Serbia’s defense minister on Tuesday slammed a top US diplomat in the region for his stances, who recently called on Belgrade to choose between aligning itself with either Washington and Brussels or Moscow if it intends to secure European Union status.
Addressing Serbian news outlets, the minister, Aleksandar Vulin said comments by US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Hoyt Brian Yee represent "the greatest pressure against Serbia yet."
The "statement was not made by a friend or a person respecting Serbia, respecting our right to decide independently," Vulin said, calling Yee's remarks "very undiplomatic."
Yee, speaking at the Serbian Economic Summit in Belgrade late on Monday, said EU candidate countries should clearly demonstrate their desire to become members, and not seesaw between two sides.
Calling the US Serbia's partner on the country's path toward the EU membership, Yee said "You cannot sit on two chairs, especially if those chairs are too far apart."
Among the six Western Balkan countries aiming to join the EU — Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania — Serbia may be closest to securing membership. Still recovering from a decade of wars and economic turmoil in the 1990s, however, Serbia also maintains unusually close ties with Russia.
Yee expressed concerns that Serbia has turned only halfway toward the EU, and the other half toward Russia, adding "that countries should pick one side regardless of how difficult that might be."
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic's office said that during a meeting Tuesday, the US envoy expressed "perception that Serbia is with one foot on an EU path, and another in a union with Russia."
Vucic's office later issued a statement saying the president carefully listened to Yee's concerns and responded to his remarks "very directly."
On a related note, Russian Foreign Ministry also criticized Yee's comments and warned the US against "trying to enforce its hostile ideological stereotypes on others, undermining the foundation for international stability and cooperation in the Balkans and in Europe as a whole."
The ministry noted in a statement that many EU nations engage in mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia.
"No one should prevent Serbia from taking a similar approach proceeding from its national interests," the ministry said.