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news 16 Jun 15

Serbian Experts Split Over America's Balkan Strategy

Following the Serbian PM's visit to Washington, experts at a Belgrade forum voiced differing views over whether closer ties to the US would benefit the country.

Igor Jovanovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Ivan Vujacic, a former Serbian ambassador to the US. | Photo by Media Centre Belgrade

At the forum entitled "Contemporary US foreign policy in the Balkans and Eastern Europe," held in Belgrade on Tuesday, experts clashed over US interests in the Balkans and whether Belgrade should move closer to the Washington.

The forum follows Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic's high-profile visit to Washington in early June.

After the visit, Vucic said that the US fully supported Serbia's goal of European integration and was ready to make new investments in Serbia. The statements caused some controversy over whether this marked a step away from Serbia's traditional alliance with Russia.

Following Vucic’s visit, a source close to Vucic's ruling Serbian Progressive Party told BIRN that the US had set several conditions for Belgrade to fulfil in order to ensure greater investment in Serbia and Washington’s support for Serbia's EU integration.

According to the source, American officials were primarily interested in Serbia reducing its energy dependence on Russia.

Vucic’s government was also asked to follow European Union policy on relations with Russia, the source also said, and not to support Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik's suggestion of a possible referendum on the entity's secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The US further asked Serbia to make further progress in normalization talks with its former province of Kosovo whose independence it does not recognise. The next round of talks between the Kosovo and Serbian Prime Ministers is scheduled for June 23 in Brussels.

Vladimir Trapara, from the Belgrade Institute for International Politics and Economics, said the US requests clashed with Serbian interests.

"The United States does not really have a problem with Russia in the Balkans, they just have a problem with Serbia," he said.

"A strong Serbia does not fit into the American design of the Balkans ... If the political class and the people are united, Serbia has a chance to avoid American demands,” Trapara said.

However, a former Serbian ambassador to the US, Ivan Vujacic, said the Americans were putting no special pressure on Serbia and that Washington had left the Balkan integration process with the EU to its European partners.

"The EU is a strategic orientation for Serbia. If we go there, then we fit into the American vision for the Balkans," Vujacic said.

"Washington wants to keep peace in the Balkans, as well as to integrate the whole region in to the EU when respective countries meet the required standards," he added.

Experts had different assessments of the US impact in the Balkans and the possibility of the United States influencing the EU integration process.

While Trapara said he believed that US influence is decisive and is implemented through the strongest EU member, Germany, Vujacic insisted that the US and the EU are partners who “do not dictate each other moves".

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