Friday, March 31, 2023

Serbia ignores EU sanctions, strikes gas deal with Putin

BELGRADE, Serbia ( Associated Press) — As war erupts in Ukraine, Serbia’s president announced that he had secured an “extremely favorable” natural gas deal with Russia during a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has refused to explicitly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and his country has not joined Western sanctions against Moscow. Vucic claims he wants to take Serbia to the European Union, but has spent recent years cementing ties with Russia, a longtime ally.

The gas deal is likely to be signed during Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Belgrade in early June – a ranking by a Russian official for a European country since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24. Rare trip.

Vucic said he told Putin he wanted “peace to be established as soon as possible.”

Serbia is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas, and its main energy companies are Russian majority-owned.

“I can tell you that we have agreed on the main elements that are very favorable for Serbia,” Vucic, a former ultranationalist who is pro-Russian, told reporters. “We agreed to sign a three-year contract, which is the first element of the contract that is very suitable for the Serbian side.”

It is unclear how Serbia will receive Russian gas if the EU decides to cut off Russian supplies traveling to its member states. Russia has already cut gas exports to EU members Finland, Poland and Bulgaria.

The entire European Union has quickly reduced its reliance on Russian energy since the invasion, and is expected to hear from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during the leaders’ summit beginning Monday to discuss ways to do so. ready for

Despite reports of atrocities in Ukraine due to the invasion, Vucic and other Serbian leaders continue to complain of Western pressure to engage in sanctions against Russia. Serbian officials say the Balkan country should resist such pressure, even if it means giving up on the goal of joining the European Union.

Under Vucic’s 10-year autocratic rule and pro-Kremlin propaganda, Serbia has gradually moved towards an alliance with Russia. Polls suggest that a majority in the country would prefer to join some sort of union with Moscow rather than the European Union.

“The agreement signed by President Vucic with President Putin is a testament to how much Serbia’s decision to not participate in the anti-Russian frenzy is respected,” Interior Minister Aleksandr Vulin said.

“Independent leaders, free people, make decisions that are good for Serbia and do not accept orders” from the West, said Vulin, who is known for his pro-Russian stance.

Follow all Associated Press stories on the war in Ukraine

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