Serbia to maintain ‘military neutrality’, president says

Aleksandar Vucic says it is of ‘vital interest’ for Serbia to continue on a path to the European Union but reiterated it will not join NATO.

Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic speaks during a special session of Serbia's parliament about the negotiating process with Kosovo in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. Serbia fought a 1998-99 war with ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo, which at the time was a Serbian province. A NATO intervention that forced Serbia to pull out of the territory ended the war, but tensions over Kosovo's status remains a source of instability in the Balkans. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
'We need this path since we are surrounded by countries that are in NATO,' Vucic says [Darko Vojinovic/AP Photo]

Serbia does not plan to join NATO and will stick to its military neutrality, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told a parliament meeting.

Serbia has been a candidate to join its single-biggest trade partner and investor, the European Union, since 2012. It is militarily neutral but maintains ties with NATO and has bought weapons from its member states.

In the Balkans, Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina are the only countries that have not joined NATO.

“This morning, I listened to nonsensical statements by fake patriots who said we have been leading Serbia toward Atlantic integration,” Russian state news agency TASS quoted Vucic as saying on Thursday.

“We are not. We will stick to military neutrality and, unlike those who destroyed our army, we are building an army of our own,” he said.

War erupted in 1998-99 in Kosovo, then a Serbian province, when separatist ethnic Albanians launched a rebellion against Serbia’s rule, and Belgrade responded with a brutal crackdown. About 13,000 people died, mostly ethnic Albanians. Some 1,600 people are still missing.

The conflict ended when NATO intervened with a 78-day bombing campaign, forcing Serbia to pull out of Kosovo. The operation gave “the prevention of the genocide of Albanians in Kosovo” as the reason for the intervention.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognised by the United States and most EU nations. But Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo as a separate nation after 12 years of EU-brokered negotiations.

Serbia has relied on support from Russia and China in its rejection of Kosovo’s independence, which has been one of the reasons why Belgrade has not imposed any sanctions on Moscow over the war in Ukraine.

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‘We need this path’

Vucic said in parliament that it is of “vital interest” for Serbia to continue with the accession process into the EU, but reiterated the country will not join NATO.

His comments followed a recent German-Franco proposal for a settlement plan to be reached between Belgrade and Pristina.

Last week, Vucic announced Serbia had been given an ultimatum from powerful Western nations to normalise ties with Kosovo or face measures that would do “great damage” to the country.

Rejection of Western efforts would result in “complete isolation”, he warned on Thursday.

“You cannot function alone. They lie when they say that 43 percent of people are for [joining] the EU; it’s a lot less but that won’t force me to say that the EU path is not good,” Serbian news website Danas quoted Vucic as saying.

“We need this path since we are surrounded by countries that are in NATO, or NATO is in them,” he said.

According to a poll from 2020, conducted by the Center for Euro-Atlantic Integration and the Center for Free Elections and Democracy, 80 percent of Serbia’s citizens do not support Serbia joining NATO.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies