Monday

18th Feb 2019

Russia courts Serbia amid EU dispute

  • Serbian prime minister Vucic (l) cut short his EU trip on Monday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Serbian leaders have voiced anger at the EU amid a dispute with Croatia, while showcasing Serbia’s strong ties to Russia.

The dispute arose after Zagreb delayed the opening of a chapter in the EU accession rulebook that was due to take place in Brussels on Tuesday (13 December).

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The EU and Serbia still aim to open chapters 5 (on public procurement laws) and 25 (science and research) at an intergovernmental conference in the EU capital, but the opening of chapter 26 (education and culture) is to be delayed after Croatia voiced objections over the availability of Croatian language school textbooks for the Croatian minority in Serbia.

Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vucic cut short his trip to Brussels over the issue on Monday, leaving behind his EU integration minister, Jadranka Joksimovic, the Belgrade-based B92 news agency reported.

Vucic told the Belgrade-based Prva TV broadcaster that “Serbia was patient so far, but now it will talk differently [to the EU]”.

He also said he had had “difficult” talks with EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini.

Serbian foreign minister Ivica Dacic, who met Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Belgrade the same day, told press: “If Croatia is the one to decide about whether Serbia will enter the EU, then my interest just dropped somehow”.

He also warned that Croatia could one day use Nato weapons against Serbia or Republika Srpska, the ethnic Serb entity in Bosnia.

“When Croatia get donations [of weapons] from Nato … who do they [the EU] think Croatia would use those [rocket] launchers against? Rome, Budapest or Vienna? No, they are for Serbia,” Dacic said.

“No one can attack Serbia or put Republika Srpska in jeopardy without an appropriate reaction from Belgrade,” he added.

Croatia, which fought a war with Serbia in the 1990s, earlier this year also delayed the opening of chapter 23, on the judiciary, over concerns that Serbian courts could go after Croatian nationals on war crimes charges.

Vucic has said his objective is to prepare Serbia for EU accession by 2020.

The Balkan nation has also cultivated close relations with Russia, however.

It has declined to align its foreign policy with the EU by adopting sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

It hosts a Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre in the tow of Nis that is said by EU diplomats to be a hub for Russian influence operations in the Western Balkans.

It also took part in a military drill with Russia in the region in November.

Those relations were on show again on Monday, as Dacic said that Russia would donate MiG29 fighter jets to the Serbian airforce.

“Serbia never was nor will be an anti-Russian country like some countries have become. We will not join to sanctions or any measures against Russia,” he said.

Russia’s Lavrov said the arms deal was designed to secure “the balance of power in the region.”

"Analysing what the European Union is doing now, it looks like it is seeking to be friends with a number of countries, such as Montenegro, Serbia and others among your neighbours, to antagonise Russia,” he said.

Lavrov also defended the work of the Humanitarian Centre in Nis.

"If someone is trying to see any threat to the European Union and Nato in this organisation, I rather see that this position means that the European Union hates to see Russia and Serbia developing any type of cooperation”, the Russian minister said.

The glitch in EU-Serbia relations comes at a time of heightened tension in the Balkans.

Montenegro recently accused Russia of trying to stage a coup d’etat to prevent it from joining Nato next year.

The Republika Srpska entity defied the authority of Bosnian federal institutions in a recent referendum on national holidays, threatening to undo the 1995 Dayton peace accord.

Kosovo has also faced internal unrest over EU plans to normalise relations with Serbia, while snap elections in Macedonia have shown little sign of ending a protracted political crisis in Skopje.

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