"The relations between Russia and Serbia are based on a long-standing tradition, mutual respect, and variegated and useful collaboration. They are not in any way aimed against anyone's interests, and can be an issue only for those who would like to harm our countries while pursuing their own goals," Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in an exclusive interview with Kurir.
Serbia was expected to impose sanctions against Russia, as the members states of the EU did. This hasn't happened yet, and it is unlikely it will. Still, it is often suggested that our country should align its foreign policy with the EU foreign policy. What is your take on this?
"The sanctions that the European Union has imposed against Russia are illegal. Joining those who have imposed them would mean violating the international law. Therefore, this isn't about how Russia is treated, but about adherence to the law. It is also important to emphasize that EU membership candidates are not obligated to unconditionally align their foreign policies with the Brussels guidelines. It's a free interpretation utilized to additionally 'discipline' candidate countries. There are many examples. The claim that absolute subordination to the EU administrators' instructions would allegedly accelerate the process leading to full membership is, as the expression goes, 'of the devil'. You just need to take a look at Albania or Montenegro, who don't benefit from it at all. The relations within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) are built based on entirely different principles – they are quite distinct from Brussels' command and administer sort of policy towards the EU member states. I must add here that on 10 July, the free trade agreement between Serbia and the EAEU states – Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan – will come into effect. This document opens up new and great possibilities."
The West takes issue with the presence of Russia and China in the Balkans, saying that efforts should be made to reduce the influence of these two states in the region. One of the recent non-papers on the Western Balkans is concerned with this topic as well. Do you think they will manage to accomplish this?
"That approach does not just reflect the West's neocolonial ideology, geared towards subjugating the Balkan countries and tapping into their resources. There are examples here as well, you can take a close look at what is happening in the neighbouring countries. This is also about complete inability to compete under the same terms. As soon as the West realizes that it's lagging behind in a fair competition, it pushes the 'sanctions button'. Russia collaborates with Serbia under equitable terms, strengthening the production capacities, the energy sector, and the infrastructure of your country, and creates the conditions for development to the benefit of all the citizens. Our aim was never to act to the detriment of others, and we call on no one to do so. As far as we can see, the Chinese investments contribute to Serbia's national economy too. At the end of the day, the choice of partners is unquestionably the business of the Serbian people."
You are among the officials who often bring up the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999. You have asked the West to apologize to our country for that. Recently, the Czech president Miloš Zeman apologized for the 1999 bombing. Do you think there will be more apologies, or that the Western powers will admit to making a mistake in deciding to bomb Serbia?
"That is up to their conscience. The task that people who are familiar with history have is to remember and not allow this period to sink into oblivion. The NATO aggression against your country in 1999 resulted in many casualties. Many innocent people were killed, including children. No one was ever held to account for that. It's sad that only rarely are condolences offered by some Western politicians."
Has the EU proven to be a subpar mediator in the dialogue on Kosovo between Belgrade and Priština?
"Let us recall that the so-called Brussels Agreement was made in 2013. Belgrade has fulfilled its commitments, while Priština refuses to ensure the key provision – the forming of the Community of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo, which would have broad administrative and executive powers. Moreover, the current Kosovo 'authorities' do not wish to even consider the matter. Brussels, on the other hand, cannot do anything about it, confining its actions to general calls, without any concrete steps to force Albanians to honour their commitments. If the agreed-upon solutions are so openly flouted and the EU doesn't have the strength to weigh in on this, then what sort of a mediator has it been?"
Could Russia get actively involved in this dialogue, and on what conditions?
"We don't see the point in thinking in abstract terms about the hypothetical conditions for Russia's involvement in the negotiation process. The dialogue was launched in line with the UN General Assembly Resolution, which Belgrade asked us to support. That's what we did."
What does the 'independent Kosovo' look like to you now? How would you describe it?
"It's a black hole of Europe, where organized crime and corruption flourish, extremist and terrorist cells engage in recruiting people, an atmosphere of national and religious hatred and intolerance is fostered, and the ideology of justifying the mass ethnic cleansing of the non-Albanian population is imposed. Furthermore, the new Kosovo 'authorities', headed by Mr Kurti, advocate open political extremism. That's the result of the NATO aggression and the politics of the West. The West's 'Kosovo' project has failed. Regardless of the enormous amount of money funnelled into it and the media and political attention, it has failed completely. I remember that 10 years ago, CNN kept airing the commercial 'Kosovo is a land of opportunity'. But Kosovo still isn't a state and there is no 'opportunity' there. On the contrary, during this period Kosovo has turned into the European continent's problem."