Serbia sides with Russia rather than EU over Ukraine crisis

DPA Belgrade | Updated on May 16, 2014

Moscow’s actions in Ukraine have left its Slavic allies in the Balkans torn between Russia and the European Union.

In Serbia, Montenegro and EU-member Bulgaria, “Mother Russia” is regarded as the historic true ally, supporter, mentor and protector.

In the wake of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Bulgaria and Montenegro broke ranks and sided with the EU in condemning the move and imposing sanctions.

EU and NATO member Bulgaria join the initial wave of sanctions on Moscow but has opposed anything stronger.

Serbia has however steadfastly refused to turn its back on Moscow.

Belgrade has appeared perplexed from the outset of the Ukraine crisis. The country from which Kosovo seceded voiced support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Serbia’s leaders said little as they walk the diplomatic tightrope between Moscow and Brussels.

Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic noted Belgrade would continue to pursue its own interests and said it was “crystal clear” no sanctions would be imposed on Moscow.

On Thursday, Serbia ordered its diplomats and representatives in international forums to refrain from voting against Russia, the daily Vecernje Novosti reported.

Belgrade’s appeal for help after this week’s catastrophic floods went first to Moscow, then Brussels.

Picking sides in the Ukraine crisis could be costly for all three Balkan states.

Russia is the source of around 90 per cent of their natural gas and investment in the banking and energy sectors.

Serbia and Bulgaria are keen to see the completion of the South Stream gas pipeline that will transport Russian gas across the Balkans to the West.

Russia effectively controls Serbia’s energy sector after buying its state petrol company and is the supplier of fuel for Bulgaria’s Kozloduy nuclear power plant.

Montengro sold its oil and aluminium companies to Russian businesses and much property on its Adriatic Coast to Russian citizens, who generate a large chunk of its tourism revenue.

The three nations also need funding from Brussels to reform and revive their moribund economies.

In an interview published in the Danas newspaper Friday, Dacic was asked when Belgrade would begin aligning its foreign policy with that of the EU.

“Only when we become full members ... That is, not so soon,” he said.

He declined to say how, in the case of the Ukraine crisis, being out of step with EU foreign policy could serve national interests.

Also a membership candidate now in accession talks with the EU, Montenegro has sided with the EU, even if uneasily and with minimal sanctions.

The decision to impose entry restrictions on “some citizens of Ukraine and Russia,” was “not easy,” Montenegrin Foreign Minister Igor Luksic admitted.

“It is expected of countries like Montenegro, which are negotiating membership, particularly when there is a consensus within the EU,” Luksic told dpa.

Published on May 16, 2014

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