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21 Nov, 2023 17:38

Serbia pledges to improve relations with NATO

Belgrade may resume joint exercises with the US-led bloc, President Vucic said
Serbia pledges to improve relations with NATO

Cooperating with NATO is important in order to ensure the safety and security of Serbs in Kosovo, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Tuesday after meeting with Jens Stoltenberg, the bloc’s secretary-general.

Serbia had canceled all exercises with NATO and Russia alike in 2022, to reiterate its military neutrality in the Ukraine conflict. Vucic has also refused to join the Western embargo on Russia, despite repeated pressure from the US and the EU.

“We will always cooperate with NATO,” the Serbian president said. “As the commander in chief, I will ask the government to consider the decision to resume joint exercises with NATO, which we had before.”

According to Stoltenberg, NATO understands Serbia’s desire to not be a part of any military bloc and believes that holding joint exercises would not undermine that position.

NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) has been stationed in the breakaway Serbian province since 1999, following the bloc’s 78-day air war against Belgrade on behalf of ethnic Albanian separatists.

Vucic has vowed to never forget “NATO aggression,” but called on the bloc to protect the Serbs in Kosovo from a pogrom by ethnic Albanians.

Although KFOR keeps saying it guarantees the safety of everyone “only the Serbs have been threatened and attacked, never the Albanians,” Vucic said at a press conference with Stoltenberg. He also reminded the visitor that NATO “likes” the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 to justify KFOR’s mandate, but tends to ignore that it guarantees Serbia’s sovereignty over Kosovo.

Stoltenberg noted that NATO has sent 1,000 troops to Kosovo, urged “both sides” to practice restraint, and argued that the increased presence of Serbian troops near the province was not helpful. Vucic said that the Serbian Army has not acted outside of its authority or endangered anyone, and that “where we put our troops is our own business.”

The NATO head arrived in Belgrade on Monday evening as part of his Balkans tour that includes Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Kosovo. Most NATO members have recognized the breakaway Serbian province as an independent state, but Belgrade has refused. Serbia’s position has been endorsed by Russia, China and India, among others.