Steinbaum: U.S. should sanction Serbia for military ties with Russia
The war in Ukraine has fostered the unity of the Western countries, and at the same time, this period noted Serbia’s strong ties with Russia.
Belgrade is one of the few countries that has not imposed sanctions on Moscow to condemn its attack on neighboring Ukraine. The US foreign policy expert at the German Marshall Fund and expert on the Balkans matters Jason Steinbaum, says it is time for the US administration to punish Serbia for military ties with Russia and non-harmonization of foreign policy with the West.
Serbia voted in favor of the UN resolution condemning the Russian attack on Ukraine, but continues to resist Western pressure to impose sanctions on Moscow, in an attempt to maintain a balance between its European aspirations, its partnership with NATO and centuries-old religious, ethnic and political ties with Russia.
But along with tensions between the West and Russia, calls are increasing for Belgrade to harmonize its foreign policy with the European Union – a union that this country aims to join.
The foreign policy and development expert in the Balkans Jason Steinbaum says the US administration could make a use of the approved in 2017 to impose sanctions on Serbia over its purchase of Russian weapons from Belgrade.
“The law says that the president should impose sanctions on a country that engages in significant transactions with the Russian military or intelligence services. Serbia has imported heavy weapons from Russia after the adoption of this law. The law speaks in binding language, saying the president will impose sanctions. So the law does not ask whether or not there is a will for sanctions,” – Steinbaum told VOA. “The question is whether the law will be taken seriously and whether Congress, which has passed it, will ask for it.”
Over the years Serbia has imported a significant number of weapons from Russia, purchasing six MiG-29 fighter jets, 30 T-72 tanks, 30 other armored vehicles and the Pantsir S1 air defense system. In January this year, a shipment of Koornet anti-tank missiles arrived from Russia in Serbia, while Belgrade also purchased four MiG-29 aircraft from Belarus.
Serbia’s relations with Russia go beyond trade as the two countries have also carried out a series of joint military maneuvers. Days ago, Russian flags and photos of President Vladimir Putin were seen on the streets of Belgrade, in a rare public display of support for Moscow following its attack on Ukraine.
“Some say that if Serbia joins the sanctions against Russia, the protest could be twice as big. How long can they endure? “It depends on the pressure that the West can or wants to exert and whether it is ready to finally tell Serbia that you can not sit in two chairs at the same time.” – says Stainbaum.
The relationship between Kosovo and Serbia is seen as one of the most urgent issues in this part of Europe.