Serbian foreign minister's Moscow trip likely to spark fresh calls to freeze EU accession process

Serbian foreign minister's Moscow trip likely to spark fresh calls to freeze EU accession process
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic (centre) is warmly welcomed by his host, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow. /
By bne IntelliNews March 21, 2024

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic visited Moscow and held talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on March 21, in a move that is expected to spark strong criticism from EU officials and other Western politicians. 

Serbia is one of the only European countries not to have imposed sanctions on Russia, citing the two countries’ longstanding friendly relations and cultural ties. Despite being an EU accession candidate, Serbia has resisted pressure from the EU to align its foreign policy with that of the bloc. 

Footage from the meeting, which started with a session open to the media, shows Lavrov and Dacic greeting each other warmly. The initial discussions were followed by a session behind closed doors. 

In the evening, the two ministers are scheduled to attend a friendly football match between Russian and Serbian teams — Russia’s first European friendly match since the invasion of Ukraine. 

According to a statement from Serbia’s foreign ministry, the talks covered the improvement of bilateral relations between the two countries, “characterised by traditional friendship, cultural, spiritual and historical closeness of our two peoples, based on mutual trust and respect”.

Lavrov said that Moscow values its relations with Serbia and the progress in economic cooperation.

“We are glad to have this meeting. We value the relations developing between the Russian Federation and Serbia. The tone for these relations is set by regular contacts between our presidents [Russia’s Vladimir] Putin and [Serbia’s Aleksandar] Vucic,” said Lavrov, according to a Russian foreign ministry statement. 

“Today we expect to discuss in detail our bilateral affairs and interaction on international platforms. We are interested in hearing your assessments of what is happening in the Balkans, where a serious situation has developed. We are all interested in preventing new crises,” the minister added. 

Discussions on Kosovo 

The issue of Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, was on the meeting’s agenda. Moscow has long supported Serbia, refusing to recognise Kosovo’s independence helping to keep the new state out of the UN and other international organisations. 

This is understood to be one of the main reasons why Serbia continues to maintain friendly relations with Russia. 

“Minister Dacic thanked the Russian Federation for its principled stance on preserving the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Serbia and informed the interlocutor about the situation in Kosovo and Metohija,” the Serbian foreign ministry said. 

Serbia’s policy has been to try to walk a fine line between Russia and the West, which has become increasingly difficult since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in 2022. 

Serbia has voted in favour of international resolutions condemning the invasion, and assured Kyiv of its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but has not cut ties with Russia. 

Dacic’s visit follows a trip to Moscow by Serbia’s then interior minister Aleksandar Vulin in mid-2022. This sparked a public row between Vulin and another member of the Serbian cabinet, then energy minister Zorana Mihajlovic. Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has gone further; he has frequently visited Moscow, and openly supports Putin. 

On the same day as Dacic visited Moscow, Kosovo’s Defence Minister Ejup Maqedonci announced Pristina is sending armoured vehicles, trucks, and mortar rounds to Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, Vucic recently warned of the potential escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict into a broader confrontation between Russia and the West if efforts to establish a truce failed.

Controversial elections 

The meeting between Dacic and Lavrov took place just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin was re-elected for another six-year term, and three months after Serbia’s December 2023 general election. 

Dacic referred to Vucic's congratulatory message to Putin on his re-election in the vote that Western observers have slammed for being rigged in Putin’s favour. The Russian leader, in power since 2000, came away with over 87% of the vote. 

Vucic was one of very few high-profile European politicians to congratulate Putin. 

Serbia’s elections — especially the municipal election in Belgrade — were also criticised by the opposition within the country and by Western observers. 

The country has not yet appointed a new government, since the election, which delivered another victory for the ruling Serbian Progressive Party. However, Ana Brnabic, until recently prime minister, was voted in as parliament speaker on March 20 and more clarity on the new government is expected in the coming days. 

International criticism 

Serbia’s continued relations with Russia have been strongly criticised including by EU officials. MEPs have called for Serbia’s EU accession progress to be frozen unless it aligns with the EU’s foreign and security policy. 

One official who was quick to comment was German MP Michael Roth, a member of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party, who has repeatedly called for EU action against Serbia over the conduct of the recent elections.

“From Russia with love…” he tweeted, posting a picture of Dacic with Lavrov.