Andrew Korybko: Does Serbia’s Explanation Of Its Anti-Russian UNGA Vote Hold Up To Scrutiny?

Russia seems to informally understand Serbia’s predicament of coming under unprecedented US-led Western pressure but would still have preferred for its top Balkan partner to have abstained from that resolution against its special military operation in Ukraine instead of voted in its support.

Serbian President Vucic explained his country’s surprising support of the recent anti-Russian resolution at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) by claiming that Belgrade had to take such a position in order to uphold its own one towards the breakaway NATO-occupied Province of Kosovo & Metohija. According to him, “We insist on respecting the territorial integrity of states, this is our principle. On this we base the preservation of Kosovo and Metohija as part of Serbia. If we had not condemned the invasion of Ukraine, we would never again have the moral right to present this argument.” With all due respect to Serbia as a state, which has historically enjoyed special and privileged relations with Russia, this explanation from its incumbent government doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

On the surface, however, President Vucic’s reasoning is sound. Serbia wants to project policy consistency regarding the issue of territorial integrity. This is especially sensitive for it considering the Western-backed efforts to de facto institutionalize Kosovo’s self-proclaimed “independence”. Casual news consumers might therefore be inclined to support his reasoning. The problem, however, is that this doesn’t explain why Serbia didn’t simply abstain from the vote. The Serbian leader earlier claimed that his country doesn’t support anti-Russian sanctions and that it only backed 4 out of the 13 clauses of that UNGA Resolution. Nevertheless, voting in its favor is an official endorsement of the entire document itself, not several selective parts.

If President Vucic truly didn’t support the resolution in its entirety, then abstaining from it would have been the only way to officially convey his government’s concerns with the other clauses that he claims to have been against. The reason why he didn’t opt for that course of action, however, is probably due to the US-led West’s disproportionate influence over his country in all respects, especially economically. He more than likely feared that they’d seek to isolate Serbia as punishment, perhaps even imposing sanctions against it, whether formal or informal ones. Even so, he could have at least openly acknowledged this hegemonic pressure instead of sought to deflect from it by unconvincingly claiming that this move was done for principle’s sake when that clearly wasn’t the real reason.

That said, Serbia is still Russia’s special and privileged strategic partner in the Balkans and will likely remain so as long as Belgrade doesn’t jump on the West’s anti-Russian sanctions bandwagon. Doing so could very realistically provoke large-scale grassroots unrest against the government considering the organic Russophilia of the country’s population for historical reasons as well as those connected to their passionate support of the Kremlin’s contemporary foreign policy. The anti-Russian UNGA Resolution is politically non-binding but still very symbolic. Belgrade’s backing of that document confirms that it isn’t all that strategically autonomous, though to its credit, it still hasn’t imposed anti-Russian sanctions either despite considerable Western pressure but that’s for reasons of self-preservation.

Observers should remember that the Serbian government doesn’t necessarily represent the will of the Serbian people with all the decisions that it makes. People rallied all across the capital in support of Russia following their authorities’ scandalous decision. This should serve as a powerful reminder to President Vucic that his so-called “balancing act” between Russia and the West has very real limits that mustn’t be crossed by sanctioning their country’s historically ally no matter how much the West pressures him to do so. As it stands, Russia seems to informally understand Serbia’s predicament but would still have preferred for its top Balkan partner to have abstained from that resolution against its special military operation in Ukraine instead of voted in its support.

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