President of Serbia turns away from Russia
Aleksandar Vucic, who traditionally supported Moscow and refused to join Western sanctions against Russia after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, has changed his tactics.
In an interview with the Financial Times, the President of Serbia stated that he is aware of the US government's reports that Serbian ammunition has reached Ukraine through intermediaries, and he does not plan to stop it.
"Is it possible? I have no doubt that this can happen. What alternative do we have? Not to produce? Not to sell?" he said.
Journalists note that this shift in Serbia's orientation is likely directly related to the decision of the US, NATO, and the EU to support Belgrade during the recent ethnic tensions in Kosovo. According to the publication, three Western diplomats working in the region confirmed the existence of this connection.
When asked directly if Serbia deliberately went into arms supplies to Ukraine to gain sympathy from the West regarding Kosovo, Vucic stated that Belgrade seeks to act "neutrally."
"I am not a fool. I know that some weapons can end up in Ukraine," he said.
Vucic also acknowledged that Serbia is walking "a tightrope" between Moscow and Western countries but will not assist Russia's military efforts.
"We have joined all UN resolutions condemning Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. We join the ban on re-export, for example, on dual-use technology in drones. We will not be a hub for re-exporting anything to Russia," assured the Serbian leader.
He added that the times when he communicated with Russian President Vladimir Putin every three months are gone, stating that he has not had any contact with the Kremlin for a year, except for receiving guests from Moscow.
"That never happened before," he said.
US Ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill told the FT that Ukraine outweighed all other problems in Europe, especially in the Balkans, where Russia traditionally had influence.
"Ukraine is absolutely critical, and we are at a point where everyone needs to be ready," Hill said. "When people are together, relations improve."
Serbia's close ties with Russia and its potential to disrupt regional security have forced Western capitals to adopt a more lenient position towards Belgrade, according to defense intelligence company Janes. "Considering the risk of military escalation in northern Kosovo, Western governments do not want to risk a new conflict in Europe," said Janes analysts Stefano Marras and Ines Gonzalez. Inside the country, Vucic also faces growing anger following two mass shootings last month that claimed the lives of dozens of people, mostly schoolchildren.
As The Gaze reported, the first protests in Serbia broke out after shocking mass crimes. At first, society was stunned by the shooting at a school in Belgrade, then by the shooting of passers-by near Mladenovac. 17 people were shot dead and 20 others were injured in the attacks. Most of the victims were primary school children. These events made tens of thousands of citizens take to the streets under the slogan "Serbia Against Violence."
A series of protests has demonstrated the increasing public dissatisfaction with Vucic's ten-year rule and his SNS party, which protesters consider increasingly autocratic and corrupt. The President has stepped away from the helm of the party and plans to create a main group of his allies but stated that the protests do not threaten stability.