“We fully understand why public opinion in Serbia is opposed to joining NATO. What happened in 1999 is clearly engraved in the memory of Serbian citizens. Things would have probably been different if the UN Security Council resolution had been adopted previously, but we must not forget what happened during Milosevic’s rule. There were probably mistakes, but I think the situation on the ground was really dramatic”, says Paolo Ali, Deputy Chairman of NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
In an interview for Radio Free Europe, Ali said that it was not necessary for Serbia to join NATO at the current time. “Perhaps this will happen in the future, but it depends on the citizens of Serbia, and not on NATO. NATO always accepts membership requests, as was the case with other countries in the region,” he added.
He went on to say that NATO would want to see Serbia as its member in the future because it Serbia was “a very important stakeholder when it comes to security in the Western Balkans”. He adds, that there are non-NATO countries in Europe which chose military neutrality, such as Finland, Sweden, Austria, and Switzerland, and that NATO also cooperates with them.
If Serbia remains a military neutral country, NATO has no problem with that – said Ali.
“Most of the military exercises Serbia has is with NATO”
When asked why was Serbia more important to the Alliance, compared to other Western Balkan countries, the NATO official said that “it is a very stable state”, and that Serbia was a source of stability in the region, which is important not only for NATO, but for Europe too.
As for Serbia’s military cooperation with Russia, Ali says: “Serbia has the freedom to participate in military drills with Russia or any other country. We appreciate that Serbia maintains a balance in the sense that it has good relations with Russia on one hand, and on the other, it has excellent cooperation with NATO”.
The Alliance’s official said that it was not difficult to understand that type of political and military balance.
“Serbia traditionally has close ties with Russia, which the Serbian people support, and at the time of the Soviet Union, Serbia’s role in maintaining the balance was extremely important. So, we have to take into account the history. It is important that Serbia maintains good relations with Russia, but also with the West. Serbia’s application for membership in the European Union is proof that the country is focused on Europe and the West”, he underlined.
When asked if it was unsustainable for Serbia to “sit on two chairs” in the long run, Ali replied that he was interested only in reality.
“I am an engineer by profession and I am interested in figures and reality. And the reality is the following – 70 percent of Serbia’s external trade is with the EU, 20 percent with the countries of the Western Balkans, and about 10 percent with others. Only a few percent of the external trade is with Russia, which means that Serbia’s real connection with Russia is not so important, as is the one with the West, with the EU. It is up to Serbia to decide, but see Serbia as a western country”, he added.
As for the Kosovo problem, Ali said that the best way to solve it was through politics, adding that Kosovo needs security and stability.
“NATO and KFOR are part of that stability, they protect the members of the Kosovo and Serbian communities. KFOR will remain in Kosovo as long as it is necessary. We cannot say how long it will take for the political situation and problems to be solved and how much it is going to take to restore stability and security”, Paolo Ali concluded.
Photo credits: Tanjug / AP
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