Serbia reaffirms support for Ukraine but holds back on sanctions

By Thomson Reuters May 13, 2024 | 8:15 AM

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbian Prime Minister Milos Vucevic expressed support for Ukraine in its war against Russia after meeting Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Monday, but stopped short of committing to sanctions against Moscow.

Serbia has repeatedly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, but its refusal to join international sanctions has soured relations with Kyiv.

Kuleba’s two-day visit to Belgrade with first lady Olena Zelenska is his first trip to Serbia since the war started.

“Serbia is committed to respecting international law and the territorial integrity of United Nations member states, including Ukraine … We are open to friendly discussions on all issues and at all levels,” Vucevic said in a statement.

Serbia’s populist president, Aleksandar Vucic, is trying to strike a balance between the country’s candidacy for the European Union and traditional ties with Russia and China.

Support for Russia is strong among the Serbian population, the result of historical religious, political and military links. Pro-Russian content is widely circulated on social media.

Belgrade recognises Ukraine in its entirety, including territories occupied by Russian forces, while Kyiv refuses to recognise the independence of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Since 2022, Serbia has accepted Ukrainian refugees, sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine and pledged help with its post-war rebuilding effort.

At a mental health conference in Belgrade, Zelenska said as many as 77% of Ukrainians feel mental stress because of the war.

“Our job is to provide a generation of winners, not only on the battlefield … , but also on the battlefield for our own mental well-being,” she said at the event she co-hosted with Serbia’s first lady, Tamara Vucic.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Ros Russell)