BRUSSELS – How does NATO perceive Serbia? Why does it have low support among the Serbian population? What does the accession of North Macedonia to NATO mean for Serbia? We spoke to Ambassador Miomir Udovički, Head of the Mission of the Republic of Serbia to NATO in Brussels, to find out the answers to these questions.
European Western Balkans: NATO Parliamentary Assembly was held last week. We heard that Serbia is a very important partner for NATO. On the other hand, in Serbia NATO has very low public support and is often perceived as enemy among its citizens. Do you think that their attitude is justified, especially considering the current level of cooperation between Serbia and NATO?
Miomir Udovički: The bombing of Yugoslavia and the recognition of Kosovo’s independence by many NATO members are undoubtedly the main reasons for the negative attitude of our public opinion towards this organization.
At the same time, we have the situation that bilateral relations with NATO member countries that participated in these actions have been significantly improved and that the perception of them in our society is much better than the perception of the organization itself. I believe that our public opinion will recognize that cooperation with NATO is beneficial for our country.
EWB: Currently, Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) that Serbia has with NATO has expired, and the procedure of adopting the new one has been launched, but it was prolonged in the meantime. Do you have any information on when it will be adopted and what its final content will be?
MU: The IPAP has received the approval of all our competent ministries and bodies and is currently pending adoption by the Government. The content of the plan is similar to the previous one, adopted in 2015. IPAP is just a plan, not an agreement, as is often misunderstood in public and reflects the directions of our cooperation with NATO. It discusses our foreign and security policy, economic reforms, defense and military cooperation, public diplomacy, scientific and cooperation in crisis, and the protection of confidential information.
EWB: We can rarely hear in the media about Serbia-NATO cooperation under the Science for Peace and Security (SPS) program. How important is it for Serbia to cooperate under this program and what are its current results?
MU: Yes, it is a pity that our public is not better informed about concrete activities in the field of scientific cooperation with NATO. This cooperation is very broad and benefits our numerous institutions, universities, research centres, experienced, but also young scientists, both financially and in terms of exchange of experience and knowledge.
I think that both the institutions and the individuals, not just the state, should be more active in presenting this cooperation which is very useful for our country. Currently, projects are underway in the fields of energy security, raising security protection against hazardous waste, cyber defense, counter-terrorism and others.
EWB: At the end of last year, the process of transforming the Kosovo Security Force into the Kosovo Armed Forces began, which greatly stirred the public in Serbia. Are NATO members aware of Serbia’s fears and what is their reaction to Pristina’s move?
MU: Both the NATO Secretariat and individual NATO members are very familiar with our position on the so-called Kosovo Army. NATO and Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg have repeatedly expressed disagreement with this act and the moment of beginning the transformation. Although there are some differences in the views of individual members, NATO has frozen the adoption of any new projects with the KSF.
EWB: We saw during the last visit of Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev that a number of agreements have been signed, and we can conclude that cooperation between Serbia and Russia has been on the rise in the last couple of years. How does NATO view this cooperation, especially considering that NATO officials have labeled Russia a disruptive factor in the region?
MU: NATO officials have repeatedly stated that each country is sovereign to choose with whom it can cooperate in security activities and that it does not mind. In relation to the specific exercise “Slavic Shield 2019”, NATO reiterated the position that “it is a matter of Serbia and Russia”, emphasizing “good and productive relations” between Serbia and NATO.