“Serbia will not jeopardise its national interests by joining western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine,” said newly elected Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, in his interview for the Financial Times.
He added that official Belgrade would not “choose sides” despite EU calls for countries seeking membership to align with Brussels in tightening economic penalties against President Vladimir Putin. Serbia, a candidate for EU membership, has long had strong political, economic and security ties with Russia, which also supplies gas and backed Belgrade’s refusal to recognise independence for its former province Kosovo.
“We have a sort of protection [from Russia]. What do [western countries] want? Leave all our national interests because someone needs something for themselves?” he said, referring to Ukraine and a western desire for unity over the Russian invasion. “People talk about choosing sides. No, we have our own side, Serbia’s interests. We were bombed by 19 NATO countries [in 1999] and sanctioned,” Vucic said, referring to NATO’s intervention to try to put an end to a bloody war in Kosovo between Yugoslavia and separatist ethnic Albanian militants. “We haven’t imposed sanctions against anyone because . . . we don’t believe sanctions change anything. You can pressure and force Serbia but this is our genuine opinion,” he goes on to say.
The Financial Times also says that “the comments from Vucic, who won a new five-year term in an election this month, suggest that Belgrade would stick to its accommodating line towards Russia and China despite pressure from Brussels. EU leaders have consistently stressed in public that they see Serbia as a future member of the bloc, but have privately expressed rising irritation at Belgrade’s ties with Moscow and Beijing.”
“However, officials in Brussels and inside member states were fearful of taking too hard a line against the Balkan country and playing into the hands of Russia and China. Russia’s war on Ukraine has prompted calls from some in the EU to speed up membership talks as a way of drawing the Balkans more firmly toward the west. Serbia’s recent purchase of a Chinese FK 3 anti-aircraft missile system has also raised hackles because the West fears it could give Beijing growing influence”, the Financial Times says.
The renowned newspaper also argues that “while possessing Chinese weapons is not against EU regulations, it makes it difficult or impossible to participate in joint EU defence projects or exercises because of incompatible systems and concerns over Beijing’s potential ability to monitor any use of its equipment.”
“When it comes to foreign and security policy, Serbia is very well aware that as a candidate country it is expected to align with the EU’s standards and policies,” the EU commission said. Vucic said Serbia’s recent flurry of weapons purchases, which also included French fighter jets and Turkish combat drones, was part of efforts to preserve stability as neighbouring countries also bought arms. “We informed all our western partners, including the US, about that procurement [of the FK 3s] in 2018. We signed the final contract in 2019. And they knew everything about it,” Vucic said and added:
“We don’t even have the entire system delivered yet. It is not yet operable. And it’s not for Russia. It’s for Serbia.” Vucic said.
“Serbia has to solve the issue of Kosovo’s status, where tensions flared last year over a seemingly parochial issue of vehicle number-plate recognition, and Belgrade showed off heavy weaponry before de-escalating the situation. Kosovo declared its independence unilaterally in 2008, a move that Serbia says violated a peace agreement at the conclusion of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Russia and China have supported Belgrade in opposing recognition of Kosovo,” – the Financial Times reports.
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