BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Belarus’s president called on Serbia on Tuesday to establish closer ties with a Russia-led economic bloc despite the Balkan country’s efforts to become a member of the European Union.

Alexander Lukashenko, a Russian ally, said at a joint news conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic that he respects Serbia’s proclaimed EU goals, but if the European bloc continues with “ultimatums,” Serbia should turn to the Eurasian Economic Union.

“You won’t regret it,” Lukashenko said, adding that Serbia should not “hold its hopes high” of joining the EU any time soon. “Maybe in 10 to 15 years,” he added.

Vucic did not respond, only praising Lukashenko as “a true friend of Serbia.”

The EEU consists of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

France is leading a group of EU states calling for an overhaul of the procedures to admit new members, putting on hold membership hopes for Serbia and other Western Balkan countries. That has raised fears of increased Russian and Chinese influence in the region, which was at war in the 1990s.

Serbia, Russia’s only ally in the Balkans, has recently signed a free trade agreement with the EEU despite warnings from the EU that it could hamper the country’s membership hopes.

To join the EU, candidate countries must align their policies with the bloc's, including imposing trade sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine. Vucic, who is later this week to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin for the third time this year, has repeatedly stressed that Serbia will never introduce sanctions against Moscow.

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