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29/08/2016

Serbian army to take part in Moscow parade

Global Europe

Serbian army to take part in Moscow parade

Serbian troops parade in front of Vladmir Putin in Belgrade. WWII victory celebrations, October 2014.

[Marko Vucicevic/Flickr]

Serbia will take part in the 9 May Victory Day Parade in Moscow, marking the 70th anniversary of the end of WW II. Serbian officials are reported to be saying that this does not reflect Serbia’s attitude toward European integration, and its obligations at the helm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). EurActiv Serbia reports.

Celebrating the victory against Nazism, Serbia will be represented by President Tomislav Nikoli?, who also made the decision to include members of the Serbian Armed Forces in the procession across Red Square.

According to Belgrade, its participation in the parade is an event of historical importance, as it contributed greatly to the victory against fascism, along with the USSR.

However, that decision has reignited the debate on the foreign policy priorities of Serbia as a country striving for EU membership, and on its position in the context of the Ukraine crisis.

The matter of Serbian soldiers’ participation in the parade is turning out to be particularly sensitive.

>>Read: Serbia gives Putin imperial welcome

According to Blic, the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had recommended to Nikoli? that the Serbian army not be involved in the ceremony and, if the state leadership did decide to go, to include WWII veterans instead.

As the supreme commander of the armed forces, Nikoli? decided on 6 April to have Serbian soldiers take part in the event. Seventy-five members of the Serbian Armed Forces have departed for the parade, most of them from the elite Guard unit.

At the same time, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Da?i? will attend a ceremony marking Victory Day in Kyiv, on 9 May.

Belgrade media reported that a Serbian army marching band will also participate in a parade of military bands, which will be taking place in the Ukrainian capital on the occasion of Remembrance and Reconciliation Day.

Serbia supports the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, but maintains strong political and economic ties with Russia. Belgrade has not joined the sanctions the EU imposed on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.

No Formal Objections from Brussels

Although there have been no official objections from the EU, criticism of Nikoli?’s decision could be heard in Brussels.

On 7 April, EU Delegation to Serbia Head Michael Davenport said that Serbia decided which gatherings to attend, and how. “This decision is a national decision. It is up to Serbia to determine what gatherings to attend and in what way, including the parade in Moscow,” Davenport told reporters.

However, Eduard Kukan, the head of the parliamentary group for Serbia in the European Parliament, said on 7 April that the Serbian president’s decision was contrary to the statements on the country’s commitment to the EU integration process. In a press release, Kukan also said that “in the current situation, such a decision becomes an important political gesture”.

On 8 April, Foreign Minister Ivica Da?i? said that Serbian officials had not received “information” from the EU that the Serbian army should not take part in the parade.

>>Read: West frowns at Belgrade’s planned Putin parade

“This does not affect our attitude toward European integration, the obligations and duties we have as the chair of the OSCE,” Da?i? said. “Nor does it have anything to do with who we are inclined towards. We are inclined towards celebrating the victory against fascism. We gave many human lives for that.”

Certain analysts have said that although it will not take any specific steps against Serbia, the EU will not look kindly upon its participation in the Moscow event.

Relations with the US

In the meantime, Vice President Joseph Biden has invited Prime Minister Aleksandar Vu?i?, the most powerful politician in Serbia, to visit the US.

According to announcements, the trip will take place in late May or early June. Biden will likely support Vu?i? and his government, but will also make clear his opinion on Serbia’s relationship with Russia, and what demands the US has in that respect.

The fact that Moscow is inviting Nikoli?, while Washington is inviting Vu?i?, fits the usual perception of the leading Serbian politicians’ closeness to one of the leading world powers. However, it should not be interpreted as a sign of a more serious rift.

Vu?i?’s influence is so dominant that even if he wanted to express more firm support for Moscow, Nikoli? could not do so without the Serbian prime minister’s backing. Joining the Russian camp is possible only if the decision is backed by the government.

In his statements, Vu?i? strongly insists on Serbia’s European path, which is also supported by Nikoli?, albeit with less enthusiasm.