Politico – Vučić stuck between a rock and a hard place

In an article dedicated to the peculiar situation that the Serbian President found himself in with regard to his stance on the Russian-Ukrainian war and Serbia’s relations with Kosovo, Politico writes that Aleksandar Vučić has a very tough decision to make – „Should he embrace Europe, or should he continue to try and hedge bets by pursuing Serbia’s bid for EU membership, while also maintaining fraternal ties with its traditional Slavic ally, Russia?”

“Vučić’s enemies fume at his fence-sitting and refusal to join Western sanctions against Russia. “So far, even [the] brutal war in Ukraine has not caused Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić to alter course,” argued Dimitar Bechev, a visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe. He noted that Belgrade is crowded with affluent and middle-class Russians taking advantage of daily flights, the visa-free regime and undemanding residency rules”, Politico notes.

Just before leaving Belgrade for the recent Munich Security Conference, Vučić had told Serbian television the country was caught between a hammer and an anvil. And when asked whether the moment had arrived for Serbia to avoid getting flattened, he responded: “You’re going to get one sentence from me: Serbia will remain on its EU path. Okay, draw your own conclusions. But I think you understand me.”

“Difficult” is a word Vučić throws around often.

“As he departed for Munich, he noted on Instagram that he was heading to the conference for “difficult meetings.” He has been using the word repeatedly, saying his bilateral conversations had been difficult “because we have different perspectives from most of the Western countries, and so nothing is easy.”

The Serbian president picks his words carefully, communicating just as much in hints and verbal nudges that hold out the promise of a conclusion — but he always ends up trailing off.

 Is this an indication that he still wants to have it both ways or does it show a leader nearing a historic decision? His advisers indicate the latter, whereas his critics argue he’s still pursuing a “strategy of constantly playing the West and Serbian moderates against Moscow and his domestic right-wing base,” Ivana Stradner, an analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies says for Politico.

Politico also notes that, in the last 30 years, Vučić has made quite a few U-turns –  the latest of which has been engaging in talks about “normalizing” relations between Serbia and Kosovo, the independence of which neither Belgrade nor Moscow recognize.

Politico goes on to say that “And on Monday, Vučić and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti finally gave tacit approval to an EU-brokered and United States-supported plan to help improve ties in the long term. Although, speaking after chairing the talks in Brussels, EU High Representative Josep Borrell also said that “more work is needed,” and the two leaders would meet again next month.

The Kosovo talks had featured in Vučić’s bilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during Munich as well, with one of the sticking points being the creation of an association of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo and disputes regarding the extent of its powers. “I can say that they [the Americans] wanted to hear our side. They showed respect to such a small country as we are. And we know what they expect, but they also know what we feel about the safety and security of our people in Kosovo,” he said.

Meanwhile, Blinken described the sit-down as “productive,” underlining that “we share Serbia’s desire for a future with the EU.” And it’s noteworthy that in recent weeks, EU Commission officials have been tweeting friendly remarks about Serbia as well — mood music that could be a prelude to Vučić making his bigger “difficult decision” beyond Kosovo, namely the dilemma he faces in picking the EU path or maintaining a close friendship with Russia.

The Serbian leader clearly feels intense pressure from both sides”.

(Politika, Politico, 02.03.2023)





This post is also available in: Italiano

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