Dačić for Voice of America: We cannot let go of Russia's hand until the West extends another

02. Nov 2022.
Serbia wants to find a common interest with Western countries and reach an agreement on Kosovo, but it cannot let go of “the hand that holds it above the cliff”, which is Russia, said in an interview for the Voice of America Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia Ivica Dačić, who recently assumed the office for the second time.

He believes that it is in the EU’s vital interest to see Serbia as its member, but that at the same time the current policies of the Western countries are pushing Belgrade towards Moscow. The head of Serbian diplomacy also compared Serbia's foreign policy to a “giant slalom”.

Speaking about the meeting of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on Thursday, Dačić said that the issue of Kosovo’s membership will probably not be on the agenda of tomorrow’s meeting, but that the issue is far from being resolved.

“The Republic of Ireland (chair) will not propose to add this issue on the agenda. Whether someone else will, we do not know, but I doubt it because it requires some preparations. Now that Iceland has taken over the presidency of the Council of Europe we have to work with Iceland”, Dačić said.

Voice of America: How do you feel about the current situation in Kosovo, is it closer to escalation or dialogue?

Dačić: It is obvious that the Pristina is working towards some kind of escalation, that is, it seeks to accuse Serbia of being a disruptive factor. That is why we are very careful, and want to let everyone know that we want dialogue and a peaceful solution. The only thing we cannot stand for is someone harassing and terrorising citizens, using force, and we will not allow that. I think it is very important that the verbal condemnation of Pristina coming from the West and the US is now a little stronger. However, these condemnations fail to specify the concrete consequences that will ensue i.e. if this doesn't happen, what will happen? I don't think Pristina will pay too much attention to these kinds of statements when there are no consequences.”

“I ask our American partners - what are you offering us?”

Voice of America: Regarding sanctions against Russia, you have spoken about it publicly and on one occasion you said that “we can impose sanctions on Russia, but we cannot give up Kosovo.” Why do you relate the two and why do you think that Russia would change its position on Kosovo if Serbia imposed sanctions?

Dačić: That is the logic of the great powers. Why do the Western powers insist that Serbia impose sanctions on Russia? How come they do not understand our position? Likewise, Russia will not understand Serbia’s position. The great powers are led by the logic of their interests, and we are led by the logic of our interests. As regards Russia and Ukraine, if Serbia did not have an issue with territorial integrity, we would always vote on principle against military interventions, aggression, and for preserving the principle of territorial integrity. And we always vote that way, whether it involves Kosovo, Ukraine, or any other part of the world. Western countries and Russia look at it selectively, referring to it in one case and dismissing it in another.

Voice of America: Russian President Vladimir Putin, trying to legitimize the secession of Donetsk and Luhansk, used the example of the decision by the International Court of Justice on Kosovo. In line with what you said about the great powers looking after their interests, why do you think that Russia would not change its position if its interests dictated otherwise, meaning that Russian and Serbian interests are only currently aligned in relation to Kosovo?

Dačić: It is about each of the great powers using arguments that suit them. At the moment, it is in Russia’s interest to say “if Kosovo can do it, so can Donbas”. However, Catalonia can also say “if Kosovo can do it, so can Catalonia”. To be honest, Republika Srpska can also say one day “if Kosovo can do it, so can Republika Srpska”. On the other hand, the West says that this argument does not apply, that Kosovo is a sui generis case, and that no comparison should be made. Well, neither of them is right. And we must take care of our interests. To simplify, and since this is the Voice of America, let me ask our American partners: if they respect our interests, what is their proposal, what do they offer? What would be a common interest shared by the United States and Serbia when it comes to our problems? If it is important that Serbia joins the EU, if it is important that Serbia imposes sanctions on Russia, what is on the table here? We could be left without Russia's support in the UN Security Council, and I guess they are aware of that.

Voice of America: And what should that offer be?

Dačić: A fair solution to the Kosovo issue. A fair offer is not voting for sanctions against Russia on one item on the agenda, and voting on admission of Kosovo to the UN and the Council of Europe on the other. Well, hold on, we were not born yesterday and don’t recognise our best interest! This is a bad option for us. We want a deal, but we will not release the only hand holding us over a cliff, before another hand is extended. And what is that other hand? They want us to let go of that single hand that we are holding. I want to be concrete and practical, and just like I said 10 years ago in Washington - as long as Kosovo is an open issue, we have to take care of those who support our interests in that regard.

The “giant slalom” of Serbian foreign policy

Voice of America: You have spoken in public about the fact that sanctions against Russia will be delayed as long as the damage can be endured. What are the red lines?

Dačić: Almost everyone sees it as economic damage. There are different forms of damage – for example we may say “we are no longer interested in Kosovo”. But is that our position? We must realistic and lead a balanced policy. Foreign policy in a country like Serbia must seem like a giant slalom, going from one point to another, but still reaching the goal.

Voice of America: And that goal is the EU, as proclaimed by the government as a strategic direction. Do you think it’s hypocritical to claim to have that course and behave as if not belonging to the same club, like Serbia is behaving regarding the war in Ukraine? Actually behaving quite the opposite.

Dačić: Do you consider it hypocritical that this club advocates for the territorial integrity of Ukraine but does not advocate for the territorial integrity of Serbia? We cannot appreciate the territorial integrity of other countries more than our own. I am all for it, but if we are discussing harmonisation of foreign policy, let us also talk about harmonisation of the EU foreign policy with the principles of international law. Take the same arguments used for Ukraine, and apply them to Serbia... Do you think that it is EU’s interest to see Serbia as its member? I think that it is their vital interest. I can only guess that it is in the interest of all the EU countries that Serbia joins the Western world. So why are Western countries applying policies that are only pushing Serbia towards Russia? We have no one to turn to... They have put us in a situation where we have no choice, that is, we have only one choice, and they must never allow that.

Voice of America: You mentioned the withdrawal or freezing of the recognition of Kosovo, the President of Serbia said that he has on file the names of eight countries that have withdrawn their recognition. It is obvious that the diplomatic campaign is continuing. What does Serbia offer to the countries for the withdrawal of recognition of Kosovo, and were there problems with the EU because of that?

Dačić: Do you think that in these countries they really know where Kosovo is and what Kosovo means, or whether their country recognized Kosovo? I had to convince certain foreign ministers that they did recognise Kosovo, while they were trying to convince me that they did not. And after an hour they would call me to say that their country did recognise Kosovo. The problem is that Kosovo has been working on it. Whatever Kosovo was doing or offering, they had support from the West. And we did not even bother to visit those countries and remind them of historical ties between our countries. We offer agreements on strategic cooperation, to see what we can do to help each other, scholarships for students, now they are not allowing us to cancel visas, they are now abusing the visa regime to come, and so on.

Voice of America: Wasn't that the case with Burundi? (Burundi withdrew recognition of Kosovo and until recently was in Serbia’s visa-free regime, until the EU threatened to abolish visas for Serbia, author/s note.)

Dačić: Yes, Burundi, but do you know how many Burundians came? Two thousand. Well, if those two thousand Burundians are going to destroy this solid EU system, then it is tragicomic.

Agreement on strategic partnership with the USA

VOA: You met with the US Ambassador Christopher Hill, you agreed that there are many topics to discuss. What is the priority in Serbia - US relations?

Dačić: I think that we should work to achieve an agreement on strategic partnership. I have proposed this several times, but this matter is discussed on the presidential level. Again, such an agreement should not be on paper only, but common interests should be explored and only then to discuss the package for Serbia. We want a sensible proposal that we could really consider, and I am not talking about bilateral relations, but about the most difficult issue like Kosovo. I know that such an issue can never be solved without the US.

Voice of America: You are a pro-Eastern politician, you speak highly of Russia and China in public. What message do you think your appointment to this position is sending to Western countries?