President: We would lose friends by taking sides

Tomislav Nikolić says he wishes to see an end to hostilities in Ukraine, "not only because of Serbia's specific position - but for the sake of people there."

Source: Tanjug
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"If they reach an agreement, it will be for the good of the people. If not, then it will be bad for the people, people in eastern Ukraine will suffer, it's obvious. I had a chance how people suffer on the example of the former Yugoslavia and what it's like when big (powers) get involved and start deciding alone on someone's fate."

In an interview on Wednesday for the Tanjug news agency ahead going on his summer vacation, the president said he was convinced that Serbia, when it comes to the Ukrainian crisis, must continue to insist on international law and justice, "which clearly means that Serbia recognizes Ukraine within the borders it has as a UN member - and seek the same for itself."

"If Serbia determined its position based on whom it likes, who knows how it would behave in any, including this crisis, but Serbia determines its position based on international law and according to its own interests, and our interest is not to one day lose Russia as our protector in the UN Security Council, but our interest is also not to be in dispute with the EU," Nikolić said.

Adding that "pressures probably exist," the president said he "personally was not told a single word" to that effect by anyone, and was not aware that others were coming under pressure over Serbia's policy. Nikolić stated that "in this situation everyone should have in front of them the fate of Serbia, its Constitution, and primarily their spoken words and the wishes of citizens of Serbia."

And these wishes, the president said, "are clear: just as we must not recognize Kosovo, so we must not recognize Crimea's independence or it joining the Russian Federation."

Noting that in 1999, NATO bombed Serbia "for alleged excessive use of force, although it did not fire a single shot in an attempt to establish control over its territory," Nikolić added that in Ukraine other rules apply - where the army has gone to war against its own citizens, "while some countries are bombing other countries and what's more, receive support for it."

Because of these circumstances Nikolić warned that anyone who would put Serbia in a position to take sides would simultaneously put it in a position to lose "half of our friends in the world."

"Serbia is aware that by opting for one of the parties in the conflict it would lose one of two precious friends, the European Union or the Russian Federation, and thus, our position should be respected in Moscow and in Brussels," said the president.

Announcing a very dynamic diplomatic activity in the near future, Nikolić said that Russian President Vladimir Putin should arrive in Belgrade in October, and senior officials from China should come to attend the ceremony of opening a bridge over the Danube in Belgrade, built by Chinese companies in a project funded by a Chinese loan.

These two visits would be proof that Serbia is open to the world, Nikolić said.

The Serbian president said that he had visited all the countries in the neighborhood the year before and it was now time for the heads of those states to reciprocate a visit.

“With the exception of Slovenia and Croatia, which should be visited, we have visited all the others,” said Nikolić, announced his attending the next meeting of the UN General Assembly.

Also, Serbia will probably be visited by the president of Austria, as part of marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, he said.

"It is planned that delegations of the two countries pay tribute to the victims together, probably in the church in Lazarevac, western Serbia, where thousands of Serbian and Austria-Hungary soldiers were buried together," he said.

“This year should be spent in symbolically marking friendship and separating from hostilities,” said Nikolić.

Stating that he "did everything within his purview to ensure the greatest possible assistance to the country in the wake of the floods," Nikolić said he would continue to work to attract investors.

In this sense, he said he was confident that Russia and the EU, because of their mutual interest, will have to agree on South Stream, and that Serbia, as a transit and hub country on the pipeline's route, can only benefit from this project.

"The EU will certainly have to negotiate with Russia about whether South Stream could be some sort of precedent, as Britain was, or must completely conform to the rules of the European Union. And Russia must consider whether her interest to sell gas via South Stream to seven or eight more countries is more important than achieving a monopoly on the pipeline," he was quoted as saying.

"Serbia therefore believes there is no reason for concern when it comes to the benefits from South Stream, but there is reason to worry about the current situation in which the transit of Russian gas via Hungary is expensive," he added.

"By temporarily abandoning the project Bulgaria is, with every right, protecting its interest in the EU, but Serbia, meanwhile, in anticipation of an agreement between Brussels and Moscow, can begin construction works with funding from Russia," Nikolić stated, and added:

"We have agreed to build a gas pipeline through Serbia and wait for Bulgaria to join, because later there will be much less time than we have today, and I think we could, by the end of December, build at least 30 kilometers of the pipeline through Serbia."

According to him, this work will mostly be done by construction companies from Serbia, which will directly, without intermediaries, make business deals with the South Stream company.

"We are, therefore, getting a completely free investment that provides us with energy security and allows us to charge for gas transit even from such developed countries as Austria and Italy," concluded Nikolić.

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