More than 20,000 Kosovo Serbs have asked for Russian citizenship, seeking Moscow's protection from Kosovar authorities.

A petition signed by 21,000 Serbs and addressed to Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Parliament and Patriarch Kirill was delivered to the Russian embassy in Serbia.

“They named protection of their security as the main motive,” said Oleg Buldakov, counsellor of the Russian embassy, adding that the petition was signed by Serbs who reside in Kosovo, as well as those who fled the region for Serbia.

Russia, traditional Serb ally, condemned the NATO-orchestrated secession of Kosovo from Serbia and blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution in support of Kosovo's independence.

Kosovo Serb activist Zlatibor Djordjevic, who handed over the petition to the embassy, said the number of Russian citizenship requests was growing by the day and could soon run into hundreds of thousands.

“Since the arrival of the peacekeeping forces, who are supposed to protect us, more than one thousand Serbs have been killed,” Mr. Djordjevic was quoted as telling Serbian media. “We are completely without rights, we risk elimination.”

An estimated 200,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo since it was put under U.N. control in 1999 and the remaining 100,000 Kosovo Serbs have refused to recognise the independence of Kosovo. They have been complaining of constant harassment and persecution by ethnic Albanian Kosovars.

NATO peacekeepers last month clashed with Serbs who had put up barricades around their communities in Northern Kosovo to protect them against Kosovar attacks.

The Serb petition for citizenship is being reviewed by the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Itar-Tass news agency said on Tuesday. However, Russian media said Moscow was unlikely to grant the requests because this would put it in confrontation with NATO and with Belgrade, which may see it as interference in internal affairs.

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