The Serbian president refuses to openly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and has not joined Western sanctions against Moscow.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has announced that he has secured a “very favorable” three-year natural gas supply agreement with Russia, amid efforts by the European Union to phase out Russian energy supplies.
“What I can say is that we have agreed on the main elements that are very favorable to Serbia,” the Serbian president said after concluding the deal during a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
With the war in Ukraine raging, Serbia’s president announced that he had secured a “very favorable” three-year natural gas supply deal with Russia during a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“What I can say is that we have agreed on key elements that are very favorable to Serbia,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, a former pro-Russian ultra-nationalist, told reporters on Sunday.
“We agreed to sign a three-year contract, which is the first element of the contract that suits the Serbian side well,” he said.
Vucic claims he wants to bring Serbia into the European Union, but has spent recent years strengthening ties with Russia, a longtime ally. He also refused to explicitly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and his country did not join the Western sanctions against Moscow.
Russia’s agreement with Serbia comes after Moscow cut off gas exports to European Union members Finland, Poland and Bulgaria.
The gas deal is likely to be signed during Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Belgrade in early June – a rare visit by a high-ranking Russian official to a European country since the invasion of Ukraine began in February.
Despite reports of atrocities in Ukraine due to the invasion, Vucic and other Serbian leaders are complaining about Western pressure to join sanctions against Russia.
Serbian officials say the Balkan country should resist such pressure, even if it means abandoning the goal of joining the European Union.
Vucic’s autocratic rule for 10 years
Under Vucic’s 10-year authoritarian rule and relentless pro-Kremlin propaganda, Serbia gradually slipped toward an alliance with Russia.
Opinion polls indicate that a majority in the country would prefer joining some kind of union with Moscow rather than the European Union.
“The agreement reached by President Vucic with President Putin is evidence of respect for Serbia’s decision not to engage in anti-Russian hysteria,” Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said.
“Free leader, free people, they make good decisions for Serbia and do not accept orders from the West,” said Vulin, known for his pro-Russian stance.
The European Union as a whole has hastily reduced its dependence on Russian energy since the invasion, and is set to discuss ways to do so further and hear from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a leaders’ summit that begins on Monday.
It is not clear how Serbia will receive Russian gas if the European Union decides to cut off Russian supplies that pass through its member states.
Serbia is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas, and its main energy companies are majority Russian.
In 2008, Serbia put the gas and oil sectors into the hands of Russian companies. Gazprom Neft and Gazprom together hold a majority stake in the country’s only oil company, while Gazprom is the largest shareholder in the country’s only gas storage facility.
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