Serbia's Minister of Economy Rade Basta said on March 13 that he supports the introduction of sanctions against Russia and called on the government's ministers to urgently make a statement on the issue and adopt a unified position.
The minister's call for sanctions comes amid an escalation of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Serbia has so far refused to impose sanctions on Russia despite Western pressure to do so. The issue is a sensitive one in Serbia, where large swathes of the population are sympathetic towards Russia.
Basta, who is a member of the national-conservative United Serbia party, said that Serbia is already paying a heavy price for not imposing sanctions on Moscow and that its position is becoming untenable. He argued that Serbia cannot remain silent in the face of Russian aggression.
“Our country is already paying a heavy price for not imposing sanctions on Russia, and it is becoming unsustainable. As the Minister of Economy, I can't accept that such amount of pressure is being put on Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and we remain silent," Basta wrote on Instagram.
“That is why I am in favour of imposing sanctions on Russia, I stand by President Vucic in the defence of state and national interests, and I have absolute trust in him. That is why I am asking the government of Serbia and all ministers to make a statement on this issue," Basta said.
Most of the comments under the post were against Basta's statement and against the introduction of sanctions.
"I think that it is not right what you stand for, sir, and I think that 85% of the inhabitants of the Republic of Serbia think so as well!" reads one of the comments.
"The people will not allow the introduction of sanctions against Russia!" another comment said.
Basta acknowledged that Serbia will not make the decision to impose sanctions lightly.
"As a country that has itself been faced with sanctions throughout history and whose people have suffered severe economic consequences, Serbia had hoped that the conflicts would end, and reason would prevail. However, with the passage of time, the reality has changed, and the conflict shows no signs of ending. Small countries always suffer in the conflict of big ones, and due to the global turmoil, Serbia is faced with terrible pressures," Basta was cited by broadcaster RTS.
The minister emphasised that it is necessary for the government to adopt a unified position on the direction in which the country will move forward, adding that since the beginning of the war, Serbia has condemned Russian aggression against Ukraine.
"However, it has also protected its national interests in relations with the Russian Federation. Initially, Serbia did not join the large number of countries that imposed sanctions on the aggressor country. However, as the situation becomes more complicated every day, Western countries have strongly criticised Serbia for not joining the sanctions," Basta underlined.
Basta is convinced that the leadership of Serbia, led by Vucic, will do everything to preserve peace and stability.
Despite the difficult foreign policy situation, Basta stressed the importance of preserving economic growth and providing a better life for Serbian citizens.
"Serbia has its own serious, responsible, and independent policy and will continue to protect its citizens," he said.
Basta’s comments come at a time when Serbia and President Vucic are under strong Western pressure to resolve the dispute with Kosovo, a former province that declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
On March 13, Vucic is meeting in Belgrade with EU envoy Miroslav Lajcak, and on March 18, he has a meeting in Ohrid, North Macedonia, with Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti on the implementation of the EU plan.
Vucic recently launched a campaign to establish the National Movement for the Defence of Serbia that will advocate for the unity of all people in the country and a decent future for Serbia.
Vucic claimed that its formation will not mean the abolition of his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) the biggest party in the parliament, but he called on the SNS to support the new movement.