High-level Ukrainian delegation makes first visit to Serbia since war began

High-level Ukrainian delegation makes first visit to Serbia since war began
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba meets Serbia’s new Prime Minister Milos Vucevic during his visit to Belgrade. / mfa.gov.ua
By bne IntelliNews May 13, 2024

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and First Lady Olena Zelenska embarked on a visit to Serbia on May 13, the first such high-level visit by a Ukrainian delegation since Russia’s invasion more than two years ago.

The visit hinted at a thaw in relations between the two nations, strained by Serbia’s refusal to join Western sanctions on Ukraine, despite being under pressure to do so as an EU candidate country. 

Following his meeting with Kuleba, Serbia’s new Prime Minister Milos Vucevic voiced his support for Ukraine's territorial integrity, but stopped short of endorsing sanctions against Moscow. 

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Serbia has sought to maintain a delicate balance, condemning the aggression while avoiding alignment with international sanctions. Despite this, Serbia has extended humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, welcomed Ukrainian refugees and pledged support for post-war reconstruction efforts. At the same time, however, Serbia has continued to maintain ties with Russia. 

During his visit, Kuleba held talks discussions with both Vucevic and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who stressed Serbia's commitment to upholding international law and the territorial integrity of UN member states. 

“Serbia is committed to respecting international law and the territorial integrity of every member state of the United Nations, including Ukraine,” said a statement from the prime minister’s office on May 13. 

Kuleba said that his arrival is a message that there is room to further strengthen the relations between the two countries, according to a statement published by the Serbian government.

“Serbia and Ukraine have a lot of differences, but also a lot in common, and that is why it is possible to build the future together in many areas,” the Ukrainian foreign minister said. 

Kuleba announced that he and Vucevic had discussed ways to expand bilateral trade and return it to pre-war levels. They also agreed to hold the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Ukrainian-Serbian Commission for Trade, Economics, Science, and Technology Cooperation since 2013, a statement from Ukrainian foreign ministry said. 

Zelenska toured the Serbian capital Belgrade alongside Serbian First Lady Tamara Vucic, with whom she also co-hosted a conference on mental health. 

Serbia, under Vucic’s leadership, pursues a multi-vector foreign policy landscape, seeking to balance its EU accession aspirations with longstanding ties to Russia and China, and friendly relations with the US. 

The visit by Kuleba and Zelenska comes shortly after Serbia’s new cabinet was installed, including two ministers sanctioned by the US for ties to Russia. 

Serbia and Ukraine have extended mutual support for each other's territorial sovereignty, with the topic previously being discussed during a meeting between Vucic and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Athens last year. 

Belgrade said it acknowledges Ukraine's territorial integrity in its entirety, including regions currently under Russian occupation. In contrast, Kyiv has so far declined to recognise the independence of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. 

Serbia also was one of just three countries — alongside France and Hungary — to host Chinese President Xi Jinping during his high-profile tour of Europe earlier this month. 

The day after Xi’s visit, Serbia’s foreign minister met with the US ambassador in Belgrade fortify bilateral cooperation. Serbian officials have also sought to reassure Brussels of Belgrade’s continued commitment to EU accession.