West questioned Belgrade after signing a deal with Moscow that promised long-term consultations on foreign policy.
The European Union and the United States have questioned Serbia’s announced commitment to join Europe’s 27-nation bloc after Belgrade signed an agreement with Moscow promising long-term “consultations” on foreign policy issues during the Russian-Ukrainian war.
Serbian officials signed the deal with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Friday, with most Western delegations shunning Russia’s top diplomat over the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Serbian Foreign Minister Nikolai Serakovic signed the document, known as the “Consultation Plan”. The plan envisages consultations on bilateral and multilateral activities, although there is nothing in it on security policy, he said. Serbian opposition parties criticized the document.
Serbia’s foreign ministry sought to downplay the importance of signing the deal, saying it was a “technical” deal that involved bilateral relations rather than security issues.
Although Serbia has expressed support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, its right-wing government has repeatedly refused to join Western sanctions against Slavic ally Russia.Aligning foreign policy with the EU is one of the main conditions for joining the EU, but Serbia is increasingly ignoring calls to do so.
News of the deal sparked harsh criticism from EU and U.S. officials.
European Commission spokesman Peter Stano warned on Monday that Serbia-Russia relations could not “business as usual” amid current circumstances in which Moscow violated the UN charter and armed forces committed atrocities in Ukraine.
“It’s a very clear sign that they intend to strengthen relations and further strengthen relations between Serbia and Russia, which raises serious questions,” he said. “We take this matter very seriously and we are following up on it.”
Christopher R Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Serbia, said that “a further alliance with Russia is a step in the wrong direction and runs counter to Serbia’s stated European aspirations”.
“The United States believes that no country should expand cooperation with Russia while Russia continues to wage a war of aggression against Ukraine,” Hill said in a statement to The Associated Press.
“The news of the signing of this agreement with Russia is surprising and contrasts with other constructive meetings with Serbian officials in New York.”
Under the 10-year rule of Aleksandar Vucic, the former ultranationalist and Serbian populist leader, Serbia has been steadily drifting away from its declared EU goals and developing close political ties with Russia.
Ivana Stradner, an adviser to the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, tweeted that the consultations between Belgrade and Moscow “are a Vucic’s balance game between Washington and Moscow“.
“Did he tell them about the NATO exercise next week?” Stradner said.
Today Serbia and Russia signed a consultation plan for 2023-2024. Another game of balance for Vucic between Washington and Moscow…so here’s a new video from his far-right “Z🇷🇺” supporter voters. Did he tell them about the NATO exercise next week? 🙂pic.twitter.com/ls0bw3wW1s
— Ivana Stradner 🇺🇸🇺🇦 (@ivanastradner) September 23, 2022