This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
A U.S. Senate delegation visiting Belgrade has urged Serbia to join Western democracies in backing sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
The three-member delegation met Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on April 19 and stressed that Serbia must harmonize its foreign policy with that of the European Union.
“We understand Serbia has a long cultural and economic history with Russia,” said Senator Chris Murphy (Democrat-Connecticut) after meeting with Vucic. “But this is a moment where there is great risk if we, as a democratic community, don’t send a united message about the consequences of Russia’s behavior in Ukraine.”
Speaking at a news conference, he added that Washington hopes to be able to stand with Serbia “in the coming weeks and months to send that clear message to Russia.”
Murphy said the United States continues to support Serbia on its path to EU membership. He was joined on the visit by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat-New Hampshire) and Senator Thom Tillis (Republican-North Carolina).
Shaheen said the delegation made the case that, as Vucic has said, the future of Serbia lies with the rest of Europe, noting that Serbia has been building trade ties and increasing business investment with the United States.
“And, as we pointed out, if that’s the intent, then certainly looking at the foreign policy that’s currently in place by the EU is very important,” she said.
Serbia depends on Russia almost entirely for its energy supplies. Vucic has said that imposing sanctions against its traditional ally would be disastrous for Serbia.
Although it has not joined international sanctions against Moscow, it voted in favor of three United Nations resolutions condemning the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
The senators also said that, if Serbia really wants to join the EU, it should reconsider rapidly arming itself with Russian and Chinese weapons.
“In in the long run, I think every country needs to make a decision about whether their security interests are best aligned with China,” Murphy said. “If Serbia is intent on being a member of the European Union, then it’s probably not in their long-term interests to have a security relationship with China.”
Earlier this month, China delivered a sophisticated air defense system to Belgrade despite earlier U.S. warnings that, if Serbia wants to join Western integrations, it should align its military with Western standards.
Vucic said Serbia is committed to respecting the principles of international law, territorial integrity, and the political independence of nations as was made clear by its votes on the UN resolutions.
Trade between the United States and Serbia will reach $1.2 billion this year, which shows significant progress in economic relations, Vucic said, adding that Serbia hoped to “further intensify various types of cooperation and implement specific projects of mutual interest.”
According to a statement, Vucic thanked the senators for “the continuous support that Washington provides to Serbia on its path to full membership in the European Union,” calling EU membership “one of our priority foreign policy goals and Serbia’s strategic commitment.”