Ukraine is Serbia’s true friend – What about Russia?

Ukraine has never done anything against Serbia, nor has Serbia done anything against Ukraine – this statement by President Aleksandar Vučić after the meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky in Athens should represent a direction for Serbia to properly navigate complicated international affairs where it has found itself for the first time since the fall of Berlin wall.

Due to their turbulent history, Southeast European countries could hardly find anyone around for whom they could say what Vučić said about Serbia and Ukraine. Most of the time, it is the other way around. We have often inflicted evil and injustice on each other, on our own, or someone persuaded us, which is less significant.

Again, it is hard to ignore temperament and passion in our surroundings and say – let go of history and who owes whom, but look at the future and work together as if nothing had happened. Reconciliations after great wars, such as those between the French and the Germans or between the Germans and the British, could also be applied in Eastern Europe, but they require much more time and goodwill.

Serbia and Ukraine, like hardly anyone, have nothing to reconcile about nor to hold anything against each other throughout history. But history still plays a significant role in making policies of today’s Eastern European governments. This would be hard to eliminate, but perhaps we don’t have to.

That is why Vučić’s remark from Athens was much more than a polite statement after the meeting with the Ukrainian leader, which was otherwise “fruitful” (Zelensky) and “good and open” (Vučić).

It is a continuance of his earlier appeals to the citizens not to observe the war between Russia and Ukraine with a cheering attitude but soberly because it is not a game but the biggest bloodshed since the Second World War in our closest neighbourhood. Russian aggression against Ukraine affects everything in our lives: prices, supplies, security and our plans, and if we continue to treat all of this as fans, then we have nothing to hope for.

Ukraine and the Ukrainian people have never done anything bad to Serbia. It is the opposite. As a new country that had just gained independence by breaking away from the Soviet Union, Ukraine opposed the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999. Ukrainians protested in Kyiv and other cities against attacks on Serbia. Ukraine has never come close to recognising Kosovo’s independence, even now when it is under pressure. If Ukraine did that, it would make its struggle against seizing part of its territory by Russia meaningless. And that is the point that unites Serbia and Ukraine today more than any recent historical situation. 

Even when the Ukrainian fighters (who made up more than half of the Red Army) aided greatly in the liberation of Serbia and Belgrade from the Nazis, Serbia and Belgrade owe appreciation to them.

That is why the negative emotions in Serbia towards Ukraine and its people, who have been defending themselves from external aggression and attempts to cancel themselves both as a nation and as a state, have been incomprehensible. Vučić’ssimple statement about Serbia and Ukraine is a significant step to stop such cheering and treat serious matters that affect our lives.

What could rightfully be said about Ukraine’s relationship with Serbia could not be applied to Russia. We do not have to go too far into history. Serbia we remember, suffered a lot from Russia. Recently, it has been 31 years since the Russian ambassador to the UN Security Council, Yuli Vorontsov, raised his hand to impose sanctions on Serbia, which led it to unprecedented misery and social disintegration.

Since then, Russia has repeatedly voted in favour of sanctions against Serbia in the Security Council, including those in 1998 and 1999, which preceded the bombing. In the meantime, it actively and wholeheartedly helped Croatia, politically and with weapons, in the conflicts against the JNA and Serbian forces in Krajina. For its fraternal services in the Croatian cause, the first Russian ambassador in Zagreb, Leonid Kerestedzhiyants, received an order from Tudjman as the only foreign representative, along with the German ambassador. In return, Tudjman received the Order of Zhukov from the Kremlin.

That fraternal closeness was not only an “incident” of Yeltsin’s Russia, as is presented today, but a continuation of harmful and hypocritical Moscow policy towards Serbia, which also rules the Putin era. That is why Russian Ambassador Andrey Nestorenko, as soon as he took office in Zagreb in 2020, laid a wreath on the grave of Franjo Tudjman, using words of respect and gratitude.

Unlike Ukraine, which is firm and principled in its refusal to recognise Kosovo as Serbia’s most significant state issue, Russia has been using it as a precedent for its conquering and violent actions for a long time, to the detriment of Serbia. Russia used Kosovo’s independence as a justification for recognising the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia 15 years ago, and now four occupied areas in the east of Ukraine.

Kosovo is not a matter of principle for Russia, as it is for Ukraine and Serbia. It is an excuse to start a war of conquest against neighbouring countries and take their sovereign territory part by part. For the Kremlin, the crime in Srebrenica is just a chip in the poker game of conquering other countries, again to Serbia’s detriment. In 2008, while justifying the aggression against Georgia, Sergey Lavrov spoke about Srebrenica and the genocide. He said that Russia would not allow a repeat of the genocide against its people like the one in Srebrenica in 1995. His boss, Vladimir Putin, used Srebrenica when he needed to “defend from genocide” his compatriots in Donetsk in 2017, and then in 2019, and said – “There will be a Srebrenica” if Ukraine closed its borders.

Ukraine has never done anything against Serbia. On the contrary, it is Serbia’s consistent and true friend because it respects Serbia’s interests and defends them wherever necessary. Russia did a lot against Serbia. It violated and mocked Serbia wherever it could and whenever it was essential to further its national objectives.

This is the state of affairs in interstate relations. Vučić rightly reminds of them as the only important matter for the country’s survival in the unprecedentedly dangerous and complicated circumstances that have befallen us. Everything else is a myth, a fog and a deception that serious people must not rely on.