Serbia ignores EU sanctions and strikes gas deal with Putin

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, poses with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic after receiving the Order of Alexander Nevsky in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. Vucic said he was awarded an

FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, poses with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic after receiving the Order of Alexander Nevsky in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. Vucic said he reached an agreement “extremely favorable” gas agreement with Russia during his telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin on Sunday, May 29, 2022. The populist Serbian president announced that he had secured an “extremely favorable” gas agreement with Russia. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, a former pro-Russian ultranationalist who claims to want to bring Serbia into the European Union, has refused to publicly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic, File)

PA

As the war in Ukraine rages on, the Serbian president announced he had reached an “extremely favorable” natural gas deal with Russia during a phone conversation Sunday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic refused to explicitly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and his country did not join Western sanctions against Moscow. Vucic says he wants to bring Serbia into the European Union, but has spent the past few years cementing ties with longtime ally Russia.

The gas deal is expected to be signed during a visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Belgrade in early June – a rare visit by a senior Russian official to a European country since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began February 24.

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 major energy companies are majority Russian-owned.

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

It is unclear how Serbia would receive Russian gas if the EU decides to cut off Russian supplies that pass through its member countries. Russia has already halted gas exports to EU members Finland, Poland and Bulgaria.

The EU as a whole has hastily reduced its reliance on Russian energy since the invasion, and is set to discuss ways to do more and to hear from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during of a leaders’ summit which begins on Monday.

Despite reports of atrocities in Ukraine due to the invasion, Vucic and other Serbian leaders complained about Western pressure to adhere to sanctions against Russia. Serbian officials say the Balkan country must resist such pressure, even if it means abandoning the goal of joining the EU.

Under Vucic’s 10-year autocratic rule and relentless pro-Kremlin propaganda, Serbia has gradually slid towards alignment with Russia. Polls suggest a majority in the country would rather join some sort of union with Moscow than the EU.

“President Vucic’s agreement with President Putin is proof of how well Serbia’s decision not to participate in anti-Russian hysteria is respected,” Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said.

“The free leader, the free people, makes decisions that are good for Serbia and don’t take orders” from the West, said Vulin, known for his pro-Russian stance.

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