Serbia must follow the EU’s lead in imposing an embargo on Russia and recognize its breakaway province of Kosovo as an independent state if it ever hopes to join the bloc, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Friday. At a press conference in Belgrade after his meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Scholz also said anti-Russian sanctions would not end once the fighting in Ukraine stopped.
“It is important that many countries adhere to the sanctions, because in addition to arms deliveries, it is something that helps Ukraine to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added. Scholz said. “We expect all applicants for EU membership to also join the sanctions.”
Brussels has so far adopted six “packets” of anti-Russian sanctions, the most recent including a gradual ban on oil imports. These EU sanctions are “not something that will end when hostilities are over”, Scholz said in Belgrade.
Instead, German Chancellor explained, Russia must accept it “cannot dictate terms of peace” to Ukraine and guarantee the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kyiv, before the EU considers lifting the embargo.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that the sanctions have backfired on the West, citing examples of inflation and shortages that the US and European governments are now trying to blame on Moscow. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen admitted on Friday that the sanctions had made a “a huge difference with food and energy prices”, in a context of record inflation.
Vucic hailed Serbia’s economic cooperation with Germany but reiterated that sanctioning Russia would be a difficult proposition for Belgrade. Earlier this week, he told Serbian television that the EU oil embargo had already cost $600 million in higher prices.
At the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos last month, Vucic said there was “no possibility” anti-Russian sanctions at the moment and expressed his pride that Serbia was able to maintain its own independent policy despite constant pressure.
On Friday, however, he said he “fully understood” Scholz demands, adding that “The Chancellor will be informed of all our upcoming decisions.”
Sanctioning Russia was not the only demand Scholz made of Belgrade, however. The German Chancellor began her Balkan tour in Pristina, the capital of the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008 with NATO support.
“It is unimaginable that two countries which do not recognize each other become members of the EU”, Scholz said in a press conference with Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti that has been widely interpreted to mean that Serbia must recognize the breakaway province before it hopes to join the bloc.
“We heard about it for the first time during the press conference in Pristina”, Vucic said later on Friday, adding that it had come as a surprise because until now the EU has demanded “normalization” relationships, not recognition. He told reporters he told Scholz that Serbia values its own integrity “as much as you value the integrity of Ukraine.”
But Germany is powerful and we are small. It’s up to us to figure out how to handle that.