Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced on April 25 that there will be “profound and fundamental changes” to Serbia's foreign policy.
Vucic's statement follows the vote by Council of Europe members to admit Kosovo to the organisation the previous day. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, as an independent country, and has fought against Kosovo’s membership in international organisations.
“[A]fter yesterday's vote in the Council of Europe for the membership of the so-called Kosovo in that organisation, there will be profound and fundamental changes in Serbia's foreign policy,” Vucic said following a meeting with the cabinet, a government statement said.
He thanked the six countries that voted against admitting Kosovo to the Council of Europe: Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Hungary, Romania and Spain. He had special thanks for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, as Budapest’s support had apparently not been expected, saying that the Hungarian side “proved to be our greatest friends”.
“We must not forget what they have done for us and we must always know that these countries are for us before all others,” the president said.
While not explicitly speaking out against Ukraine, which was one of five countries that abstained, he said he was “disappointed by the decisions of certain countries” and argued that “abstention … was the same as voting for the membership of the so-called Kosovo in this organisation”.
“We will work to ensure that in foreign policy we take care of bilateral relations and do not go beyond the limits of reciprocity – if someone does not respect our territorial integrity, why should we respect theirs at any cost. These are not tectonic, but deep and essential changes in politics and a responsible attitude towards our country,” Vucic said.
Serbia has until now refused to back Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has voted to condemn the violation of Ukrainian territory in several UN General Assembly votes. Meanwhile, Kyiv, faced with Russian threats to its own territorial integrity, has declined to recognise Kosovo's independence.
Vucic later elaborated on his position, saying that Serbia has “never abstained when it comes to Ukrainian territorial integrity”.
“If someone doesn’t respect Serbia’s territorial integrity, why should we respect theirs?” he added, according to local media reports.
However, the Serbian president said that Belgrade does not plan to “change its relations with the entire world because of one vote” and insisted that Serbia is still on its EU path.
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic also commented on the vote, singling out Ukraine for criticism, as well as Serbia’s neighbours Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro.
“Montenegro could have at least abstained. We have to act reciprocally. Montenegro voted for Kosovo’s accession. They will need our vote sometime and they certainly won’t be able to count on it,” he told RTS, a ministry statement said.
“As for Bosnia & Herzegovina, has there ever been a time when I did not speak of its territorial integrity? Now when someone asks, we will abstain.”
While condemning the attacks on Ukraine over the last year, Serbia has refused to impose sanctions on Russia, with officials citing the long-standing friendly relations between the two countries, and Moscow’s support over Kosovo.
This is despite heavy pressure from Western diplomats, including officials from the EU, who have argued that Serbia should align with EU foreign policy as a candidate country.
At the government meeting on April 25, it was agreed that officials would draft a strategic foreign policy document to define Serbia's relations with other countries.
“The goal of this document is to respect Serbia's partners and friends who unequivocally support the territorial integrity of our country and behave in this way in all international organisations in accordance with the principles of international law,” the government said.
Meanwhile, on April 24 the Serbian parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee voted down a draft resolution on aligning Serbia’s foreign policy with that of the EU and imposing sanctions on Russia.
The resolution was submitted by the committee’s chair Borko Stefanovic of the opposition Party of Freedom and Justice (SSP), but gained backing from only two members, while 12 abstained.
Ahead of the vote, Stefanovic wrote on Twitter that it was "an opportunity for everyone to have their say on whether they want to join the EU or not. #DirectionEurope".