Serbia refuses to join EU sanctions on eve of Putin parade
Serbia has promised not to impose EU-model sanctions on Russia and to go ahead with South Stream on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Belgrade.
Its PM, Aleksandar Vucic, said in Russia's Tass news agency on Wednesday (15 October) that “Serbia is a free and independent state, Serbia is on the European path, but it has not and won’t impose any sanctions against Russia”.
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He noted: “I am not concealing from our Russian partners that we are following the European course”.
But he added that “the Serbian and Russian peoples are very close" and that "we want to attract Russian investors … we expect participation of Russian investors in privatisation of certain enterprises”.
Turning to South Stream, a controversial Russian gas pipeline, he said the project is “good for Serbia.”
He noted that "we have come to terms quickly and easily with Russia … but not everything depends on Serbia”.
“South Stream cannot begin on the border between Serbia and Bulgaria and end on the border between Serbia and Hungary. This should pass through Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria and all other countries. As for Serbia, we have done our part, all the rest depends on others”.
Vucic spoke following EU complaints that Belgrade did not “align” itself on Russia sanctions despite its obligations as an EU candidate country.
The European Commission has also urged it to stop South Stream construction because the legal agreements which underpin the project violate EU energy laws.
But Belgrade has said it will go ahead in the hope the EU and Russia negotiate a solution to the dispute.
Russian leader Putin will visit Belgrade briefly on Thursday before going on to an EU-Asia summit in Milan.
His Serbia visit will be marked by a military parade, involving 4,500 troops, to mark the Soviet Union’s help in liberating Yugoslavia in World War II.
He will also be awarded Serbia’s highest honour - the Order of the Republic of Serbia - despite his invasion of Ukraine.
For his part, Serbian defence minister Bratislav Gasic also said the military pomp does not signal a policy shift.
"Membership in the EU is our main foreign policy objective, but Serbia will continue to improve the traditionally good and friendly relations with the Russian Federation”, he told Serbia’s Tanjug news agency on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Putin himself, in an interview to be published in Serbia’s biggest daily, Politika, on Thursday gave a flavour of what to expect on the big day.
“Unfortunately, the vaccine against the Nazi virus, developed at the Nuremberg trials, is losing its effectiveness in some European countries. A clear sign of this trend is open manifestations of neo-Nazism, which have become common in Latvia and other Baltic states”, he told Politika.
"We are especially concerned in this respect about the situation in Ukraine, where an unconstitutional state coup in February was driven by nationalists and other radical groups".
His foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, at a meeting with his French and US counterparts in Paris on Tuesday, urged the West to start rolling back its sanctions.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, noted that Moscow has not fully complied with the "Minsk Protocol" - a ceasefire agreement with Kiev - but he added the US wants to deepen co-operation with Russia on fighting Islamic State.
Putin is to hold bilateral meetings with the French, German, and Italian leaders in Milan, as well as with Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko.
The Milan event comes ahead of an EU summit in Brussels on 23 and 24 October.
But an EU source told EUobserver the bloc’s next formal review of the sanctions regime is due at the end of the month: “I do not exclude that some EU leaders might make political statements at the summit. But any changes [to EU policy] will probably have to wait”.