Announcement of Declaration on political independence causes confusion in Serbia

Aleksandar Vučić; Photo: GLOBSEC 2019

BELGRADE – Announcement of a Declaration on political independence and military neutrality, which President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić wants to be adopted in February, has caused confusion in the context of aligning Serbian foreign policy with the EU. Commentators, however, see it as a tool for soothing tensions with Russia caused by the “espionage affair”, which broke out last week.

“It would be nice if we adopted it on Sretenje”, said the President over the weekend, referring to the national holiday on 15 February celebrating the renewal of Serbian state in the 19th century.

New Strategies of National Security and Defence are also expected to be adopted on that day, daily Blic reports. The documents stress both military neutrality and European interest as the policy of national security of Serbia.

National Assembly of Serbia adopted a Resolution on military neutrality as early as 2007, reminds Vanja Dolapčev, Researcher at the European Policy Centre in Belgrade.

“One of the main reasons for the adoption of these documents was the aim of Serbia to stay outside the existing military alliances, primarily NATO and CSTO”, Dolapčev states for EWB.

However, the term “political neutrality” has not been used before. It remains unclear what it means.

“According to Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić, it implies carrying out an autonomous foreign policy, based on Serbian national interest. However, the obligation of each EU candidate country is to gradually align its foreign policy with the Common Foreign and Security policy. As of July 2019, Serbia has the lowest level of alignment with CFSP, at 63%”, Dolapčev says.

According to him, it is evident that Serbia will not give up on its EU path, but the term “political independence” should therefore be clarified beyond the level of individual statements.

One of the interpretations of the announcement is that it is primarily directed at Moscow.

“I think it should be read in the context of the espionage affair”, says Igor Novaković, Research Director of the International Security and Affairs Centre (ISAC).

The affair broke out last week, when a video allegedly showing a Russian intelligence agent meeting with retired Serbian security officer to give him money in exchange for information leaked to the public.

The National Security Council of Serbia met to discuss the issue, but it was evident that Serbia does not want to compromise its relations with Russia, with President Vučić stating that he appreciates “everything Russia has done for us”.

It was suggested that the whole affair was artificially created, given the fact that the event took place almost a year ago. Predrag Petrović, Executive Director of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, stated for Deutsche Welle that the aim of the espionage affair was to overshadow a much bigger problem for the government of Serbia – proofs that the father of the Minister of Interior was buying arms from the state-owed manufacturer Krušik for privileged prices. The “Krušik affair” has been in the focus of independent media for weeks.

Whatever the motivation behind the “Russian spy” story, Igor Novaković believes that President is determined to stay on good terms with Moscow, announcing the Declaration on military neutrality and political independence.

“This is another guarantee that Serbia will conduct its foreign policy autonomously (political independence) and will not become a member of NATO (military neutrality), which are both in the interest of Russia”, Novaković concludes.

Even if the announcement of the Declaration was indeed a tool for daily politics, it once again brought focus to the lowering levels of alignment with EU’s foreign policy, a worrying sign for the country claiming to be the one of the frontrunners of the process.