Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov unable to fly to Serbia

The foreign minister of Russia Sergei Lavrov canceled his visit to Serbia and justified it by the fact Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Montenegro closed their airspace to Russian planes. The visit was unlikely since the beginning.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia Foreign Minister
Sergei Lavrov, Russia Foreign Minister

On Friday, Russian spokesperson Maria Zakharova announced the minister of Foreign affairs Sergei Lavrov would visit Serbia on June 6 and 7. He was supposed to meet the president Aleksandr Vucic and Porphyre, the patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The Russian official was expected in Serbia to discuss a 3-year gas contract between the countries.

But Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Montenegro, three neighboring countries of Serbia, closed their airspace to Mr. Lavrov making the trip impossible, Russia justified.

The foreign ministry of Russia announced the trip was canceled on Sunday night and denounced “another closed channel of communication,” from Western countries. “Our diplomacy has yet to master teleportation,” a senior foreign ministry source told Interfax, a Russian news agency.

The travel was however very unlikely since the beginning. Serbian President Mr. Vučić earlier last week stated that he was not sure that the meeting would take place at all. Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić said on Sunday the situation was “very complicated” and that the president had to deal with the logistics of the visit himself.

Serbia is highly dependent on Russian gas and on May 29 announced it managed to secure a verbal agreement with Russia on the supply of 2.2 billion cubic meters of gas over the next three years at a favorable price indexed on oil prices.

Serbia has close ties with Russia and is one of the only countries in Europe not to have banned its airspace to Russian aircrafts. Air Serbia still has direct flights to Moscow.

The Kremlin supports Belgrade’s policy of not recognizing the independence of Kosovo at the United Nations. At the beginning of March, thousands of pro-Russian Serbs marched in Belgrade with Russian flags in support of the invasion of Ukraine.

Serbia voted for the UN resolution condemning Russia’s invasion but refused to join European Union sanctions on Russia. “We do not want to choose sides in this war,” justified the president of Serbia. Yet, Serbia became a candidate to become a member of the EU in 2012 and was expected to join the Union in 2025, which would impose to align with the foreign policy of other member states.

The EU has imposed a flight ban on Russian planes since the end of February. Sergei Lavrov is also personally banned as close support to Vladimir Putin.

Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria are three EU members sharing borders with Serbia in the east and the north of the country. Romania, Bulgaria, Montenegro and North Macedonia, which both have borders with Serbia in the south of the country, as well as Albania which shares borders with Kosovo, are part of NATO.

Moreover, North Macedonia at the end of February decided to align with the recommendations of the EU to introduce a ban on entry into its airspace for airlines from the Russian Federation. It also aligned with all EU sanctions issued since the invasion of Ukraine.

In Montenegro, opinion is divided on sanctions as Serbia’s ethnic population is traditionally sympathetic to Russia. Despite having approved the sanctions recommended by the EU, the government of Montenegro stalled implementing them for weeks. Montenegro has an unstable political situation and has yet to impose all the package sanctions. However, it has closed its airspace for Russian air companies and planes.

None of the three ministries of Foreign affairs commented on the situation.

The cancellation of Mr. Lavrov visit also comes at a time when the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was scheduled to arrive in Serbia three days after the Russian official.

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