Saturday

23rd Feb 2019

Serbian leader would give up EU to keep Kosovo

Serbia's new President, Tomislav Nikolic, has told Russia he would give up EU membership for Kosovo, but wants to have both.

Nikolic went to Moscow on Friday (26 May) in his first post-election but pre-inauguration foreign trip.

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  • Nikolic (l) and Putin in Moscow (Photo: kremlin.ru)

He told press after the meeting that if the EU ever asks him to recognise Kosovo's independence, then: "We cannot do that, even if it meant breaking off [EU entry] negotiations at that very moment."

He added, however: "Serbia is on the road to the EU. It is a long and uncertain road. We will order our country according to the rules that exist in the EU."

He repeated his position in an interview with broadcaster Russia Today: "Europe is a very attractive partner for Serbia and our country should fulfill almost all the conditions that the EU imposes. This process should stop only if they ask us to renounce a part of our territory: I'm referring to Kosovo."

Five EU countries - Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain - also do not recognise Kosovo.

But EU diplomats are exploring a solution in which an ethnic-Serb-controlled enclave in north Kosovo could be given some form of autonomy as a way out of the stalemate.

Nikolic told Russia Today that he is open to the idea if average Serbs support it as part of a future referendum on EU membership.

"At this moment, and from the point of view of the constitution, it is not possible. If more of the citizens of Serbia say Yes in a referendum? I don't know," he said.

On practical day-to-day relations, he added that he will continue the EU-sponsored dialogue with Pristina, but he will not meet Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci unless Thaci is first cleared of allegations of Serb organ trafficking.

He indicated that he is willing to work with Serb moderate Boris Tadic, who is poised to become prime minister.

Tadic, who lost the Serb presidency in elections on 6 May, also says he will never give up Kosovo despite his pro-EU credentials.

Nikolic is known as a nationalist who held high office under "the butcher of the Balkans" Slobodan Milosevic. But he told Russia Today that the label is unfair: "I'm nationalist, but I'm a democrat as well ... Probably a lot of time will pass till the Western press accepts me."

On Serbia-Russia relations, he said that "since 2000 Serbia has been moving away from Russia" but "the EU shouldn't think that it's our unique partner, because this way it could impose really harsh conditions."

For his part, Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Friday said: "We see Serbia as our spiritual brothers."

He noted that he is ready to loan Nikolic $800 million for infrastructure projects. But he declined to say when the money will be paid out.

Opinion

Serbia: deja vu no more

In a sign of gradual normalisation, Serbia's core concerns now mirror those of much of Europe, writes Dimitar Bechev.

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