Serbia must impose sanctions against Russia if it wants to join the European Union, the European Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn said.
"Serbia legally obliged, within the scope of negotiations about accession to the EU, to gradually align its position with the EU on complicated issues, such as sanctions against Russia. This is very important, and we expect Belgrade should abide by this obligation," Hahn said in an interview with Serbian newspaper "Evening News " prior to his visit to Belgrade.
According to the European official, no one denies the historical importance of relations between Serbia and Russia, but Serbia eyes joining the EU, declaring it a major strategic goal. "We expect that representatives of your government will continue to demonstrate commitment to the key strategic goal of joining the EU, both in its words and in its actions," said Hahn.
Relations between the West and Russia deteriorated sharply because of the situation in Ukraine. On March 16, a referendum was held in the Crimea, during which more than 96 percent of Crimean citizens voted in favor of accession to the Russian Federation. The EU and the US did not recognize the results of the vote. On March 17, the EU imposed a series of sanctions against Russian companies and banks. Afterwards, more sanctions were imposed on energy, finance, defense and oil sector. The European Union introduced the most recent package of restrictions on September 12.
Serbia has been a candidate for EU membership since March 2012. After Moscow imposed responsive sanctions against Europe, Brussels asked Belgrade to abandon the replacement of European agricultural products to the Russian market.
President of the Serbian People's Party Nenad Popovic, in an interview with Pravda.Ru, stated that Serbia would not fall under the thumb of the EU and will not impose sanctions against Russia.
"The EU has demanded Serbia should impose sanctions on Russia. Earlier, Serbian Prime Minister Alexander Vucic said that Serbia would not take such a step. Will Serbia succumb to EU's pressure?"
"No. Serbia has not imposed sanctions against Russia, and I am convinced that this will never happen. After all, Russia for Serbia is the closest nation, with whom we have strongest economic, cultural and family ties. Never before has Serbia been an enemy to Russia. We have always been friends. When Russia had hard times, Serbia was near, and Russia has always supported our country.
"Think about how many Russians died during the First World War fighting for the liberation of Serbia. Think about Tsar Nicholas II, who risked his life and declared war on Austria-Hungary only to help the Serbs. During the Second World War, the Red Army liberated Belgrade. This year, we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade and 100 years since the beginning of the First World War.
"I think that Serbia does not have and will not have the government that would impose sanctions against Russia. The Serbian people would consider this betrayal."
"What kind of leverage do European officials have?"
"They may suspend Serbia's entry into the EU. Perhaps this is the only level of influence that they have. But any government should think about its people and their interests in the first place.
"Now, when there are sanctions between Russia and the European Union, there is a great chance for the Serbian agricultural sector, because Russia did not impose sanctions on Serbia. Serbian agricultural producers increased supplies of their products to Russia by 60 percent in the last six months. This is a great step for the Serbian economy. In a difficult economic situation, in which Serbia remains, this is one of the rare chances that Serbia will not dare to miss."