Experts, citizens debate Serbia's relationship with Russia, EU

30/05/2014

Serbia seeks to remain neutral on the Ukraine situation, but experts said the strategy could hamper its EU accession.

By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 30/05/14

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EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule (left) met with Serbia Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade on May 5th. [AFP]

Although the EU said it respects Belgrade's decision not to implement sanctions against Russia, experts said Serbia's neutrality on the Ukraine situation could hurt the country's Union bid.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule came to Belgrade earlier this month and met with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic. Fule said the Union is aware that Serbia is a sovereign country, and respects its decision regarding Ukraine.

"I asked that Serbia [be able] to maintain its own attitude, which is not to impose sanctions on Russia," Vucic said after the meeting, adding that he respects the territorial integrity of Ukraine and all other UN member states.

But Jelena Milic, director at the Belgrade Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies, said Serbia's neutrality and refusal to implement sanctions on Russia will negatively influence the country's EU bid.

"The Copenhagen criteria, which was adopted in 1993, should be respected not only by member states but also by states that are candidates for EU membership. The criteria says that states must respect the politics of the EU in cases when the Union imposes a foreign political plan. Meanwhile, Chapter 31 in the EU negotiations says that in cases when the Union imposes economic sanctions, they have to be accepted on all levels," Milic said.

Although Serbia has not yet opened Chapter 31, the country's decision to not impose sanctions could be a stumbling block when the chapter is opened, Milic told SETimes.

"One day, this will be a subject of debate. The EU will be totally legitimate in asking where Serbia was during the Ukriane crisis," she added.

Aleksandra Joksimovic, president of the Centre for Foreign Policy in Belgrade, said Serbia should maintain positive relations with Russia because energy stability is important.

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"The best solution for Serbia is to remain neutral, but it is questionable how long it will be able to keep that pose," Joskimovic told SETimes.

Many citizens said the Russian connection is not as strong as it is being made out to be.

"The EU is our supporter and partner. Serbia has to choose the EU if it wants to achieve progress," Slavisa Vukicevic, a 44-year-old doctor in Belgrade, told SETimes.

How will the Ukraine situation affect Serbia's EU bid? Tell us your thoughts below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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