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Serbia’s Position in the Russian-Ukrainian War

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It is observed that Serbia did not take a decisive stance since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian War. The relations in the Belgrade-Moscow line could be described as a traditional alliance between two Slavic and Orthodox nations. As a result, Serbia, which is a candidate for membership in the European Union (EU), has said that it respects the sovereignty of Ukraine only. Also, Serbian radical groups influencing the region supported the Russian occupation of Ukraine and held marches with the slogans of “Russians and Serbs are brothers”. People’s support of Ukraine by the other side also divided the society. When the process works like this: in the new system and geopolitical climate created by the war, will Belgrade be headed entirely towards Europe and the West or Russia.

Serbia, which operates on the principle of equality in foreign policy towards the EU, the United States (US), Russia and China, states its position as a neutral state. Furthermore, the country appears determined to remain militarily neutral and refrain from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or other military alliances. In particular, neither the opening of negotiations with the EU at the beginning of 2014, nor the crisis that was ongoing in Ukraine during that period, given the Russian dimension, have damaged Serbia’s close relations with Russia. The Moscow administration firmly supported Serbia’s claim on Kosovo and blocked official recognition of Kosovo’s independence in the United Nations (UN), ensuring that the two countries remain allies. However, the strategy of approaching Moscow and Brussels at equal distance in the changing international arena has brought some risks as it has led Serbia to a conflict between the two parties. Nevertheless, given the aspirations of building energy unity, the country’s integration into the EU is significant.

It can also be historically based on the Slavic and Orthodox heritage of Serbia and Russia and the alliance established during world wars in the 20th century. The relations between the two countries increased to the level of “strategic partnership” in 2013. In this process, Serbia’s EU membership negotiations started but the country did not vote for the UN resolution in 2014 which annulled the referendum in Crimea. Today, Moscow’s influence in Serbia continues in the context of the fact that a significant part of the country’s energy sector benefits from Russian oil and natural gas. Serbia’s dependence on Russian gas stands at 89%. In fact, in a speech delivered in 2021, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic summarized the situation as follows:[1]

“For us, what is important is the European road. But Serbia has always valued its friends, and we never turned our backs on our friends, even when it was hard to resist pressure. That is why Serbia buys its natural gas at the lowest price in Europe. And we will not deny our friendship with Russia on Kosovo and Metohija issues.”

Another point to note here is that a large majority of Serbs consider Russia a friend. Accordingly, Serbs living in different parts of the Balkans supported Moscow during the Russo-Ukrainian War. During the war, the supporters organized demonstration marches from time to time. In general, demonstrations by Serbian radical groups emphasized statements that “Russians are our brothers”. The “People’s Patrons”, known in the region for their Russian affiliation, are a radical group that made its mark in the demonstrations. The Group stated that if one of the actions decides to sanction Russia, it would stage a demonstration again, with twice as many demonstrators at this time. The goals of the demonstrations were stated in a speech by Damnjan Knezevic, the representative of the People’s Patrols:[2]

“Let those who tried to oppress us in 1992 and Russia today know that the pressure is like “a drop of water in the ocean” for those who carry the Slavic spirit. There is no Serb who would sanction Russia or Belarus.”

In addition, like other radical groups, the People’s Patrols stood out regarding Kosovo and Metohija. Such Russian sympathism from the Serbs gained momentum as Russia helped the Serbs get into the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo. In addition, historical closeness, and the idea that the Russians supported them during the wars of the Serbs enabled the continuity of this sympathy.

In short, the Serbian government seeks to maintain good relations with the West. It also tries to address the pro-Russian supporter base. Because the Russian invasion started weeks before the parliamentary and presidential elections in Serbia. This is a significant pro-Russian experience. It has also narrowed Vucic’s area of movement. Unlike other countries in Eastern Europe, any kind of alienation against the Russians because they are seen as allies rather than threats; It would be an undesirable decision for the Russian people in the country. For years, Vucic has managed to strike a delicate balance. Russia’s turn against Vucic could have unintended consequences for the polls in the April 2022 elections. Any misstep in this regard could throw Serbia’s efforts towards EU membership out of shame.

As a result, Vucic cited in the early days of the Russian invasion the words “I have been 10 years old in the last three days” and “Our country has a position, and we will protect as much as we can.” [3]  can summarize the current process.

[1] “Serbia Will Never End Its Friendship with Russia-president” TASS, https://tass.com/world/1367373?utm_source=google.com&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=google.com&utm_referrer=google.com, (Date of Accession: 17.03.2022).

[2] “‘Brothers FOREVER’: Many in Serbia Back Russia amid Global Outcry”, France 24, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20220309-brothers-forever-many-in-serbia-back-russia-amid-global-outcry, (Date of Accession: 18.03.2022).

[3] Ibid.

Selinay İLGAZ
Selinay İLGAZ
Selinay İlgaz, Karabük Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde lisans eğitimini tamamlamıştır. Yüksek lisans eğitimini Karabük Üniversitesi Lisansüstü Eğitim Enstitüsü Bölge Çalışmaları Ana Bilim Dalı’nda sürdüren İlgaz, Doğu Avrupa ülkelerinde siyasi dönüşüm ve rejim değişmeleri konularıyla ilgilenmektedir. İlgaz, iyi derecede İngilizce ve başlangıç düzeyinde Rusça bilmektedir.