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Ambivalent No Longer: Serbia Wants Closer Partnership With Russia

© AP PhotoA man passes by a billboards reading 'Russia' , left and 'Serbia' in Belgrade, Serbia.
A man passes by a billboards reading 'Russia' , left and 'Serbia' in Belgrade, Serbia. - Sputnik International
During their meeting in Moscow on Monday, President Vladimir Putin and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic discussed a raft of economic, military and technical cooperation issues. Vucic also secured Russia’s support for his bid to win the upcoming presidential elections slated for April 2, online newspaper Vzglyad wrote.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic - Sputnik International
Putin, Serbian PM Vucic to Meet in Moscow Monday
The Serbian delegation also included Defense Minister Zoran Djordjevic and Labor Minister Aleksandar Vulin, both of whom belong to the pro-Russian segment of the Serbian political elite, as opposed to the pro-European politicians who support the country’s earliest possible integration with the European Union.

After his meeting with Putin, Aleksandar Vucic said that the Russian president had approved the planned delivery of six MiG-29 fighter planes, thirty T-72 tanks and twenty BRDM-2 patrol combat vehicles the two countries’ defense ministers agreed on in December 2016, the online newspaper Vzglyad wrote.

“After the talks we had today I expect the [Russian] president to sign a pertinent decree and the planes to arrive shortly,” Vucic noted.

He also mentioned Russia’s strong support for Serbia’s territorial integrity and also the possibility of more Russian companies doing business in Serbia.

Serbia maintains close ties with Russia and wants closer cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union, while at the same time actively seeking EU membership.

Russia and Serbia have a long history of cultural, religious, economic and military ties. The two regularly hold joint military exercises.

Aleksandar Vucic says that Serbia is the only European country that has not imposed sanctions on Russia. He also underscores Belgrade’s “military neutrality,” which sounds a bit strange now that Serbia is rearming its military with Russian weapons only. 

While a year ago Belgrade was negotiating the delivery of Russian S-300 air defense missiles, it now seems to have settled for the shipment of Buk anti-aircraft systems.

“However, with its air defenses still in tatters following the 1999 NATO bombings,  and Croatia now eyeing the purchase of German and US medium-range missiles, Serbia needs advanced missile defense systems like the S-300 and S-400,” Vzglyad wrote.

With the April 2 presidential elections now less than a week away, securing Russia’s support in the upcoming presidential election was apparently the main reason why Aleksandar Vucic came to Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin - Sputnik International
Putin Hopes for Positive Russia-Serbia Relations
While many in Serbia’s political elite want to join the EU, the majority of ordinary Serbs are holding out for closer ties with their historical ally Russia.

Russia is in no position to dictate any specific modus operandi on Belgrade, of course. Yet, the situation begs for Belgrade to make a choice and give up on its “two-pronged” policy of being chummy with Moscow while cozying up to Brussels.

“Here is a classic situation where the aspirations of ordinary people clash with those of their ruling elite,” Vzglyad concluded.

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