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Serbian foreign minister downplays Lavrov deal amid criticism

Serbia’s foreign minister on Sunday sought to downplay the importance of a deal with Russia after the Balkan state, which wants to join the European Union, was criticized for signing it.

Nikola Selaković signed the agreement on Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.

The agreement, called the Consultation Plan, should define relations between the two foreign ministries for 2023 and 2024.

Most Western delegations avoided Russia’s top diplomat during the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Selaković told a press conference on Sunday that the agreement was “technical” and concerned bilateral relations, but not security issues. Serbia has been signing similar documents with Russia since 1996, Selaković insisted.

“The government could have rejected such a plan but there is nothing contentious in that,” he added. “He is criticized by those who have not seen him.”

The signing of the document in New York marks the first agreement of any kind that the two countries have signed since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February.

MEPs call Selaković’s decision ‘a blow’ to Serbia’s European path

Serbia is officially a candidate for EU membership, but the government has good relations with Russia and China.

It is also one of the few European countries – including Bosnia, Moldova and Belarus – that have not followed the EU’s lead in placing Russia under sanctions for its war in Ukraine.

However, Belgrade voted three times for UN resolutions condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and suspended it from the UN’s top human rights body.

News of the deal drew heavy criticism from the pro-EU opposition in the country and some European politicians.

A member of the European Parliament from Germany’s Greens, Viola von Cramon, suggested the possible suspension of EU accession talks with Serbia.

“This is a serious outrage,” von Cramon said on Twitter. “In the midst of a raging war, (the Foreign Ministry of) Serbia signs the plan for future collaboration with the aggressor.”

Von Cramon added that “perhaps this is just a signal for us to freeze EU accession negotiations because EU entry does not go through Moscow.”

Another MEP, Vladimir Bilčik from Slovakia, described the agreement with Russia as a “death blow” for the accession process in the Western Balkans.

Bilčik, a member of the EPP group in the European Parliament, is also rapporteur for Serbia, whose task is to assess the European Commission’s annual report on the country’s progress towards full membership and present it to parliament for adoption.

The Serbian government is in technical mandate after the last elections in April.

Current Prime Minister Ana Brnabić has been given the green light by President Aleksandar Vučić to continue in her role, and she is expected to appoint the new cabinet soon.

However, it is unclear whether Selaković will retain his post as foreign minister or remain in government.

euronews Gt

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