BELGRADE: At a time when Europeans are trying to isolate Russia and somehow secede from fossil fuels, Serbia is restricting its relationship with Moscow through a Russian gas deal.
Belgrade has been a candidate for entry into the European Union for ten years but maintains close ties with the Kremlin. If Serbia condemned to the UN Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the end of February, it refused to align itself with sanctions against Moscow.
The Balkan country of seven million people has secured a “very favorable” deal for Russia’s gas supply for three years, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced after talking on the phone with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Sunday.
The Kremlin limited itself to saying that Moscow “will continue to supply natural gas to Serbia without delay” but the Serbian head of state assured that it was “by far the best deal in Europe”.
“We will have a safe winter in terms of gas supply,” he assured, predicting that the bill would be between 10 and 12 times lower than elsewhere in Europe.
European countries resentfully agreed this week to ban most of Russia’s oil imports to dry up funding for the war.
The bloc also wants to reduce its reliance on gas, Moscow has cut the pipes of some European countries but the prospect of a total embargo on this energy source seems far-fetched.
Brussels condemned the gas deal with Moscow, saying it hoped Serbia would “not further strengthen its ties with Russia”.
“Candidate countries, including Serbia, should gradually align their policies towards third countries with EU policies and positions, including through strict measures,” the spokesman said. Commissioner Peter Stano.
Officially, Belgrade shows the goal in Europe as a priority but avoids any anti-Russian proposal. The pro-government media is repeating the messages the Kremlin could write.
Russia’s head of diplomacy Sergei Lavrov is expected to be in Belgrade soon according to the local newspaper, a visit not so far confirmed by Moscow. He told Serbian journalists that Russia was “certain” that their country would “continue to make smart choices”.
Serbian officials have accused the West of forcing Belgrade to comply with sanctions and some have even spoken of lowering the EU bid.
“It is as if they have spent the last decade preparing society not for accession to the EU but for an alliance with Moscow,” Srdjan Cvijic, of the BiEPAG (Balkans in Europe Policy) group, told AFP. Advisory Group.
Specific details of the deal have not yet been announced.
But “there is always a + fraternal clause + inherent in favorable prices, which does not appear in the contract but leads to relevant arrangements or political concessions”, judge Goran Vasic, energy specialist at the University of Novi Sad.
Serbian authorities have denied that the supply of gas at friendly prices was a “reward”.
“Anyone who accuses us of not imposing sanctions on Russia because of a gas deal should be ashamed,” Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said.
“If we don’t impose sanctions against Russia, it is in principle.”
Belgrade thanked Russia for refusing to recognize Kosovo, its former province, and highlighted its historical and cultural ties to Russia’s “big brother”.
But in fact, Serbia has little room for maneuver. Russia’s previous contract for the delivery of gas, at also preferential rates, will expire without a viable solution for Belgrade in the near future.
Over the past decades, Serbia has gradually given Moscow a virtual monopoly on its energy sector by building pipelines just for Russia’s gas.
In 2008, the year Kosovo declared independence, it sold the majority stake in NIS, its oil and gas company, to Russian giant Gazprom, a move widely seen as the price paid for Moscow’s veto by the UN in the former province of Serbia.
“It is clear that all this time, we have a well -organized lobby that has defended the monopoly, and which continues to do so”, added Goran Vasic.