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28.04.2022.

Kovacic Interview to Telegraf

"What have we received from the West and what from Russia? Let Serbia do its thing and more importantly, keep pushing for the Open Balkans"

  • Interviewed by Marija Petrovic, Telegraf RS
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  • "Let Serbia do its thing and more importantly, keep pushing for the Open Balkans"

The founder and president of East-West Bridge Jovan Kovacic noted on the occasion of the arrival of senior American officials in Belgrade that it is safe to say that Serbia is in the most politically challenging situation, but that the Americans will not insist that Serbia impose sanctions on Russia, like some in Europe do, but, in his opinion, the pressure on Belgrade "not sit on two chairs" will grow.

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and will later have a meeting with Prime Minister Ana Brnabić. She is accompanied by the US special envoy Gabriel Escobar. The visit comes only days after a group of US senators were in Belgrade.

Asked whether Serbia is in the most politically challenging situation in the last 10 years, Kovacic told Telegraf.rs "certainly" and added that the war in Ukraine has changed a lot and given extra weight to every next step of Serbia, but also the EU and USA.

- Now everything is seen with completely different eyes, and it is normal that the situation is incomparably more serious, notwithstanding the fact that it can be a great opportunity for us - Kovačić believes.

He further explains that Serbia can now decide where its future lies and in which direction it should go to gain the most benefit.

- Russia did the same in the 90's, so there is nothing to it. There is not much love between nations and peoples, but only interest. At this moment, the situation for us, as far as America is concerned, has never been better in the last 20 years or so. The very frequency of the visits by American officials proves a lot - how much interest there is in the region, and in Belgrade, and in the role of Belgrade. Compare for yourself what it all looked like 20 years ago and you will see a sharp upward trajectory. That chart goes straight up so that Serbia is recognized as the main "driver" of all changes and an anchor for the security and stability of the entire region – Kovacic said.

The US Embassy said that the topics of talks with Serbian officials would be the improvement of European integration, regional stability, and energy diversification, and when asked if we could interpret that as imposing sanctions on Russia, Kovacic said he thought Americans would not insist as much some in Europe do.

- It is much more important for the Americans to have stability here, and they are realistic, because they understand well that our sanctions against Russia will not hurt Moscow much, it would hurt us much more. I am only referring to economic aspects, political ones are a different story - said Kovacic.

As he says, as far as he is informed, sanctions are not the focal issue, but the issue of sitting on two chairs which does appear to be one and the same thing, but not quite - is.

- As the whole situation escalates, so will the pressure grow for Serbia to stop sitting on two chairs - he said.

Asked what Serbia will get if it chooses the American or European chair, Kovacic invites everyone to compare what they have received so far from the United States and the Union, and what from Russia.

- Well, people, so let's do some comparing! Let’s forget our emotional relationships. Just count what we have received from the Americans, the EU in the last 20 years, how much non-refundable money or aid, grants, and compare that with what we have received from Russia? We have received so much more from the EU, that is what our people live on here, and even those who, unfortunately, are leaving the country, I do not see them running to Moscow but going West instead. There must be a reason. I simply don't understand those who don't see that - Kovacic is clear.

Therefore, we do not have many choices at this moment, he added.

- Just as Russia chose its interest at a certain historical moment and went to the side where it did. And we forgave that (voted for the imposition of sanctions on Yugoslavia), so Russia will probably forgive us if we leave it - says Kovacic.

Recently, Marija Zaharova said that Russia notes the statements by Serbian politicians about the pressure exerted on them, as well as that Russia is our friend. - Maybe we have different views on friendship. We always support our friends in difficult moments - she said, which part of the public interpreted as a kind of "rap on the knuckles" from Russia.

When asked how such statements from Moscow go under the radar, but not those from the EU, due to which support for European integration is falling, Kovacic answered that, in his opinion, pro-Russian forces are much better organized, and on the other hand, conditionally speaking the EU bears some of the blame because its messages could be more skillful and better.

As he says, EU is quite clear when talking about what we need to do, but the problem starts when we come to the response what we shall get in return, then the messages wildly differ.

- One of the most interesting messages was from Viola von Cramon, with whom I do not agree in 99% of cases, but she said that the EU will always know how to reward those who came to the rescue at a given critical moment - said Kovacic. When asked does this also applies to energy diversification, he answered: "And that".

Asked to comment on Emanuel Macron's victory in the French presidential election and his change of rhetoric from no enlargement to clear positive signals about Serbia, Kovacic said that "Ukraine has done its part" there as well, because, as he says, the EU stakeholders are now aware that things can change overnight.

- We all knew that it was just a matter of time before Russia would invade Ukraine, so now the whole of Europe is in disbalance. In this whole story, we must stick to our goal of joining the EU for ourselves, so we can implement certain reforms, and pass certain systemic laws that will make this country even more modern and attractive for investment. We have already made a big step forward - Kovacic noticed.

In that sense, he mentioned Belgrade’s skyline. - My friends who come can't believe it, neither can I, when I start counting all the cranes in Belgrade, a lot is happening, but it could be even better and attract even more investments - said Kovacic.

In any case, that is the only way forward, Kovacic is clear, but he also notes that it is a valid question of what the EU will look like when we become a member, because, he noted, the EU is facing big problems.

- Let Serbia do its own thing and what is very important is we keep pushing for the Open Balkans because that way we are actually practicing joining the EU - Kovačić concludes.

At the end of the conversation, Kovacic asked those who say that Serbia will remain without Russia's support in the UN Security Council regarding Kosovo if it imposes sanctions, - why are they neglecting the flaunted “steel friendship” with China?