Two senior experts of the US-based Atlantic Council think-tank have argued in an interview with Albanian journalist Ilva Tare that instead of coming to the rescue of Serbia in Brussels, Albania should push the country to align its policies with the European Union and impose sanctions on Russia.
Maja Piscevic and Damir Marusic, both senior fellow at Atlantic Council’s Europe Center, discussed a number of issues pertaining to the Western Balkans in the latest episode of Tare’s Balkan Debrief talk show.
On Serbia’s staunch refusal to sanction Putin
Piscevic argued for Serbia’s need to sanction Russia and align its foreign policy with the EU immediately.
“My fear now is that any further postponement of this alignment is working against Serbia, and ‘I’m not sure whether time is our ally anymore,” she said, noting that it remains unclear until when Vucic will postpone the formation of the new government following the April elections.
Marusic emphasized that Vucic’s refusal to impose sanctions on Russia works as a tool to fragment the region, while also showcasing the European Union’s powerlessness towards both Serbia and Russia.
In addition, Marusic stressed that Russia is the main beneficiary from Serbia’s stance. He refuted Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama’s approach that “Serbia shouldn’t be pushed too far,” and urged the EU to exert real, not just symbolic pressure on Vucic over sanctions.
Asked on the Serbs’ perception of the Albanian leader being Serbia’s strongest supporter in Europe, Maja Piscevic commended Rama’s harsh words towards the EU over the latter’s alleged failed integration promises towards the Balkans. However, she added that Rama’s defense of Vucic might not be helpful to Serbia.
“Serbia should be encouraged to do the right thing. I think that a real friend might say this in public, but at least when they are alone, he should say: “listen, help this region, help the Balkans. We all need you as part of our group, just do what you have to do,” he said, hinting at the fact that Serbia remains the only country in Europe to refuse sanctions on Russia.
On the Berlin Process vs. Open Balkan vs. EU enlargement
Speaking of the future of regional cooperation and EU enlargement into the Western Balkans, the two experts talked about the two competing initiatives – the Berlin Process and Open Balkan – and French President Macron’s proposal for yet another organization for the regional countries to join in preparation for the EU accession.
Piscevic said that in their current states, the Berlin Process and Open Balkan seem to be going toward the same direction – preparing the region to join the EU.
“I think that we should really be open to all positive moves and then test both initiatives, because the only way we’ll know which one is better is by the results. And hopefully at the end of the day, the two initiatives will just, as we say, marry and go where we all want to be in the Balkans.”
Damir Marusic said that Macron’s proposal for a European Geopolitical Community, where Western Balkan countries could join before EU enlargement, shows “the shape of relationships between the central integrated parts of Europe and its periphery.” However, he added that the Western Balkans should not encounter such proposals with cynicism but should instead try to take advantage of whatever is put on the table: “We really need to be looking for ways to make progress and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Ilva Tare, is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington. She is now hosting Balkans Debrief, a new talk show presented by the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center.
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