent Boris Tadic earlier this month.
"You know that we see Serbia not only as our traditional and very important partner in the Balkans," Putin said, congratulating Nikolic on his victory.
"We see Serbs as our spiritual brothers. And that is what is at the base of our relations today and in the future," Putin said, addressing Nikolic as "Mr President", according to the Kremlin website.
Russia had previously agreed a $1 billion loan for Serbia but so far only $200 million of this has been disbursed.
"We are ready now to disburse the second tranche of $800 million. The credit should be used for the development of infrastructure projects," Putin told Nikolic.
Nikolic, a nationalist who has shown a greater populist streak in the last few years, in turn said Serbians love Putin and that Serbia will always be a partner to Russia.
"I can say what I said in my campaign to the people of Serbia," Nikolic said.
"I would be unable to win only if the candidate opposing me were Vladimir Putin. You are loved in Serbia. You earned it by the way you govern Russia."
Nikolic earlier dismissed fears that he is reverting on his campaign promise to bring Serbia closer to the European Union by going to Moscow, saying his trip was arranged before the election and was not a state visit.
He famously said in 2007 that he would prefer to see "Serbia as a Russian province rather than an EU member".
Nikolic, who defeated Tadic in a May 20 run-off, has always been staunchly pro-Russian but stressed the importance of EU membership for Serbia during his campaign.
Serbia in March obtained EU candidate status but has yet to meet conditions to secure a date for opening talks. Brussels has made it clear it wants to see more progress in relations with breakaway Kosovo.
However Nikolic said Saturday that he will not budge on the Kosovo issue: "I have not heard of the condition that we should recognise Kosovo... We could not do that even if we had to halt all talks at that moment."