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11 Mar, 2022 23:35

Serbia vows punishment for volunteers going to Ukraine

Citizens fighting for either side face prosecution and severe penalties, Belgrade has announced
Serbia vows punishment for volunteers going to Ukraine

Serbian law forbids citizens from volunteering to fight in foreign wars, and anyone who does so in Ukraine – on either side – will face harsh punishment, President Aleksandar Vucic has said.

“As for volunteers, since both sides have called for volunteers, the Serbian criminal code – and we will amend it to be stricter – outlaws participation in any conflicts that do not defend Serbia’s territorial integrity,” Vucic said on Friday at a conference with the German foreign minister. “Any of those who think they should take part in some war, we will punish severely in accordance with our constitution and our laws.”

Kiev announced last week that over 16,000 foreigners had volunteered for the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine, and President Volodymyr Zelensky had even ordered the lifting of all visa restrictions for those who wish to come and fight.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed to Ukraine’s recruitment drive to approve the request from Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu for Moscow to accept volunteers as well. Shoigu specifically referred to Syrian volunteers that fought Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists with the support of the Russian military.

Serbia is officially neutral, recently announcing it would stop military cooperation with both NATO and Russia after Moscow ordered troops into Ukraine last month. While Belgrade aspires to join the EU, it is nowhere near to becoming a member yet, and Vucic has so far resisted pressure from Brussels to join the bloc’s sanctions against Russia.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was in Belgrade on Friday to turn up that pressure, telling her Serbian host that “joining the EU means readiness to harmonize with Union positions,” including on the matter of Ukraine. 

Vucic thanked Baerbock for explaining Berlin’s position to him first-hand, adding that while Germany is Serbia’s most important economic and political partner in the EU, the two countries “unfortunately have different positions regarding certain issues in our surroundings.”