BELGRADE (Serbia) -- Russia and Serbia have confirmed Monday that Russia will not be visiting the Balkan country as planned. Moscow accused the West of blocking the visit.
This announcement was made after reports that Serbia's neighbours -- Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and Montenegro -- had refused permission for Sergey Lavrov’s plane to fly through their airspace in order to reach Serbia.
Lavrov stated Monday that "an unimaginable thing has occurred." "A sovereign state was denied the right to pursue foreign policy. "The international activities of Serbia following the Russian track were blocked."
Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia's President, met earlier Monday with Russia's Ambassador to Serbia. He informed him that Lavrov couldn’t come because Russia denied the necessary flyover permissions. A statement was issued following the meeting.
Vucic expressed "dissatisfaction” over "circumstances" which prevented his visit, but added that "despite everything, Serbia will retain independence and autonomy in the political decision-making process."
Although Serbia is still seeking membership in the European Union, it has maintained friendly relations with Russia despite the invasion of Ukraine and refusing to accept Western sanctions against Moscow. Serbians consider Russia a close ally. Moscow has supported Serbia's efforts to keep its claim on Kosovo.
Lavrov blamed NATO nations for the flight ban -- Montenegro and North Macedonia all belong to NATO. He also noted that this action shows that Russia's main goal in expanding the alliance is to isolate Russia.
Lavrov will fly to Turkey on Wednesday. He can fly over the Black Sea directly. Turkey is trying to maintain good relations with Russia and Ukraine, while at the same time supporting international mediation efforts in this crisis.
According to the Russian foreign minister, the West has violated the principle of freedom of choice in foreign policy partners.
He stated that Serbia, from the Western perspective, must not have any choice or freedom when choosing its partners. "The West clearly shows it will use all base means to exert pressure," he said.
Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson, deplored the "hostile actions" but stated that this "wouldn't significantly hinder the continuation of our country’s contacts with friendly nations like Serbia."
Aleksandar Vulin, Serbia's prorussian Interior Minister, expressed regret that a "great friend" of Serbia couldn't attend Belgrade. Vulin stated that Serbia is proud that it does not participate in anti-Russian hysteria and that the countries that are (part) of it will be embarrassed.
Serbia is also almost entirely dependent on Russian gas. Vucic spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone recently to discuss a new agreement on gas supplies over the next three-years.
Slobodan Stupar, an analyst, described Lavrov’s attempt to visit Belgrade as a "show", which would have been used to denigrate the West by Moscow.
According to Stupar, "I believe that the Russians invited themselves" in Serbia, Stupar said to The Associated Press. They are extremely isolated. ... They now have the ability to say that Europe and the rest of the world are not democratic.
Stupar stated that Vucic is "inbetween" Russia and the West.
Stupar stated, "This is the most horrible possible situation one could imagine."
The German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will be visiting the region later in this week.