News 06 May 14

EU, Russia Pressure Serbia Over Ukraine Crisis

Serbia is keen to uphold its neutral stance towards the crisis in Ukraine amid opposing pressures from both Russia and the EU.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade

Senior officials from Russia and the European Union visited Serbia on Tuesday, adding to pressure on Belgrade to define its stance more clearly over the conflict in Ukraine.

Although the visits of Stefan Fuele, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, and Sergey Naryshkin, chairman of the Russian Duma, were officially concerned with greeting Serbia's new government, behind closed doors Serbia is being pushed to choose a side when it comes to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, diplomatic sources told BIRN.

Serbia aims to join the EU by 2020 and has made EU integration a priority, but Aleksandar Vucic, the Prime Minister does not wish to sour traditional warm ties to Russia, either.

“We support the territorial integrity of every member state of United Nations, and of Ukraine of course, but for many reasons – historical, traditional and others, I beg that Serbia maintains its different stance compared to other [European] countries and not impose sanctions on Russia,” Vucic said.

“I can be hard on this issue, and I apologized for that to Mr Fuele and other guests,” he added.

The EU Commissioner declined to say directly whether Brussels was pushing Serbia to join EU sanctions on Russia for its perceived role in the conflict.

“We were discussing this issue like many others. Serbia is a sovereign country and we respect her decision,” Fuele said.

Russia has meanwhile sent its speaker of parliament, Naryshkin, to convince the Serbian leadership to back Russia, despite the constant pressure from the EU.

Naryshkin, who is on the list of people whom the EU has sanctioned, met Serbian parliamentarians and President Tomsilav Nikolic, a declared friend of Russia in the Balkans.

Speaking of Russia, the President recently reminded parliament of the “friendly relations between two countries that date from WW1.”

Recently, Russia has been a strong ally to Serbia over the issue of the independence of Kosovo, which Serbia does not recognise.

Both the EU and the US have targeted Russia with sanctions, accusing Vladimir Putin's government in Moscow of illegally annexing Crimea from Ukraine and of stoking a separatist insurgency in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

 

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