Serbia ready to sacrifice EU membership over Kosovo deal

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Thursday he would reject European Union membership if Belgrade does not receive concessions in return for recognising Kosovo and dropping attempts to stop it joining the United Nations.

FILE PHOTO: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is seen during an interview with Reuters in Belgrade, Serbia, June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

After meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Vucic said no resolution of Serbia’s future relationship with its former province would be possible without Moscow’s consent.

“In reply to a possible offer (to Serbia) to recognise Kosovo and that Kosovo enters the UN, and we receive nothing in return, except EU membership, our answer would be ‘no’,” Vucic said.

Serbia, which is in talks to join the EU, has set a number of preconditions for normalising ties with Kosovo, including the establishment of an association of predominantly Serb municipalities and special status for medieval Serbian Orthodox Christian churches and monasteries.

It also wants to regulate outstanding problems, including issues related to energy and finances.

Kosovo, where Albanians account for 90% of the population, declared independence from Belgrade in 2008, nearly a decade after NATO bombed Serbia to halt the killing and expulsion of Albanians in Kosovo during a two-year counter-insurgency.

Serbia, with allies Russia and China, has been blocking Kosovo’s membership of international organisations, including the United Nations.

Lavrov’s visit comes three days ahead of elections in Serbia and is widely seen as a sign of support for Vucic in the ballot.

Lavrov said the Kremlin would only support solutions to the Kosovo question acceptable to Belgrade and approved by the UN Security Council, where Russia has a veto.

“We believe that forcing the co-called final normalisation, hastening it through any artificial deadlines, would be counterproductive,” he said.

Vucic is scheduled to attend a Red Square parade on June 24 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two. He will meet President Vladimir Putin, who has visited Serbia twice since 2012.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Giles Elgood