Will Vucic betray Russia: how is the President of Serbia blackmailed


Recognizing Western pressure, Belgrade sent a signal to Moscow

Serbia's vote in the UN General Assembly for the temporary expulsion of Russia from the International Human Rights Council came as a surprise to many, given the previously reserved and even friendly position of Belgrade towards Moscow. But even more surprising was the fact that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic spoke frankly about the pressure exerted on his country. We looked into what factors influenced the choice of Serbia and what it means in the short term.

Photo: AP

Alexander Vučić's victory in the recent presidential elections was a positive signal for Russia. Under the conditions of large-scale anti-Russian sanctions, Belgrade refrains from categorically accepting the position of the “collective West”, preferring to maintain friendly and constructive relations with the Russian Federation. Of course, pragmatic calculation also plays a role – it is enough to recall the gas contract with Moscow that was beneficial for the Serbs, concluded last fall. However, in confirmation of the sincerity of his sympathy for Russia, Vučić, even in his “victory” speech after the elections, raised the issue of bilateral relations, in particular, assuring that the heritage of Russian culture would not be “expelled” from Serbia (as many countries are already doing).

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In this context, the fact that Serbia became one of the 92 countries that voted in favor of the resolution to suspend Russia's membership in the UN Human Rights Council turned out to be a “wake-up call.” Especially considering that Belgrade had the right, if not speaking frankly on the Russian side, at least to abstain from voting. After all, 24 countries voted against the anti-Russian resolution, and 53 abstained.

The expected speculation that European partners put pressure on Belgrade received confirmation almost immediately – from the lips of Vučić himself. According to him, coercion to vote against the Russian Federation really took place. But – first of all, on the economic flank, and not on the political one.

“No one said:“ You can’t be president, ”no one is blackmailing me personally, but they are blackmailing Serbia. Now the fate of Serbia is being decided, whether they will exclude us from the package of sanctions on oil,” the president of the Balkan republic explained.

Apparently, Vučić was referring to one of the recent EU sanctions packages aimed at Russian energy companies, as well as foreign companies in which they own more than 51% of the shares – including Serbia's largest oil company NIS. The same Vučić has previously stated that European sanctions, while leaving open the possibility for the EU to import energy resources, actually prohibit third countries (such as Serbia), if their companies are owned by the Russian side, from importing oil from Russia.

Such rhetoric on the part of Belgrade in difficult conditions looks quite logical and, probably, the most digestible for all parties: the Western pressure factor is indicated without any equivocation, the principle of fighting for Serbian national interests, understandable to everyone, is observed. For Moscow, Vucic sent a clear signal – “nothing personal …”. In addition, do not forget: the suspension of Russia's membership in the UN Human Rights Council has so far been established only until 2023, and it is possible that the situation will change over the allotted time.

At the same time, regardless of the coercion from the US and Europe, Serbia has other reasons to follow the general course in some issues, and not to sabotage it, especially when it comes to a symbolic step.

“There is certainly an element of pressure on Belgrade, I emphasize, not completely, but partially for sure,” said Alexander Pivovarenko, a researcher at the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in a commentary to MK. — There is pressure at the continental level through relations with the European Union (Serbia has been unsuccessfully trying to join the EU for a decade and a half, the process is moving slowly, and polls often show a decline in Serbian interest in European integration. — “MK”), but what is happening at the regional level is much more significant.

Since February 2022, the rhetoric of Serbia's neighbors – Kosovo, Croatia – has become tougher in relation to it. The bottom line is that the Serbian authorities must finally decide whether they are with the West or with the East.

Naturally, the security aspect cannot be discounted. Provocations happen regularly in Kosovo, and the situation in Bosnia Herzegovina is also not very calm. Belgrade is not in a position to “cut off from the shoulder”, so there is a powerful factor in harmonizing relations with neighbors: Albania, Croatia, Montenegro voted for the decision of the General Assembly on Russia.

Leaves an imprint and historical experience. As Alexander Pivovarenko recalled, over the past century, Serbia has repeatedly suffered due to actions that contradict the policies of its neighbors: “There is a certain fear that being surrounded by unfriendly countries may have a bad effect on the country, so I think the decision was partly taken instinctively.”

Another aspect, after the regional and historical one, concerns the Serbian economy, the expert emphasized: “Over the past years, quite a lot of loans have been issued to Serbia through the European Union, including for the fight against coronavirus. The last tranche at the moment, intended to raise the agricultural sector (which, of course, is extremely important in the context of the food problem), was approved quite recently, in March. It is obvious that the Serbian economy is becoming increasingly dependent on European lending, and the country's authorities cannot but take this into account.

In 2013, the Declaration on Strategic Partnership between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Serbia was signed, which has not disappeared anywhere, therefore, Alexander Pivovarenko believes, it is premature to talk about a serious complication of relations between Belgrade and Moscow.

Источник www.mk.ru




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