Aljossa Milenkovic, a Serbian journalist, told Al Jazeera: "There is a mix of feeling and opinions on whether Serbs want to be close to Europe or Russia.

 

"... both political contestants in these presidential elections are interested in closer ties with the European Union, but the presidential candidate Nikolic is for more Serbia going closer to Russia."

 
"Approximately all local politicians here are unanimous ... that Kosovo will remain part of Serbia under all circumstances," he said.
 
International isolation?
 
A poll released this week put Tadic on 19 per cent, and Nikolic on 21 per cent.

The outcome could bring Serbia closer to European integration or a return to international isolation, similar to the period under Slobodan Milosevic during the 1990s.

However, latest surveys show none will get a first round majority and Tadic and Nikolic will fight a run-off on February 3, a  repeat of the 2004 elections.
 
Both Tadic and Nikolic oppose the independence of Kosovo, a  breakaway province whose ethnic Albanian majority pledged to separate from Serbia, following failure over almost two years of  negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina over its future status.

The leadership of the province of about 1.9 million people is  backed by the US and most of the European Union.
  
Serbia is supported by Russia in its opposition to Kosovo's independence.
 
Russia ties

Nikolic, whose Serbian Radical Party (SRS) supported the policies of late ruler Slobodan Milosevic, puts his money on Russia.

Tadic, speaking about Nikolic winning the presidential election, said: "There is a risk of the return of the old guard that led Serbia into conflicts and isolation during the 1990s and led people into turmoil and uncertainty.

"But I am certain the people will not allow this, they will vote for stability and economic progress, for a better life for their families."

Nikolic, who has toned down his rhetoric to appeal to moderates as well as the one third of Serbs who live just over the poverty line, has rejected accusations of isolationism and war-mongering.

At a campaign rally this week, he said: "I have not said goodbye to the West. I said we could be with you, and that we can sign whatever you want, but do not touch Serbia."

"Serbia has its borders."

Analysts believe turnout levels could play a decisive role. 

Moderate voters are regarded as less disciplined than nationalist  supporters, so strong participation is expected to favour Tadic.