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Contrary to the EU, Serbia signs a gas agreement with Russia and ensures a “safe winter”

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A candidate for entry into the European Union, Serbia has close ties with Russia, which has been at war with Ukraine since the end of February. Belgrade obtained a favorable agreement on Sunday for the delivery of Russian gas for three years, contrary to the policy of sanctions carried out by the EU.

At a time when the Europeans are trying to isolate Russia and somehow wean themselves off fossil fuels, Serbia has a close relationship with Moscow through a Russian gas deal.

Belgrade has been a candidate for membership of the European Union (EU) for ten years, while maintaining close ties with the Kremlin. If Serbia has condemned the invasion of Ukraine by Russia at the UN, it refuses however to align itself with the sanctions adopted against Moscow.

The Balkan country of seven million people has secured a “very favorable” deal for the supply of Russian gas for three years, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced after a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Sunday.

The Kremlin was content to say that Moscow “will continue to supply natural gas to Serbia without interruption” but the Serbian head of state assured that it was “by far the best deal in Europe”.

“We will have a safe winter in terms of gas supply,” he argued, predicting that the amount of the bill will then be between 10 and 12 times lower than elsewhere in Europe.

European countries grudgingly agreed this week to ban much of Russian oil imports to dry up war funding.

The bloc also wants to reduce its dependence on gas. Moscow has cut the pipes of several European countries but the prospect of a total embargo on this energy source seems more distant.

>> To read – If Russian gas exports stop, “Moscow has more to lose than Europe”

“Related Arrangements or Political Concessions”

Brussels has condemned the gas deal with Moscow, saying it expects Serbia not to “further strengthen its ties with Russia”.

“Candidate countries, including Serbia, must gradually align their policies towards third countries with EU policies and positions, including through restrictive measures,” Commission spokesman Peter Stano said.

Officially, Belgrade displays the European objective as a priority but avoids any measure hostile to Russia. Pro-government media repeat messages espousing the Kremlin’s strategic considerations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected in Belgrade early next week according to Russian diplomacy. He recently told Serbian journalists that Russia was “certain” that their country would “continue to make smart choices”.

Serbian officials accuse the West of pressuring Belgrade to join the sanctions. Some even mention the renunciation of candidacy for the EU.

“It’s as if they’ve spent the last decade preparing society not for EU accession, but for an alliance with Moscow,” said Srdjan Cvijic of BiEPAG (Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group). , interviewed by AFP.

Details of this agreement have not been disclosed. But “there is always a ‘fraternal clause’ inherent in favorable prices, which does not appear in the contract but which leads to related arrangements or political concessions”, judge Goran Vasic, energy specialist at the University of Novi Sad.

Monopoly

The Serbian authorities deny that the supply of gas at a friendly price can be considered a “reward”.

“Anyone who accuses us of not imposing sanctions on Russia for a gas agreement should be ashamed,” Prime Minister Ana Brnabic reacted. “If we don’t impose sanctions against Russia, it’s on principle.”

Belgrade is grateful to Russia for refusing to recognize the independence of Kosovo, its former province, and highlights its historical and cultural ties with the Russian “big brother”.

But Serbia may only have room for manoeuvre: the previous contract for the delivery of Russian gas – at equally preferential prices – has expired, with no viable solution for Belgrade in the near future.

Over the past few decades, Serbia has gradually granted Moscow a virtual monopoly over its energy sector by building pipelines solely for Russian gas.

In 2008, the year Kosovo declared independence, it sold a majority stake in NIS, its oil and gas company, to Russian giant Gazprom, a move widely seen as the price paid for Moscow’s veto of the UN to the former Serbian province.

“It is obvious that during all this time, we had a well-organized lobby which defended the monopoly, and which continues to do so”, adds Goran Vasic.

With AFP


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