Serbia ignores EU sanctions and strikes gas deal with Russia

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced on Sunday that he had reached an “extremely favorable” natural gas deal with Russia during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Vucic refused to explicitly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Serbia did not join Western sanctions against Moscow. Vucic, a former pro-Russian ultranationalist, says he wants to bring Serbia into the European Union but has spent the past few years cementing ties with longtime ally Russia.

Serbia is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas, and its major energy companies are majority Russian-owned.

“What I can tell you is that we have agreed on the main elements which are very favorable to Serbia,” Vucic told reporters. “We agreed to sign a three-year contract, which is the first element of the contract that suits the Serbian side very well.”

Vucic said he told Putin he wanted “peace to be established as soon as possible”.

The deal is expected to be signed during a visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Belgrade in early June – a rare visit by a senior Russian official to a European country since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.

It is unclear how Serbia would receive Russian gas if the EU decides to cut off Russian supplies that pass through its member countries. Russia has already halted gas exports to EU members Finland, Poland and Bulgaria. The bloc as a whole has hastily reduced its dependence on Russian energy since the invasion.

Despite reports of atrocities in Ukraine due to the invasion, Vucic and other Serbian leaders complained about Western pressure to adhere to sanctions against Russia. Serbian officials say the Balkan country must resist such pressure, even if it means abandoning the goal of joining the EU.

Under Vucic’s 10-year autocratic rule and relentless pro-Kremlin propaganda, Serbia has steadily slid towards Russia. Polls suggest a majority in the country would rather join some sort of union with Moscow than the EU.

“President Vucic’s agreement with President Putin is proof of how well Serbia’s decision not to participate in anti-Russian hysteria is respected,” said Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin, known for his pro-Russian positions.

“The free leader, the free people, make decisions that are good for Serbia and don’t take orders” from the West, Vulin said.

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