Outrage in Serbia has been sparked by a Russian news video purporting to show Serbian “volunteers” training to fight with Russian troops in Ukraine, revealing the country’s complicated relationship with Moscow.
The Serbian-language videos were produced by the Russian Wagner mercenary group to promote recruitment for the conflict.
He questioned, “Why, from Wagner, do you call someone from Serbia when you know that it is against our rules?”
Serbia is frequently charged by critics with putting its longstanding alliance with Russia ahead of its desire to join the EU. But recent events in Belgrade demonstrate that things are not as simple as they seem.
President Vucic made comments about Serbia’s “neutral” stance toward the conflict in Ukraine and the fact that he had not spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin in “many months” that seemed to allude to less than ideal relations between Moscow and Moscow.
Serbs are not allowed to participate in international conflicts.
- What is the Wagner Group of mercenaries in Russia?
- Mercenary numbers supporting Wagner are increasing.
There do not appear to be many Serbian recruits involved. In 2014, some did participate in combat alongside Russian soldiers in Ukraine, but without any kind of official support.
In actuality, Serbian courts found more than 20 individuals guilty of “fighting on foreign battlefronts.”
As a result of allegations that the Russian ambassador and the head of Serbia’s state security and information agency (BIA) recruited Serbians for the Wagner group, a lawyer in Belgrade and anti-war organizations filed criminal complaints against them on Thursday.
The Wagner death’s head emblem first emerged on a wall in the city center of Belgrade, where controversial murals are mind-numbingly ubiquitous. The extreme right-wing group People’s Patrols, which has hosted sparsely attended pro-Russia protests in the past, signed it.
The major political parties have not even suggested that they support invading Ukraine.
In fact, Serbia has regularly supported United Nations resolutions denouncing Russian aggression.
Belgrade’s position was made very clear this week by President Vucic: “For us, Crimea is Ukraine, Donbas is Ukraine, and it will remain thus.”
Because Serbia has consistently refused to put sanctions on Russia, that attitude has not been sufficient to please the European Parliament.
MEPs have approved a motion requesting the postponement of membership talks until Serbia consents to penalties for the second time.
It made sense for Serbia to keep cordial ties with Moscow as long as the EU showed little interest in enlarging the bloc to include the Western Balkan nations.
Brussels was reminded that Belgrade had more choices. Practical reasons to maintain cordial relations included cheap gas supplies, Gazprom’s 75% ownership of Serbia’s oil company NIS, and Russia’s refusal to recognize Kosovo’s independence.
The invasion of Ukraine, however, has altered opinions. When President Putin cited Kosovo’s unilateral proclamation of independence as reason for recognizing the independence of parts of the occupied eastern Ukraine, Belgrade was unimpressed.
Brussels, meanwhile, only recently realized that its cautious approach to the Western Balkans was giving Moscow license to interfere. Albania and North Macedonia’s accession negotiations were quickly unblocked, while Bosnia was given candidate status.
Therefore, if Serbia’s president has been waiting for the right time to make a significant turn toward the West, it may now have come.
He says he will address Serbians over the weekend to explain “what is required and anticipated from Serbia over Kosovo and sanctions against Russia.” He has been preparing them for “extremely painful” meetings with EU and US special envoys.
Without ever pledging a significant change in policy, Mr. Vucic has previously made similar remarks. But he reaffirmed this week that Serbia was moving in a Western direction.
I understand that the EU is our course, he told Bloomberg. There aren’t any other options.