BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Russia’s foreign minister on Wednesday criticized Western policies toward his country, blasting the European Union for failing to maintain good relations with Moscow despite the divisions over Ukraine and many other issues.
Sergey Lavrov said during a visit to Slovenia that being a member of NATO or the EU “does not mean it is necessary to avoid contacts with states that are not included in those international organizations,” like Russia.
“I think it’s absolutely detrimental to push a false choice on any country, which suggests that well, you go either West or East,” he said. “Regrettably, some of our counterparts in the West proceed from precisely this logic when they communicate with countries in Western Balkans, and not only there.”
Lavrov visited EU member Slovenia before proceeding to Serbia, an EU hopeful that remains a rare ally of Moscow in the region where Russia wants to maintain its traditional influence.
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While Slovenia joined Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, Serbia has refused to do so despite EU demands. There have been mounting fears in the West that Russia has been using Serbia to foment tensions in the Balkans by arming its ally with warplanes and tanks while working to destabilize neighboring Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia.
“Neither Russia nor Serbia are imposing anything on each other,” Lavrov said at a joint news conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, adding that “Serbia is determined to keep its neutral status, which is a factor of stability in the Balkans.”
Vucic said that Serbia’s goal is to become an EU member, but added: “I want to be clear, Serbia will never impose sanctions against the Russian Federation.”
In a joint opinion piece with Serbia Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, Lavrov wrote that policies of “‘either with us or against us’ have fueled mistrust and instability on the European continent.”
The two officials pledged to further enhance the “strategic partnership,” saying Serbia-Russia cooperation is based on “mutual respect by the other side’s choices and taking into account their interests.”
Serbia has said it wants to join the EU while maintaining close ties with Moscow, in a balancing act that some analysts believe is not sustainable as the country moves closer to the bloc.
Dusan Stojanovic contributed to this report.