Vladimir Putin may have alienated one of the last European countries to remain neutral in the war as Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic admitted he is “aware that some of our weapons may end up in Ukraine”. The Serbian leader said he had no intention of stopping the unofficial supply of weapons to Kyiv as he looks to pacify the Western countries evermore bound to the defeat of Russia in Ukraine.
According to three Western diplomats in the region, the channel through which Serbian munitions are delivered to the Ukrainian front has been a decisive factor in the marked change since the US, NATO and the EU supported Serbia during the recent tensions in Kosovo.
Aleksandar Vucic has traditionally supported Moscow and has received visits from Russia in the 15 months since their full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
But the Serbian president appears to have changed his stance, saying he was aware of the US government’s report that Serbian ammunition was entering Ukraine through intermediaries, adding that he had no intention of preventing it.
“Is it possible that this is happening? I have no doubt that it can happen. What is the alternative for us? Not to make them? Not to sell them?” Vucich told the Financial Times.
He said that while he was trying to act “neutrally” over the conflict, he was not a “fool” and was “aware that some of the weapons may end up in Ukraine”.
He acknowledged that he was walking a fine line between Moscow and Western powers, but said he would not help Russia’s military efforts.
“We have joined all UN resolutions,” he said, referring to UN statements condemning Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“We join the ban on the re-export of, for example, dual-use technologies in drones… We will not be a hub for the re-export of anything to Russia.”
He added that while he was still receiving Russian visitors, he had not been in contact with the Kremlin for over a year and had ceased to carry out his quarterly conversations with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. “This has never happened before,” he said.
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While in Moldova for a summit of the European Political Community last week, the Serbian President met with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.
In an Instagram post picturing the two leaders together, along with the Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bethel, Mr Vucic said he had a “short and good conversation” with the Ukrainian President.
The move was picked up by Russian state media, who were quick to reassure their readers that Serbia was not pivoting towards the West and away from Vladimir Putin.
While Mr Vucic did confirm the meeting had not led to a change in the Serbian opposition to Russian sanctions, that he met with Mr Zelensky represented a further distancing from Putin.
When violence broke out in northern Kosovo, which borders Serbia and is made up of majority ethnic-Serbs, at the end of last month, the US opted to accuse the Kosovan government of “sharply and unnecessarily escalating tensions”.
Roughly 4,000 NATO soldiers are stationed in northern Kosovo as peacemakers and Mr Vucic accused Pristina of trying to “bring about a conflict between the Serbs and Nato”.
Critics have suggested that Mr Vucic’s softened stance to Ukraine is an attempt to win favour with NATO over their domestic crisis, a move that, if true, appears to be working.
At the time, the US dismissed accusations by Kosovo prime minister Albin Kurti that the protesters responsible for harming the NATO peacekeepers were “a bunch of extremists under the direction of official Belgrade”, instead choosing to blame Kosovo.