If he had to choose, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic would rather choose the EU before Russia, while the cancellation of (the Russian Foreign Minister) Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Serbia was “a powerful lesson in geography” – writes German-language press.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that the meeting between the President of Serbia and Sergei Lavrov, “the man who has been gracing Putin’s wars on international stages for years”, has failed. “The two sides had important topics to talk about,” the newspaper recalls, “like an agreement with Gazprom from which Serbia, at least so Vucic claims, based on which Serbia should get natural gas at a favourable price for another three years thanks to the country’s attitude toward the Kremlin, and mainly for refusing to adhere to sanctions (against Russia).”
“It cannot be overlooked that Vucic has long been trying to turn his back on Putin, albeit cautiously. An indication of this is the occasional critical reports on government-controlled websites and tabloids, usually always in favour of the president. However, lately, headlines like “Lavrov has invited himself” started to appear in these media. Such nuances show that the Serbian president is a pragmatic and powerful man. He has nothing against Serbian nurturing its brotherhood with Russia when it brings him political benefit in the homeland, but he does not want to get hurt in the midst of the war with Russia and destroy the Serbian economy,” the article’s author said.
Berlin’s Tageszeitung reports that “Lavrov, in addition to the gas talks, wanted to encourage Serbia not to impose any of the sanctions demanded by the European Union. For years Serbia has been walking on eggshells between Brussels and Moscow. On the one hand, President Aleksandar Vucic reiterates that Serbia has the will to join the EU, and on the other, Putin’s Russia enjoys great sympathy among nationalist parties in Serbia and the Orthodox Church.”
A former correspondent from Belgrade, Andreas Ernst, wrote about Serbia’s position in the Swiss daily, Neue Zürcher Zeitung: “It is easy to assume that the Kremlin is trying to weaken Europe’s defensive power with Serbia. A possible conflict in the Balkans at this time would throw the EU off balance and burden NATO. The only question is – are the Serbs ready to participate? That would be an unlikely scenario unless the EU makes gross mistakes.”
A lengthy commentary describes how Vucic has been ruling in Serbia for ten years “at will,” and how Tito’s “policy of non-alignment” is evoked. Serbia has attracted a lot of investments from the West and has become an “extended production line” for Western companies, securing “modest but steady growth.” The country is economically geared toward the West but is completely dependent on Russian gas. “Overall, there is a good chance that the situation in the Balkans will remain stable,” Ernst continued, adding: “However, this is tied to two conditions. One is that Russia does not win this war, and the other is at least a somewhat consistent EU policy in the Western Balkans.”
Ernst adds that without this, revanchism could quickly reawaken ideas in the Balkans about a Greater Serbia or Greater Albania, which would threaten the existence of Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia. “That is why it remains important for the EU to renew its integration offer to the Western Balkans and adapt it in such a way that these countries can be a permanent part of the Union in a couple of years,” the Swiss newspaper concludes.
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