Germany: Serbia must choose between the EU and Russia
Serbia must decide whether it wants to join the European Union or develop deeper ties with Russia, Germany said, amid media reports that Belgrade had put its army on high alert because of rising tensions in Kosovo.
Two days ahead of a Western Balkans summit in Berlin aimed at strengthening relations with the region's six countries, a senior German official said Serbia must decide whether to side with Moscow or the EU.
"Relations with Serbia are complicated - there are both light and shadows. Serbia's relations with Russia are certainly part of the shadows," said the official, who wished to remain anonymous.
He noted that Berlin was "surprised and disappointed" when Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic last month signed an agreement with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov agreeing to consult each other on foreign policy.
Serbia, an EU candidate since 2012, has struggled to balance historically close ties with Russia with aspirations for integration with Europe, and tensions have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, with many Serbs sympathetic to Russia.
The country's president, Aleksandar Vucic, "will have support from the EU as a whole and from the German government if he takes the road to Europe," the official said. "If he chooses the other path, there will be consequences."
His words came after reports in Serbian media that the country's Defense Minister Milos Vucevic said its armed forces had been put on high alert because of tensions in Kosovo.
"We cannot be calm and we are in favor of dialogue," Vucevic said, adding that the country's army is ready to "protect all citizens of Serbia, including Serbs in Kosovo, and no one should doubt that."
Last week, Kosovo said it was delaying a plan to confiscate cars owned by ethnic Serbs who refuse to use local number plates after the EU and several Western countries warned the move would inflame ethnic tensions.
Kosovo has repeatedly tried to force its Serb minority to replace its old signs from before 1999, when Kosovo was still part of Serbia, but has met with fierce resistance from local Serbs.
On Saturday, the EU said Kosovo had the right to remove the numbers but should allow a longer transition period. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but about 50,000 ethnic Serbs who live in the north refuse to recognize Pristina's authority.
Thursday's summit, hosted by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, will bring together the heads of government of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, as well as EU leaders, to sign agreements on the mutual recognition of documents on identity, university degrees and professional qualifications.
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