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23 Jan, 2023 22:17

Ukraine conflict ‘will soon spread’ – Serbian president

Belgrade is under pressure because the West wants to focus on Russia, says Aleksandar Vucic
Ukraine conflict ‘will soon spread’ – Serbian president

Belgrade is facing pressure from the US, EU and NATO over Kosovo because of the conflict in Ukraine, which is likely to escalate soon, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told the nation on Monday evening. He said the West was rewarding the ethnic Albanian authorities in the breakaway province for their campaign of violence against the Serbs.

Vucic spoke after meeting with the leadership of his ruling party, addressing the “proposal” by the West requiring Serbia to accept the breakaway province’s membership in international organizations – such as the UN, EU and NATO – or else. He said the document “hardly contains anything we would be happy about.”

The Serbian president explained that the EU is de facto at war in Ukraine, so it wants its “back yard” – including Serbia – to be brought to heel. His feeling, however, was that the conflict “won’t calm down, but will only spread.”

“You see it now, it’s not just Russia versus Ukraine. Soon it will spread to other territories. It is up to us that our country isn’t among them,” he said.

Vucic lamented the unwillingness of the West to listen to reason, even after it was clear that all recent incidents in Kosovo were caused by the ethnic Albanian authorities in Pristina. Even when the EU acknowledged this, they kept rewarding Kosovo, accepting its membership application and granting it visa-free entry, he added.

While Belgrade intends to defend its interests, Vucic explained it will be difficult to stop Kosovo’s admission to the Council of Europe or NATO. The document does not require Belgrade to explicitly recognize Kosovo as independent, but implicitly demands Serbia not to oppose its UN membership, he explained.

If Serbia refuses, the EU will halt all integration processes, reimpose a visa regime, stop all new investments, and withdraw all the current ones, Vucic warned. That would be worse than any sanctions, and he would prefer a compromise to “accepting everything right away,” he said.

“You know what it would mean for Serbia to be isolated in any way,” Vucic said, referring to the sanctions imposed in the 1990s during the Yugoslav Wars. He also noted that this is his last term as president, and he would not be loath to resign if that would mean protecting the country or buying time.

NATO troops took control of Kosovo in 1999, after nearly three months of bombing Serbia on behalf of ethnic Albanian insurgents. The province’s provisional government declared independence in 2008, but Belgrade has so far resisted US and EU pressure to recognize it, relying on support from Russia and China.