Serbia’s foreign minister reaches out to Central Asia with three-country tour

Serbia’s foreign minister reaches out to Central Asia with three-country tour
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic în Dushanbe on the final leg of his three-country tour of Central Asia. / Serbia foreign ministry
By bne IntelliNews April 11, 2023

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic toured several Central Asian countries on April 4-8, in a trip the Serbian government said was aimed at strengthening “traditionally friendly relations and co-operation” with the region. 

Statements issued during the trips to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan the first official visits by a Serbian foreign minister acknowledged that trade ties between Serbia and the three countries are relatively low, but have the potential to increase. 

They also highlighted that countries from the region back Serbia’s territorial integrity, namely by not recognising Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008. 

Dacic “emphasised that the … region is very important for us because it contains five extremely friendly and traditionally close countries, which are on Serbia's side when it comes to preserving our territorial integrity and sovereignty,” one government statement said. 

He secured a commitment from the three countries that none will recognise Kosovo. 

Like Serbia, the three Central Asian countries have declined to impose sanctions on Russia, the major power in the region. Until 1991 the Central Asian states were part of the Soviet Union. 

As an EU candidate country, Serbia has been under mounting pressure from Western countries to align itself with EU foreign policy and join sanctions on Moscow, but so far has refused to do so, citing traditional friendly relations with Russia. 

During the final leg of the tour in Dushanbe on April 8, Dacic commented that the Central Asian countries “represent a bridge to Asia and want good relations with Serbia, and also want Serbia to be a bridge to Europe”. 

He commented that the two countries’ “friendly ties have not had concrete results for a long time”, adding that last year Serbia’s trade exchange with Tajikistan was “more than modest, which certainly does not correspond to all the potential for co-operation”. 

At a meeting with Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon, Dacic agreed to work” on deepening co-operation in the fields of economy, agriculture, textile and food industry, as well as energy, culture, sports, education and science”. The two countries agreed to set up a committee for cooperation and organise business forums. 

The previous day, Dacic met with Uzbekistan’s acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Bakhtior Odilovic Saidov, again highlighting Belgrade’s commitment to developing relations with the region. 

He pointed in particular to the potential for intensifying co-operation in the fields of agriculture, textiles, metallurgy and pharmaceuticals. 

In Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek on April 6, he talked of the potential for further co-operation in agriculture, textiles and the food industry. 

Serbia long pursued a multi-vector foreign policy, seeking to maintain friendly relations with Russia, China, the EU and the US. This served it well until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, after which its balancing act has become increasingly difficult. 

In addition, Belgrade has sought to step up relations with countries in other parts of the world, notably Africa, where it has built on historic Cold War ties, when Yugoslavia was one of the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement.