On June 27, the Valdai Club hosted an expert discussion on the political situation in Serbia and the country’s prospects for bilateral relations with Russia. Moderator Oleg Barabanov, Programme Director of the Valdai Club, noted that the leadership of Serbia, despite unprecedented pressure from the West, has taken a special position regarding Russia and the conflict in Ukraine. He also invited the participants to pay attention to the dynamics of the Kosovo conflict and internal political processes in Serbia that could affect relations with Russia.
Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Serbia, stressed that President Alexandar Vučić and Serbian public opinion do not accept the anti-Russian course of the West, and that Serbia is a country where Russophobia is out of the question. At the same time, it is important that Serbia remains a candidate for EU membership and does not abandon European priorities in its policy, as well as cooperation with Russia and China. “What fundamentally infuriates the West is the ability of Serbia and its leadership in these conditions to remain in positions of protecting their own national interests, act in a sovereign manner and defend their own national policy,” the ambassador said. Botsan-Kharchenko listed the most dangerous factors of Western pressure on Serbia. First, Serbia is strongly integrated with the common European space, and this makes it vulnerable to threats of financial and economic measures and the tightening of the visa regime. Second, the situation in Kosovo is used as a lever. Third, the West is shaking the political situation inside the republic, using all the forces that oppose the president, regardless of their political views. “Vučić, in our opinion, shows composure and the ability to act constructively and flexibly,” the diplomat concluded.
Aleksandar Raković, Chief Researcher at the Institute of Contemporary History of Serbia, confirmed that almost the entire population of Serbia has taken a pro-Russian position, but at the same time, the Serbs retain their European priorities. “Relations with Russia are very important for Serbian communities living outside of Serbia and for the Republic of Serbia as a whole,” he added, pointing out the unusual fact that a country located in the heart of Europe has not joined the pan-European wave of anti-Russian sanctions and Russophobic sentiment. Raković noted that against this background, Pristina is trying to take advantage of the fact that the West is putting pressure on Serbia. “The West insists on recognising the independence of Kosovo, which, of course, will not happen. We are grateful to Russia for its continued support on the UN platform and will never join anti-Russian sanctions,” he said.
Oleg Bondarenko, director of the Progressive Policy Foundation, briefly analysed the internal political situation in Serbia and the situation around Kosovo. According to him, Serbia is now in “not the most serious political crisis in the last ten years.” There is a certain political turbulence, but previous episodes were worse, the expert believes. He has a similar opinion about the state of affairs in Kosovo. “I have no reason to believe that this year something will change and we will witness the hot phase of the war in the Balkans,” Bondarenko said. “The West is not ready for two hot wars in Europe at the same time.” This would mean plunging into a situation of uncontrolled chaos, and the West still prefers controlled chaos, he noted. Speaking about the prospects for European integration of Kosovo, Bondarenko stressed that the West is working against itself, since the more Kosovo is integrated into Europe, the less Serbia will be integrated into Europe.
Milana Živanović, a researcher at the Institute of Contemporary History of Serbia, said that Serbia rejects the values artificially imposed by the West. “Faith, family, and motherland are sacred for the Serbs,” she stressed. According to her, Western representatives are also constantly demanding that the Serbian authorities impose sanctions against Russia, but Belgrade continues to resist this. The majority of the country’s population also opposes the imposition of anti-Russian sanctions. Speaking about the reasons for this, Živanović pointed to the centuries-old ties between Russia and Serbia. “Russians and Serbs fought shoulder to shoulder in the Serbian-Turkish war in the 19th century, and during the First and Second World Wars. It is impossible ignore the centuries-old spiritual and cultural ties,” she said.