Serbia has signed a new three-year deal with Russia to supply Serbians with natural gas as other European nations and the United States imposed sanctions on Russian oil and gas amid the war in Ukraine.
The deal was revealed in a Kremlin readout of a call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
“It was agreed, in particular, that Russia will continue to supply natural gas to Serbia without interruption,” the Kremlin statement reads.
Putin and Vucic also discussed matters of bilateral relations “including steps to expand mutually beneficial trade and economic cooperation.”
The Kremlin said that the two leaders also discussed the war in Ukraine. Serbia backed the United Nations in condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine but has not backed sanctions on Russia.
“The mutual disposition to consistently strengthen the strategic partnership between Russia and Serbia based on traditionally close ties between the peoples of the two countries was reaffirmed,” the Kremlin said.
Vucic said, speaking to reporters afterward, that he told Putin on the call that Serbia wants peace established in Ukraine “as soon as possible.”
Vucic said in a statement to Facebook that “a difficult fall and winter is waiting” for Serbians because of the global food and energy crises.
“It is important to show a true domestic relationship and care for citizens, so that they know that they can rely on their country,” Vucic said.
“It is crucial for us to provide sufficient amounts of energy, and we will start building new warehouses for diesel and crude oil, which will take a year and a half.”
Serbia has long sought membership in the European Union and first submitted an application in 2009 with ascension talks beginning in 2014.
However, those talks stalled because of ongoing tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, which declared itself independent from Serbia in 2008. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state but regards it as an autonomous province.
Kosovo itself is seeking to join the NATO alliance amid the war in Ukraine, seeing Russia as a threat to its security because the country has backed Serbia amid the Serbia-Kosovo tensions.
The number of Serbians against joining the EU has now passed the number of those who back becoming a member, according to an Ipsos poll reported by the newspaper Blic in April.
The decision to continue receiving energy from Russia could damage Serbia’s chances to ultimately join the EU while possibly bolstering Kosovo’s slim bid to join NATO, as four countries in the alliance — Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia — do not recognize it as an independent nation.
After submitting its bid to join NATO, Kosovo would need to be approved into the alliance by all 30 members requiring those four nations to recognize it as an independent nation.
Serbia’s decision came after President Joe Biden on Friday signed a proclamation suspending tariffs on steel from Ukraine for one year amid the Russian invasion, but he did not amend tariffs on steel products.