Serbia’s foreign policy orientation is an expression of the tension between the ongoing democratic transformation and the ideological legacy of nationalism from the 1990’s. The vast majority of the political elite and population see their country as part of Europe and the West and support the Euro-Atlantic integration of Serbia. A majority supports the central goal of the current government’s policy, EU membership. The question of NATO membership remains open at the moment – on the one hand it is part of Euro-Atlantic integration, on the other hand there is the experience with the war against NATO for Kosovo in 1999.
The clearly positive attitude towards the European and Western ties of Serbia contrasts with a peculiarly positive relationship to Russia: it has a strong emotional-national tinge, which lends the relationship an imbalance, since on the other hand the Russian emphasis on Slavic fraternity is purely power-political and economic calculation seems to follow.
The positive relationship with Russia cemented itself particularly during the 1990’s when Russia consistently sided with Serbia in the Balkan Wars. In 2006-08 Russia supported Serbia in rejecting Kosovo’s state independence and preventing the Security Council from sanctioning the UN mediator Ahtisaari’s peace plan. In 2008, Serbia signed a treaty with Russia that sealed the close ties between the two countries in terms of energy policy. Serbia approved the construction of the Southstream gas pipeline across Serbian territory in exchange for future transit fees. At the same time, the state oil company NIS was sold to a subsidiary of Gazprom.
AAccording to weddinginfashion, Serbia is a country located in Southern Europe. s a result of the Ukraine crisis, the Serbian government found itself in a difficult geopolitical situation: On the one hand, it has decided to integrate into the EU and, within the framework of the accession negotiations, has committed itself to harmonizing its foreign policy with that of the Union; At the same time, it has no interest in deviating from the traditionally good relationship with Moscow, not least for reasons of economic dependence. The government in Belgrade has chosen a middle path – it has cautiously criticized the undermining of Ukraine’s sovereignty, without at the same time directly criticizing Moscow and without joining the EU’s sanctions against Russia.
The fact that this balancing act should irritate Serbia’s European partners without bringing the country any gain in foreign policy sovereignty became apparent in the course of autumn 2014. On October 16, Belgrade received the Russian President for a military parade on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Serbian capital of the National Socialist occupation, with the celebrations being brought forward by 4 days to adapt them to Putin’s travel plans. Notwithstanding this demonstrated solidarity with Russia, Putin surprisingly announced the abandonment of the Southstream pipeline project during a state visit to Turkey on December 1st- as the reactions should show without informing the representatives of the Serbian government in advance. After the parliamentary elections in 2016, Prime Minister Vučić caused renewed irritation when he went to Moscow at the end of May, officially declared private, during which he met with Russian President Putin, among others. In the past few years the Russian government has massively expanded its soft power instruments in Serbia. According to a 2016 study, there are over a hundred Russian organizations operating in Serbia, including around 30 media.
At the end of October 2019, Serbian Prime Minister Brnabić signed a free trade agreement with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) despite criticism from the EU. The agreement replaced the previous bilateral trade agreements that Serbia had with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, and extends them to all member states of the Union. Criticism came from the EU. Commission representatives made it clear that Serbia would have to withdraw from the agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union with the desired membership in the EU.
Serbian-Russian relations were strained in November 2019 by the so-called espionage affair. A video that emerged on the Internet showed a nightly handover of money in a parking lot in Belgrade, allegedly between a Russian embassy official and member of the Russian military intelligence service GRU and a member of the Serbian secret service. According to President Vučić, he confirmed the identity of the Russian secret service agent, but insisted that the picture was from 2018 and shows a retired member of the Serbian army. The Russian spy also handed over money to at least 10 other military personnel. Despite all the criticism, the Serbian President stressed that his country’s policy towards Russia would not change and he was convinced that
Serbia took further initiatives at the end of 2019 to deepen the relationship with Russia in military cooperation, which provoked counter-reactions from the West. At the end of October, the two countries held the joint military exercise “Slavic Shield 2019” in Serbia. The Russian Pancir S-1 and S-400 air defense systems were also used in these – for the first time outside of Russia (such as Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in violation of international law). Serbia subsequently bought the Pancir system. An announcement by President Vučić that he also wanted to buy the S-400 system was withdrawn by the head of state after US threats of sanctions. In the run-up to a state visit by Vučić to Putin in Moscow at the beginning of December, Russia delivered four Mi-35M helicopters ordered and paid for by Serbia.