Will Hill’s arrival in Belgrade turn Serbia away from Russia and China?
Christopher Hill, who has been nominated for the new US ambassador to Serbia, is in the center of the domestic and international attention, and the potential arrival of 69-year-old U.S. diplomat in Belgrade could affect the political dynamics in Serbia and the Western Balkans.
Christopher Hill’s nomination for the new US ambassador is being carefully assessed in Moscow and Beijing. Hill’s likely arrival in Belgrade has already evoked memories of his diplomatic activities with the late U.S. negotiator of the Bosnian peace accord Richard Holbrooke, in mid ’90s.
During the last two years, the American administration has been following a relatively mild and almost uncritical attitude towards Serbia, so the change of the ambassador will certainly change the American policy towards Serbia and the region, BIRN writes.
The experienced American diplomat reminded that he started his diplomatic career in Belgrade, later participated in the process culminating in the Dayton Agreement, and returned to the region as an ambassador to what was then Macedonia and took on additional responsibilities as special envoy for Kosovo in the years 1998 and 1999.
He pointed out that one of the most important preconditions for Serbia’s membership in the EU is the normalization of relations with Kosovo.
“The United States strongly supports EU-facilitated dialogue as the best chance for both sides to overcome differences. As President Biden said, the United States believes that mutual recognition is the best way to unleash Serbia’s European potential and strengthen regional stability and security,” said Hill before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during the debate on his nomination.
He added that if elected, he would insist on a full investigation of the 1999 murdering of the Bytyci brothers.
“These are three American citizens killed in police custody in Serbia. “I will continue to put pressure on the Serbian government so that those responsible for that triple murder can be brought to justice, regardless of rank or position,” he added.
One of Hill’s key foreign policy statements during the hearing referred to the new positioning of the United States in Serbia and the region, which should show that the United States offers a better model than Russia or China.
There are great concerns about military purchase from Russia and China’s growing activities in Serbia in terms of infrastructure projects. In recent years, China has strengthened its presence in Serbia through numerous infrastructure projects, video surveillance projects and security cooperation. The work on the production of Chinese vaccines in Serbia is just the latest joint project of the Serbian and Chinese authorities.
“The United States does not want to see the strengthening of Russian influence in Belgrade. Serbia is buying military equipment and that is necessary, but it is worried that it is purchasing weapons from Russia. Also, in order to satisfy the great infrastructural needs, Serbia is turning to China. “We need to show Serbia that we offer a better model, that we are a better alternative than Russia and China,” he said.
His statement sent an important message to other key players in Serbia that Washington will step up its presence to counter foreign influences. In that, Hill was clear that Serbia should build a resistance to harmful external influences that come primarily from Russia and China.
The news about his nomination comes at a time of rapid strengthening of relations between Serbia and China, the most active foreign policy player in Serbia since the beginning of the pandemic. Apart from the unresolved relations between Serbia and Kosovo, as well as the political crisis over Serbian separatism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the rise of anti-Western influences in Serbia was probably one of the reasons for activating a special diplomat like Christopher Hill.