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Why does Serbia recognize Ukraine’s “territorial integrity”?

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has long ceased to be consistent. Today, he can say one thing and, tomorrow, quite a different thing. As a result, his country’s foreign policy is unpredictable. Vucic is trying to keep his foot in both camps. And this has once again been confirmed by his las meeting with Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze.

It was a bit strange rendezvous. After it most of the Ukrainian news agencies hurried to announce that “one of Putin’s allies has taken Ukraine’s side.” The point is that during the meeting Vucic expressed full support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and thanked the Ukrainian peacekeepers in Kosovo for ensuring order and protecting the local Serbs. The last sentence sounds very strange as, in reality, there are almost no Serbs left in Kosovo and those left are facing a constant threat of violence.

But the response of Klympush-Tsintsadze was even stranger. After a couple of formal phrases about Ukraine’s support for Serbia’s territorial integrity and the need for Serbian-Kosovan dialogue, she made a provocative statement that today Ukraine is facing an external aggression and is losing people, who are being killed by Russian arms on a daily basis. In the presence of a Serbian delegation, Klympush-Tsintsadze called Russia an “aggressor” and Vucic did not react in any way. And the sides continued their meeting as if nothing happened.

Such a neutral reaction to Klympush-Tsintsadze’s statement means that they in Belgrade are ready to recognize the EU’s thesis about Russia’s “aggressiveness.” If Vucic was from Croatia, Montenegro or any other Balkan country, his reaction would be normal, but here we are talking about Serbia, whose authorities keep assuring Russia that the Serbs and the Russians are brothers and the closest allies and who quite recently blackmailed the EU by saying that they might refuse to join the Union because of its stance on Kosovo and might get even closer to Russia.

One can understand Ukraine and Serbia here: both countries refuse to admit that their territorial losses are a reality and are trying hard to prove the world that things can be changed. But there is one absurd nuance here: Ukraine is eager to join the EU, where most of the members have already recognized Kosovo: even though de jure Kosovo needs recognition by the UN Security Council (which is hardly possible as long as China and Russia are contra), de facto it is recognized in Europe. If Ukraine wants to integrate into Europe, it will have to comply with its position. So, when the Ukrainians say that they support Serbia’s territorial integrity, they do not sound convincing. Once they in Brussels tell them to recognize Kosovo, they will do it and may even blame Russia for forcing them into such a step.

Serbia is a different story. What it needs is to harmonize its historically pro-Russian stance with the political ambitions of its leaders. One of the key problems here is whether to recognize Crimea as part of Russia or not. Vucic’s current pro-European position is making Serbia closer to EU membership, but, on the other side, it is making it farther from the Russians, who would like the Serbs to support them on Crimea. Here Serbia is very much like Belarus, who, despite its declared love for Russia, is setting up its sail to every wind.

Yuri Pavlovets, specially for EADaily

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27.09.2016

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