Aleksandar Mitic, OPINION
Serbia’s Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin is meeting in Brussels with the NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller to discuss further cooperation within the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme but his intention will certainly be to cement Belgrade’s commitment to military neutrality which excludes NATO membership. Serbia is implementing the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) within the PfP – which includes comprehensive cooperation – and is not willing to consider further integration into NATO.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has expressed his respect for Serbia’s position on military neutrality, which is due to almost non-existent support to the Alliance membership, as 9 out of 10 Serbs reject such an option. However, Brussels and Washington and are at odds with Belgrade over several key issues, such as Kosovo and Russia. NATO and the Pentagon have been pushing for the establishment of a Kosovo Albanian “army”, while Belgrade is firmly opposed to such a move which it deems illegal and a threat to fragile Balkan security. The two sides are also at odds over the fate of the Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Center in the southern Serbian city of Nis. The Center is an important center for rescue and natural disaster operations, but Western diplomats have put doubts into whether it could transform into a center for intelligence services – a speculation which has been vehemently denied by both Belgrade and Moscow.
Finally, Western officials have also been at odds with Belgrade over its military cooperation with Russia – with expected delivery of six MiG-29 fighter jets and the and Serbia’s participation in military exercises with Russia and Belarus, such as the joint anti-terrorist exercise Slavic Brotherhood 2017 held in June in Belarus. Serbia insists that its military cooperation with Russia is only a portion of cooperation it has with NATO countries. Despite differences, the Alliance and Serbia are set on a path of cautious co-operation, as long as Brussels fully respects Serbia’s decision to reject NATO membership.