From: Bledar Qalliu
Rama Commends Serbia for ‘Unifying the Western Balkans with the West’

On Wednesday, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama singled out Serbia to commend it for “unifying the Western Balkans with the West” after Serbia voted in favor of a UN resolution deploring the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

“Serbia’s vote against Russia unifies the Western Balkans with the West,” Rama tweeted from Tirana, shortly after a press conference in Belgrade by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

Rama’s praise of Serbia for allegedly aligning the Western Balkans with the West comes amidst increasing criticism at home over his Open Balkan initiative launched which he launched with Vucic and former Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. 

Launched in 2019, the initiative was meant to create a free market area for the Western Balkan Six, but it has stagnated ever since. Half of the countries – Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina – refused to adhere due to fears that such organization, which is outside the control of the European Union, would slow down their integration into the EU.

However, the Albanian leader’s claim contradicts Serbia’s stance and statements by its leadership who have tried to downplay the vote and have stressed that they will not join the EU and US sanctions against Russia.

As Vucic carefully clarified during a press conference last evening, the resolution voted by 141 out of 193 UN member states does not change Serbia’s previous stance on the matter.

“Serbia kept its position from the previous days. Out of a total of 13 articles, we voted for four, and we could not vote for nine because they concerned the introduction of sanctions or the banking sector or air transport or individuals directly, from Putin, Lavrov, Peskov to everyone else,” Vucic stated.

The stronger word “condemn” was removed from the resolution draft and replaced with “deplore [the aggression]”, denoting the expression of deep regret, which fit with Serbia’s original position.

Vucic had previously expressed “regret” for “what is happening in Eastern Europe”, avoiding to mention “Russia”, “Ukraine” or “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine” in the 14-point decision by the National Security Council regarding Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

While the resolution “condemns the “declaration by the Russian Federation of a ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine,” in public Vucic downplayed it: “We have joined every condemnation of the violation of territorial integrity, whatever they call it,” he said in general terms without mentioning Russia or Ukraine specifically. 

Serbia remains the only country in Europe to refuse to expressly condemn the aggression or impose sanctions against Russia.

The same unchanged position was highlighted by Serbia’s permanent representative to the UN Nemanja Stevanovic before yesterday’s vote, who avoided the mentioning of Russia’s aggression/invasion of Ukraine in his speech: “Serbia sincerely regrets everything that is happening in Eastern Europe. Russia and Ukraine are friendly countries for Serbia, and the Serbian people consider Russians and Ukrainians to be brotherly nations. We perceive the loss of every person’s life in Ukraine as a real tragedy,” he said.

“Regardless of not agreeing with all formulations stated in the resolution, we will vote in favor of the resolution,” he added.

Speaker of Parliament Ivica Dacic defended Serbia’s decision not to impose sanctions by arguing that they are not obliged to align their foreign policy with the European Union, despite being a front-runner for EU accession. 

Serbia has regularly refused to impose EU sanctions on Russia since 2014.