Last week, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Hoyt Brian Yee, paid an official visit to Belgrade, where he met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. It was a usual meeting of two officials, but what happened afterwards was everything but usual.
US diplomat showed worries about Serbia being with one foot on the EU path, and with the other in a union with Russia. Vučić and Yee also discussed the importance of the existence of an opposition in a democratic society and the state of media.
The absence of host’s stance in official statement is very unusual after this kind of meeting, as well as for communication with domestic and foreign public. Serbian statement came out a few hours later stating that Vučić had „carefully listened to the American official and has responded very directly“, and that he will reveal more information in the following days. President Vučić will be a guest tonight at one private TV with national frequency where he will speak about the meeting with Mr. Hoyt Yee.
State Department high-ranked official, also named as Balkan specialist, stated at an economic summit last Monday in Belgrade that Serbia „cannot sit on two chairs at the same time, especially if they are that far apart“. Furthermore, he stressed out the rising impact of Russia in the region of Western Balkans. Russophilia is present in newspapers close to the ruling party, glorifying Russia and President Putin and making an impression that Serbia is much closer and dependent on Russia than it really is. On the other hand, the West keeps being presented as an enemy of Serbia with headlines that the West is forcing Serbia to oppose Russia.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary said that US does not understand why Russian staff in their humanitarian center in Niš, southeast Serbia, should be granted diplomatic immunity. It is not usual in other countries that humanitarian staff gets diplomatic immunity that Moscow demands in the case of Serbia. US does not see how immunity of the Russian center will help Serbia in achieving its goals such as EU membership, said Hoyt Yee. The fact is that President Vučić is postponing his answer about whether humanitarian center get immunity or not, unlike some of his allies such as the Defense Minister Vulin or Foreign Affairs Minister Dačić.
In reaction to Hoyt Yee’s visit, Minister Vulin said that the US diplomat’s remarks represent “the greatest pressure against Serbia yet”. He added that “this is not a statement made by a friend or a person respecting Serbia, our policy and respecting our right to decide independently”. This is not the first time that Minister Vulin is the main responder to the US official’s statements.
On the other hand, Tanja Miščević, the Chief Negotiator for Serbia’s accession negotiations with the EU, said that Serbia is not sitting on two chairs, but strongly on one. Hoyt Yee said that it is clear that the strategic destination of Serbia is the EU, also stated Miščević.
Beside Minister Vulin, another negative reaction came from the President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, who said that US Deputy Assistant Secretary is not the representative of the current US policy represented by President Trump. Hoyt Yee does not have the support of State Department, as he is a member of the previous administration, said Dodik. Last week, the National Assembly of Republika Srpska adopted the Resolution on Protecting the Constitutional Order and Proclamation of Military Neutrality of Republika Srpska. This action by RS authorities probably serves as increment of public awareness and opposition to NATO membership.
In his visit to Serbia, US diplomat concluded that “countries willing to become a part of the EU or NATO should state clearly what is their decision and to corroborate with concrete steps in that way”. In addition, he said that US is a partner on Serbia’s EU path.
Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States