Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Belgrade, Serbia on February 21 for a two-day trip, hoping to boost Russo-Serbian relations, according to Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). This visit comes in light of the two countries’ 180th anniversary of diplomatic relations. At the same time, Serbia has also been looking westward, towards joining the European Union. RFE/RL reports that Lavrov stated, “We always wanted partners to have a free choice and develop their political ties” while simultaneously vowing that Russia would remain involved with the Balkan countries regardless of their decision.
Serbia and Russia share Orthodox Christian heritage, as well as their condemnation of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia in 2008. In fact, according to an article from Balkan Insight, Russia has continuously voted against Kosovo’s independence, in agreement with the official Serbian position. In turn, Serbia has largely praised Russia. Prime Minister Ana Brnabic showed gratitude towards Lavrov for Russia’s “principled stance on the non-recognition of the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo,” reported Balkan Insight.
Lavrov also presented Serbian Foreign Minister Ivika Dacic with a Russian State Award bestowed by President Vladimir Putin. Dacic asserted, “Serbia cannot defend its national interest without the help of Russia.”
Despite dependence on Russia, Balkan Insight reports that Serbia wants to join the EU, even though Serbian President Aleksander Vucic insisted that the country would not impose sanctions against Russia. This contradicts the EU’s current Russia policy, imposed after its annexation of Crimea, which calls for sanctions against the country. RFE/RL reports that Vucic said, “Serbia is on the European path but will continue to build best relations with Russia.”
Ultimately, Serbia finds itself caught between two of the world’s greatest powers: the EU and Russia. It will be difficult for the country to continue pushing its interest westward while keeping close ties with Russia.