The Western Balkans is not united against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Each state has different relations with Russia as well as with the West. Some countries are members of NATO or have candidate status for the European Union. Others have not even begun negotiations about membership in the Euro-Atlantic structures. Serbia and the Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina have strong ties with the Russian Federation.
However, in the light of the war in Ukraine, Serbia, as the most staunch ally of Russia in the Western Balkans, might have to reconsider the quality of relations with Russia. Russia‘s steps that led to the aggression against Ukraine revealed that Russia is not taking Serbia and its interests all too seriously.
The first conflict in Ukraine that started in 2014 and, in hindsight, appears to be a “prelude” to the current war, has shown Serbia’s orientation towards Russia. Then, Serbia openly supported the annexation of Crimea and the attack on the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. However, eight years have passed. Even though Serbia remains a Russian ally, its attitude towards its “big brother” might be changing. In the case of the ongoing aggression of Russia against Ukraine, Serbia took a softer position. President Vučić recognized Ukrainian territorial integrity and called for a peaceful solution to the crisis. That was a surprising move. Still, the Serbian administration denied sanctions against Russia, claiming they would harm Serbia’s interests.
In Western Balkans, Serbia has arguably the most substantial ties with the Russian Federation in terms of history, culture, religion, politics and energetic dependency, which play a crucial role in relations with Russia today. Energy dependence from Russia is so robust that Serbia covers 89% of domestic gas needs by Russian gas. Russia even owns majority shares in NIS, Serbia’s leading gas and oil company. The reality proves that Serbian interests are defined by the gas dependency, which is too severe to direct Serbia from the alliance with Russia openly. Serbian leadership’s previous strategic decisions have not diversified gas supplies and cemented Serbia into the position, where even now when Russia has attacked Ukraine militarily, supporting sanctions is nearly impossible. That could lead to an energetical crisis in Serbia, a situation that president Vučič and his Serbian Progressive Party cannot afford, as the presidential, parliamentary and local elections are quickly approaching (April 3, 2022), and they need public support.