Photographer: Vladimir Zivojinovic/AFP via Getty Images

politics

EU Membership Won't Change Serbian-Russian Ties, Vucic Says

Updated on
  • Premier expects EU to understand Serbia-Russia relationship
  • Balkans shouldn’t be forced to choose between EU, Russia

Serbia will retain close ties with Russia even as it works toward European Union membership, and it won’t join the bloc’s sanctions on Moscow, President Aleksandar Vucic said.

“Serbia won’t be changing its policy toward Russia and will not impose sanctions on Russia,” Vucic said in Belgrade after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “Serbia will continue to pursue its own policies and we expect to get understanding from the EU, if not -- Serbia is an independent and free country.”

The Balkan state of 7 million is walking a diplomatic tightrope as it maneuvers itself toward EU membership while also trying to maintain a warm relationship with Russia, its biggest ally on the international stage. While the European Commission has told Serbia that it can join the world’s largest trading bloc by 2025, one stipulation is that Belgrade must increasingly align its foreign policy with that of other EU members.

That may include joining other nations in penalizing Russia for its involvement in Ukraine -- an act Vucic has vowed to reject as long as he’s in office. Russia has leverage as well: it’s the main defender of Serbia’s refusal to acknowledge Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence in 2008, almost a decade after fighting a war against Serb forces.

Church Ceremony

Vucic hailed relations between the two states on Thursday by saying “long live Serbian-Russian friendship” at a church ceremony he attended with Lavrov in the capital city.

Russia is Serbia’s fourth biggest export market after Germany, Italy and Bosnia Herzegovina. But its 881.3 million euros ($1.1 billion) in imports are dwarfed by the almost 10 billion euros in goods that Serbs sell to the EU.

Lavrov applauded Serbia’s stance toward Russia, saying “countries of the region must not be forced to make false choice between the West and the East, that is Russia.”

The two countries will continue to bolster political, trade and military ties even as global challenges persist, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic and Lavrov wrote in a joint opinion piece published in Belgrade newspaper Politika on Tuesday.

“Belgrade and Moscow oppose the damaging practice of ‘you are either with us or against us,’ which has led to an increase in distrust and instability in Europe,” they wrote.

— With assistance by Elizabeth Konstantinova

(Updates with Vucic comment in fifth paragraph.)
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