Serbia is in the middle of parliamentary elections and also in the middle of a ‘geostrategic fault line between Russia and NATO.’ According to Belgrade-based journalist Sergei Belous, as NATO expands and as relations between Russia and the military bloc worsen, Serbia will have to choose between aligning with NATO, which bombed the country less than 20 years ago, or preserving its long-standing alliance with Russia.
While Serbian leaders, including the incumbent Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic, have continued to reassure their citizens they have no aspirations to join NATO, Belous points out that things like Serbia’s NATO Logistical Support Agreement indicate the country is far from ‘militarily neutral’, as Vucic has tried to insist.
Just a couple of months ago, on February 12, 2016, the Serbian parliament ratified a new agreement with NATO that grants NATO logistical support staff the right to move throughout Serbia, gives them access to public and private facilities and allows NATO personnel to be given diplomatic immunity.
Belous argues that this agreement, along with a number of other defense-related ones signed in the last decade indicate Serbia’s firm ties to the NATO. In July 2005, an agreement was signed allowing NATO forces transit for its peacekeeping operations. In 2014, Serbia and NATO signed a Status of Forces Agreement, which allows NATO to use Serbian military infrastructure. Finally, the Individual Partnership Action Plan indicates the extent of cooperation between Serbia and the NATO alliance, which extends ties to the areas of human rights, and economic, domestic and foreign policy.
According to the latest public surveys conducted earlier this year, Serbians are 80 percent opposed to the idea of NATO membership. NATO's bombing and breaking up of the former Yugoslavia beginning in 1999 is apparently still fresh in Serbia's collective memory.
While Serbian leadership has stated that the NATO presence in areas like Kosovo are to protect the region, Belous argues otherwise.
“After NATO troops entered Kosovo, approximately 210,000 people were forced to leave [...] and over 300 Serbs were killed, 455 went missing during the five-month stay of the international peacekeeping force,” Belous writes in the Russian business magazine, Expert.
In this indicative period in Serbia’s political history, journalists are predicting a victory for the current Prime Minister from the Serbian Progressive Party, who assumed office just last April.