Serbia warns EU with Russia

Serbia warns EU with Russia

Serbia warns EU with Russia

A man casts his ballot at a polling station in Zvecan. The electoral commission says 99.7 percent of those who voted in the referendum said ‘no’ to the question of whether they would accept Kosovo’s government. AP photo

Serbia could turn toward Moscow if the European Union refuses to grant it candidate status and allow Russia to construct bases on its soil, the country’s deputy prime minister warned as Serbs in northern Kosovo rejected ethnic Albanian rule in a referendum.

“Europe is making a big mistake if Serbia does not get candidacy status in March,” Ivica Dacic told the Vecernje Novosti newspaper in an interview published Feb. 15.

If Brussels and Washington continue to keep Belgrade on the sidelines it “would be normal to expect that a political faction directed more toward Russia would come into power” in Serbia, he said.

Serbia will hold general elections this spring which will pit the pro-European ruling coalition against the ultranationalist opposition, which is more euro-skeptic and pro-Russia. “To make sure no one would have the idea to invite Russia to build a military base here, the EU and the United States must have a policy of impartiality toward us,” Dacic said.

“What would happen if a Russian military base was built in Serbia? Would that be a problem for the Americans? Certainly,” he said. The EU is set to decide in March on granting Serbia candidacy status but has insisted Belgrade must show progress in EU-brokered talks with Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Vote harming the state
Serbs in northern Kosovo last summer set up road blocks to defy the Kosovar government, clashing with NATO peacekeepers. Germany blocked Serbia’s EU candidacy bid after the clashes, demanding that Belgrade dismantle its institutions in Kosovo and urging the Serbs there to integrate into Kosovar society.

The Kosovo Serb electoral commission said 99.7 percent of those who voted in the two-day referendum said “no” to the question of whether they would accept Kosovo’s government. Many Kosovo Serbs fear that Belgrade will eventually abandon its claim to Kosovo, leaving them at the mercy of the ethnic Albanian government.

The vote has no legal weight and has been dismissed by Belgrade and Pristina, as well as the international community. Serbia’s top negotiator in talks with Kosovo, Borislav Stefanovic, reiterated yesterday that “the referendum will have no effect whatsoever.”

In all four Serb-dominated municipalities in northern Kosovo, where 75 percent of voters cast ballots out of the 35,500 eligible to vote, only “69 votes were with marked ‘yes,’” Ljubomir Radovic, a spokesman of the referendum commission told reporters after all the votes were counted.

Serbian President Boris Tadic said the vote was “harming the interests of the state,” while insisting Belgrade would never accept Kosovo’s independence. In Pristina, the Kosovar Parliament passed a motion declaring the referendum “invalid.” Out of a population of about 2 million, there are 120,000 ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, with 40,000 in the north on the border with Serbia and the rest in enclaves dotted around the territory.

Compiled from AP and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.