"Serbia must recognize Kosovo to join NATO"

BELGRADE -- Russian Permanent Representative to NATO Dmitry Rogozin says Serbia will not join NATO until it has recognized the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo.

Dmitry Rogozin (file)
Dmitry Rogozin (file)

"I would like to stress that, in order to join NATO, Belgrade first needs to recognize the independence of Kosovo. One without the other is impossible. Moscow is worried that Serbia could change its position on Kosovo in order to join NATO, and thus bring Russia into an awkward and unpleasant situation," Rogozin stressed.

He said that Serbia cannot count on obtaining the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP), since joining NATO is impossible due to the current situation with Kosovo.

"The NATO Statute forbids membership to those countries that have territorial disputes. However, this does not prevent a part of Serbia's public opinion and elite to launch discussions about the membership with an enviable perseverance," Rogozin stated in an interview for the Belgrade-based daily Politika.

Rogozin said that Russia does not oppose Serbia's closer ties with NATO, but rather the country's NATO membership.

Russia does not welcome any NATO enlargement to the East and Southeast of Europe, Rogozin stressed.

"In the end, Serbs are masters of their own destiny, and for that reason, others will treat Serbs in the way in which they behave. In the western world, only the strong and self-assured are appreciated, while those who are weak and liable to treason are only spurred to more weakness and treason, to later be forgotten and discarded into the trash like a toy they grew bored with," warned the Russian diplomat.

Asked about the withdrawal of the Russian contingent from Kosovo, Rogozin said that was related to the handover of administration tasks from military to civilian authorities and police, and that the military mission was over.

"After the unilateral proclamation of independence of the province, the National Serb Council of Kosovo asked Russia to sent its military contingent back in order to protect the Serb population, but the request itself was not enough for anything to happen on that issue, since the mission in Kosovo is realized by the KFOR forces under NATO command," Rogozin said.

"To conduct a parallel peace mission in Kosovo, conflicting with NATO, would be an unnecessary risk for Russia. It is confusing and unfair that NATO in effect violated the neutrality principle of the UN mandate by siding with (ethnic) Albanians. And they only started to back down after our fierce reaction," said the Russian envoy to NATO.

Russia is ready to help her Serb brothers, Rogozin continued, but Russians "cannot be more Serb than Serbs themselves". Therefore, "before doing anything", Moscow wishes to understand the position of official Belgrade - and whether official Belgrade has a stance at all.

"You must know that we in Russia often think about the destiny of Orthodox Serbia that suffered many times, and history knows how much my state and the Russian nation sacrificed in order to help the Serb nation. But now you and only you must determine your destiny. We will, as always, give your our full support," Rogozin concluded.