Several weeks ago, the renowned New York Times published a long article in which it revealed the alleged connections between the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic and the underworld crime world and its leader, Veljko Belivuk, in Serbia. The article details crimes committed by the Belivuk criminal gang whose leader, as the article says, served directly under the orders of President Vucic.
The article caused quite a stir both in Serbia and in the U.S. where a hearing was held in the U.S. Senate last week about the allegations stated in the article. State Department adviser Derek Chollet and US Envoy for the Balkans Gabriel Escobar were both questioned by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and gave their opinions about the state of affairs in Serbia, corruption and ties between the Serbian authorities and criminal gangs.
Chollet said it remained to be seen whether Serbia would continue to be a credible partner, but that “Washington’s eyes” were now open. Earlier, Vucic made it clear at Happy TV that he knew “where this article is coming from” and that the message was perfectly clear to him.
In response to Vucic, the New York Times issued a statement:” “The New York Times article on the Serbian trial and the links between the country’s top leadership and violent drug gangs is based on dozens of interviews, documents, court transcripts and Robert Worth’s rigorous reporting from the field. Every other insinuation is false.”
At the hearing, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, a Democrat senator from New Jersey, asked Chollet about a “very incriminating” New York Times article on Vucic, Chollet said that the administration considers the newspaper’s reporting “credible” but could not discuss the details of the article.
Mendez then asked Chollet whether Serbia could be considered a credible partner in light of the information disclosed.
“We have to test that. Our eyes are open, we call on President Vucic and his colleagues to be held accountable in terms of corruption and other activities,” Chollet replied.
Menendez also expressed his concern about “not-in-good-faith actors,” with regard to the tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, as well as attempts to resolve diplomatic issues in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Menendez said that the war in Ukraine had once again shown the need to encourage the countries in the region to make the necessary reforms and stressed that a solution to the Serbia-Kosovo conflict is crucial for the whole of the Western Balkans, writes the Voice of America.
In response, Chollet pointed to significant efforts in fighting corruption, which he said was the most important thing holding back progress in the region. He also noted that he supported recent legislation codifying the Biden administration’s executive order calling for sanctions on individuals opposing the fragile peace created by the Dayton agreement.
He said this would provide negotiators more tools to combat corruption in the region.
As for Serbia refusing to impose sanctions against Russia, Chollet recalled that Serbia has in some respects aligned itself with European and Western policy towards Russia and Ukraine. “Although they have not joined the sanctions and we have made it clear that if they don’t it is difficult to see how they will move forward in the integration process, they have aligned in terms of criticizing and condemning Russia and its invasion of Ukraine, through votes in the UN, condemning the annexation of Crimea, helping Ukraine in the field of refugees and critical infrastructure, and sending humanitarian aid, but they still have to comply with European sanctions against Russia.”
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