Djordje Milosevic's Blog

Serbia’s foreign policy: Searching for balance at the difficult crossroad

June 25, 2015
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Serbia was placed in a difficult position after member countries of the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia. The sanctions were imposed as the retribution for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its alleged participation in Ukrainian crisis. These sanctions, however, are not hurting only Russia’s economy, but Serbia’s European integrations as well. As a candidate country for European Union accession, it is expected that Serbia’s foreign policy be in line with EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy,[1] as recently confirmed in statements of several EU officials.[2] Yet, Serbian government still stands firm in the decision to avoid fully aligning its foreign policy with that of the EU, and impose sanctions on Russia. The result of this decision is the slowdown in Serbia’s EU integration process which is evident in the EU’s reluctance to open the first chapter of negotiations with Serbia even though official negotiations were opened in January 2014.[3]

 

Current foreign policy of Serbian leaders could be seen as a balancing act between Russia and the West. For example, President of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolić, and the elite Guard of the Serbian Armed Forces were present at the May 9 Victory Day military parade in Moscow which other European leaders boycotted. At the same time, however, Prime Minister of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, visited the U.S only few weeks later where he announced that Serbia is a reliable partner to the West and that EU integration is a strategic priority for Serbia.[4] These inconsistencies in Serbian foreign policy are slowing down Serbia’s EU integration process which can yet again create troubling situations in the Balkans as evidenced by the recent events in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.[5]

 

Now, Serbia is at the crossroad. One path entails aligning with EU and imposing the sanctions on Russia. The second path entails maintaining good relations with Russia in the face of the EU sanctions and further slowdown of Serbia’s European integration. If Serbia chooses the first path and imposes sanctions on Russia, Serbian government would not only undermine strong historical, cultural and religious ties with Russia, but would also bring into question Russian support on the issue of Kosovo. Alongside China, Russia remains the unyielding supporter of Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over Kosovo in the United Nations Security Council. At the same time, most of the EU members recognized Kosovo as an independent country which opposes Serbian stand on this issue and hampers Serbia’s path towards the EU.[6] Indeed, normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo remains one of the main questions in the negotiation process between Serbia and the EU.

 

Another important aspect that has to be taken into account is Serbia’s economic dependency on both Russia and the European Union. Russia’s share of Serbian trade is around 9%. On the first sight, Russian share is significantly lower than the EU’s share which is around 62%.[7] However, most of the Russian export to Serbia is strategically important crude oil and petroleum gas. More than 85% of gas imported in Serbia is from Russia which is worth around 700 million U.S. dollars.[8] This makes Serbia extremely dependent on the Russian gas. In his recent statements, Serbian Prime Minister Vučić announced Serbia’s readiness to reduce this dependence.[9] However, this diversification would be possible only with the major investments from abroad giving the grim economic situation in Serbia. 

 

There is no doubt that the leaders of Serbia are at the crossroad. Will Serbia remain a traditional ally of Russia on the Balkan Peninsula or will it continue its proclaimed foreign policy which specifies EU integration as a strategic priority? This question will be answered in the days ahead of us. However, each path seems to be problematic and potentially with dire consequences for Serbia.

 

 


[1] The EU candidate countries Montenegro and Albania have aligned themselves with the EU Council Decision 2014/151/CFSP implementing Council Decision 2014/145/CFSP concerning restrictive measures in respect of actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. Available at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/cfsp/142175.pdf

 

[2] EU Resolution Tells Serbia to Back Russia Sanctions. Balkan Insight Website. 8 January, 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/european-parliament-calls-serbia-to-join-eu-sanctions-on-russia

 

[3] "EU owes it to Serbia and itself to open chapters". B92 Website. 8 June, 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.b92.net/eng/news/politics.php?yyyy=2015&mm=06&dd=08&nav_id=94364

 

[4] Vucic: Serbia is reliable partner. Tanjug Website. 5 June, 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.tanjug.rs/full-view_en.aspx?izb=182736

 

[5] Fears of instability in Macedonia as police pursue 'armed group'. Reuters Website. 9 May, 2015. Retrieved from: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/05/09/us-macedonia-police-idUKKBN0NU07020150509

 

[6] Out of 28 member states only Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain do not recognize Kosovo’s independence.

 

[7] European Union, Trade in goods with Serbia (2014). Available at: http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2008/august/tradoc_140028.pdf

 

[8] Import origins of Crude Petroleum to Serbia (2012). Available at: https://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/explore/tree_map/hs/import/srb/show/2709/2012/

 

[9] Premier: Serbia ready to reduce dependence on Russian gas. Yahoo News Website. 28 May, 2015. Retrieved from: http://news.yahoo.com/premier-serbia-ready-reduce-dependency-russian-gas-073816851--finance.html

 

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