WASHINGTON – As Hoyt Brian Yee, the deputy assistant secretary of State stated yesterday that Serbia “cannot sit on two chairs at the same time,” referring to Serbia’s relations with Russia and the EU, the statement provoked many reaction.
Daniel Serwer, the director of the Conflict Management Program at the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies in Washington DC and former diplomat stated in his Op-ed that he agrees with the Yee’s claim, although he is more interested in the other question.
“The question which arises: why would anyone in a country that needs economic and political reform latch on to Moscow? Russia has an economy the size of Spain’s (with Catalonia) and a political system that resorts to prosecution and assassination to eliminate competition. While the Russian military has enjoyed some success in its interventions in Ukraine and Syria, it has nowhere near the capacity the West has to protect its friends and allies,” Serwer explains, adding that Russia is a declining regional power, one heavily dependent on hydrocarbons rather than a diversified economy.
However, Serwer explains that Serbia has maintained significant relations with Russia – military cooperation, economic interests, and Slavic cultural affinity.
“The Russians have given Serbia MiGs, involved Serbia in military exercises, and established a “humanitarian” logistics base near Niš,” says Serwer adding that Russia also prevents Kosovo from entering the United Nations.
Serwer claims that close relations with Russia also entails acceptance of Putin’s governing norms, while the reforms the European Union seeks as a condition for accession require political leaders to do difficult things that block at least some of the corruption endemic to the Balkans.
“President Vučić, who has repeatedly won elections on a pro-EU platform, would make an enormous mistake not to opt for the EU chair, though in doing so he will need to give up his control of the press and accept a far more independent judiciary ready to take on corruption and other official malfeasance,” Serwer points out.