In big trouble: Between the EU or Russia

  • Marko Stojić (EUROPEUM)
  • 19.3.2018 15:06

After a series of crises, the EU seems to be finally ready to assume a more assertive role in the Western Balkans. There are three major challenges that hinder Serbian EU accession efforts: a lack of dedication of the ruling elite to meet political criteria, the issue of Kosovo’s status and Serbia’s close ties with Russia.

A major issue hampering the Serbian EU membership bid is its strong political ties with Russia. As a traditionally close ally, Russia shares the dominant Serbian perception of the post-Yugoslav wars that draw Serbia into a direct conflict with the West. Russia is therefore very popular with the public and is a key supporter of Serbian claims over Kosovo. Although not formally opposed to Serbian EU membership, Russia maintains close ties with Eurosceptic parties, while its increasingly influential media outlets in the region regularly produce anti-EU content.


Fundamental Serbian interests are more in accord with that of Russia than of EU member states.


For many in the Serbian political and intellectual elite, the Russian ‘illiberal democracy’ is an attractive model of governance, reflecting the fact that they have never embraced the principles of western liberal democracies as their own. Crucially, the fundamental Serbian interest as largely perceived by its ruling elite – the preservation of Kosovo within Serbia and maintaining the autonomy of Republika Srpska – are more in accord with that of Russia than of EU member states.

Russia’s more assertive role in the region is seen as obstructive and malign by the EU. It was the Russian alleged involvement in an attempt to organise a coup d’état in Montenegro in 2016 that prompted the Union to energise its enlargement policy. As a candidate country, Serbia has been under increasing pressure to harmonise its foreign policy with the EU and join Montenegro in imposing sanctions on Russia (due to its violation of Ukrainian borders). The Baltic states have particularly insisted that ‘a candidate country must align itself with the EU's common foreign and security policy and achieve 100 percent alignment by the moment of accession’. The Enlargement Strategy is a sobering reminder for Serbian decision-makers that ‘joining the EU is a choice’ and ‘one that requires sharing the principles, values and goals the Union seeks to promote in its neighbourhood and beyond, including full alignment with the common foreign and security policy’. However, the Serbian government has categorically refused to do so, questioning the very nature of these principles.


‘Serbia will never be an anti-Russian state’


‘I would ask everyone in the EU – how come that only Serbian borders are changeable, while all other borders are carved in stone’, Minister Dačić asserted. Thus, ‘the Russians are our friends, our brother’ and ‘Serbia will never be an anti-Russian state’ aligning with EU sanctions against Russia. Considering a long-term perspective of Serbian EU accession as well as the strategic importance and tangible results of cooperation with Russia,31 the balancing act between the EU and Russia will certainly continue. This may change only in the unlike event that the Serbian and Western interests intersect to a greater degree in the future. Yet, Serbian authorities have no long-term strategy for this issue. ‘I hope that the conflict between the West and Russia will be completed [before the end of accession negotiations]. If not, then we are all in big trouble, including the EU’, Dačić has recently noted.

Read individual chapters of the analysis on Serbian EU effortsKosovo's status and Serbia's close ties to Russia. The analysis was published by the EUROPEUM's Eastern Monitor.

Marko Stojić is Lecturer in the Department of International Relations and European Studies at Metropolitan University in Prague, Czech Republic. He holds a PhD in Contemporary European Studies from the University of Sussex. His research interests focus on the study of European integration, political parties in the Western Balkans and party-based Euroscepticism. He has published in Europe-Asia Studies, Czech Journal of Political Science and Perspectives on European Politics and Society.

About author: Marko Stojić (EUROPEUM)


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