by Helena Ivanov
Tuesday, 27
September 2022
Dispatch
13:00

On Russia, Serbia is playing a dangerous game

Time is running out for Aleksandar Vučić to keep both the EU and Putin happy
by Helena Ivanov
Vladimir Putin and Aleksandar Vucic in 2019. Credit: Getty

Belgrade

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, Serbia has stood out from the European crowd in its response to the conflict. Despite mounting pressure from the West, the nation has repeatedly refused to impose any sanctions against Russia, and has continued to negotiate an advantageous gas deal with Vladimir Putin. 


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But at the same time, Serbia has voted in favour of multiple UN resolutions against Russia, opting to condemn the invasion and supporting the latter’s exclusion from the Human Rights Council. Throughout this conflict, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić has pulled off a balancing act of sorts, given that accession talks with the EU have not been stopped and Putin offered a cheap gas deal to Serbia in May. 

However, following the United Nations General Assembly held recently, Serbia’s balancing act is hanging in the balance, and there’s little room for manoeuvre. First, Serbia had to explain its position on excluding Russia from the UN Security Council (UNSC). Vučić was clear on the issue: “They need a two-thirds majority. Serbia will not support this.” According to the Serbian President, to vote in favour would be a clear violation of international law, but it would also be ruinous for his country if Russia were excluded because of the country’s position on Kosovo. 

To date, Russia has been a firm supporter of Serbia’s aspirations in Kosovo and has refused to recognise Kosovo as an independent state. But Putin has also used it for his own ends. In April he justified his actions in the Donbass by invoking the Kosovo example, just as he did in 2014 when he annexed Crimea. In both cases he argued that, if Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence is recognised by the international community, Crimea and the Donbass should be no different. 

More scandalous than the decision not to vote in favour of excluding Russia from the UNSC was the deal signed by Nikola Selaković, Serbia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Sergey Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, on 23 September. The deal didn’t contain much in the way of substance, but it did promise to hold further talks in 2023-24.

To certain EU figures, the deal was a “scandal” that might be just a “signal for us to freeze the EU accession talks as entering the EU does not go through Moscow.” Vladimir Bilčík, MEP and the Parliament’s rapporteur for relations with Serbia, quickly followed up by tweeting that he “find[s] the news of planned consultations between Serbia & Russia a major blow to the accession process in the Western Balkans.” This marks the first time that high-profile EU representatives have openly mentioned the possibility of stalling the accession talks. 

Selaković tried to mitigate the reputational blow by attempting to assure allies that the likes of defence policy was not and would not be discussed. Two days later, he promised that Serbia would not recognise the referenda results in Ukraine — somewhat to everyone’s surprise. 

With these developments, Serbia is finding itself in an increasingly precarious position. The gulf between the EU and Russia is widening, and soon enough it may be forced to pick sides. And while there is no question that the EU would benefit from Serbia’s support (particularly due to its influence on other Western Balkan states like Bosnia or Montenegro), it cannot be seen to reward European countries that have been softer on Russia ahead of others. For now the whole continent hangs in the balance, and all eyes will be on Serbia to see what happens next.

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Aaron James
Aaron James
2 months ago

Well, Russia is ranked the 136 th most corrupt country, and Ukraine 122, on this list – but some rate them a lot lower https://www.factsinstitute.com/ranking/most-corrupt-countries-in-the-world/ , but at those levels you are nit-picking, they are just totally corrupt. Bannon says that is why the Clintons and Bidens used Ukraine as their money laundering piggy-bank.

Russia/Ukraine – two 100% corrupt Oligarchs with 5000 years of history of one absorbing the other. It is not quite like France invaded Holland.

Things have to have self interest too – if Serbia cannot afford to get on the EU side but need to stay neutral for the sake of their citizens – leave them alone. They have to decide things for themselves. EU 100% called this wrong anyway.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Aaron James

So because Ukraine is corrupt by western standards it deserves to have its cities flattened, it’s women raped and civilians tortured and murdered by an even more corrupt dictatorship? Your moral compass is severely lacking

Brett H
Brett H
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I don’t think that’s what he’s saying. He’s suggesting that these are difficult times for countries like Serbia who have to thread the needle carefully for survival.

Konstantinos Stavropoulos
Konstantinos Stavropoulos
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

His point was on Serbia rather than Ukraine.