BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s president on Friday promised to lead the Balkan nation into the European Union and said the fact that Russia is arming the Serbian military doesn’t threaten that goal.
President Aleksandar Vucic told The Associated Press in an interview that he wants to seek EU membership while at the same time maintaining strong ties with other countries.
“We know where we are going, which means that we are on our EU path, that’s the strategic goal of our country,” he said, with the EU and Serbian flags behind him. “At the same time, we want to preserve the very best relations with Russia, Turkey, China, U.S. and all others.”
Under the leadership of former ultranationalist Vucic, Serbia has been formally seeking EU membership, but also preserving close relations with historic Slavic ally Russia. Russia has been supplying Serbia with MiG-29 fighter jets, and plans to deliver battle tanks and armored vehicles.
Some Western officials have voiced concern over Russia’s arming of Serbia in the wake of the bloody disintegration of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and have called on Belgrade to firmly say where it’s going, East or West.
“I see nothing wrong with that and it works, it will work, that’s our politics and we are militarily neutral,” Vucic said, adding that the arming of Serbia isn’t to threaten its neighbors.
Vucic acknowledged that his firebrand nationalist past as a ranking member of a party that strived for expansion of Serbian borders in the Balkans — or “Greater Serbia” — during the bloody wars with its neighbors has triggered some doubts about the sincerity of his switch to become a pro-Western reformer.
“The guy who was totally against the EU 20 years ago, the guy who was a member of the Radical Party … I know that it is not easy for many people to swallow,” Vucic said. “I can tell you now: we’ll deliver on that. We’ll finish that, we’ll finish the job.”
“I think that every single member of the government does his or her best in fulfilling our goals and one of our main goals is our full-fledged EU membership. And that’s it,” he added. “I think that we need to be part of the European Union. That’s my task, that’s my job and I will do it.”