n an exclusive interview with the Voice of Russia Serbia’s President-elect Tomislav Nikolic, now on a visit to Moscow, discussed Russia-EU relations, Kosovo and the work done by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
Who are the senior Russian officials you are going to meet here in Moscow, and what are you going to discuss?
I am here as a guest of the United Russia party. I have stepped down as the chairman of the Serbian Progressive Party, but the decision will take effect only after I am back in Belgrade. I am in Moscow to attend the United Russia congress and as Serbian President. Right after my inauguration I will arrange an official visit here to discuss bilateral cooperation issues already in the capacity of a full-fledged President.
Can we expect a new stage in bilateral relations with your election and what are your priorities in developing a mutually-rewarding partnership between our two countries?
Yes, Russia has all along been a major partner, but my election victory is also a victory for those who said that we need to cooperate with Russia on a level we have so far been cooperating with the EU.
Our nations have a history of mutual affection, historical affinity, common religion and language, but we also need closer economic ties our people can benefit from. Serbia can supply Russia with agricultural produce and manufactured goods. Russia, for its part, can help us by building hydros, oil refineries and major industrial facilities. It can also provide us with energy resources we can pay for with money and goods. Russia needs Serbia even as an EU member, as a trusty partner in the European Union. Why don’t Russia and Germany cooperate, with Serbia as a go-between, all the more so since this would help us create many new jobs. Russia has a lot to help Serbia with, but Serbia will always pay for what it gets.
The South Stream pipeline is obviously our biggest economic project now. What other projects could be of interest to Belgrade?
The South Stream is the backbone of our cooperation, but Russia and Serbia have a lot more to offer each other. By Russian standards, Serbia is a small country, but Russia needs such partners. We have many things in common with Russia and I hope that the South Stream will be just one of the many links bringing us together.
As President how are you going to guarantee your country’s terrirotial intergrity? Are you prepared to reconsider the agreements with Brussels clinched under the auspices of the European Union?
While on the campaign trail I made my thoughts about Kosovo and Metohija perfectly clear, thoughts dictated by my personal views and, above all, by the Serbian Constitution, which makes no mention of Kosovo independence without asking the people’s opinion to this effect. As to the upcoming talks between Serbia and the authorities in Pristina, I have always demanded that they be held at the top level, that the president and prime minister do not hide behind their officials’ backs. I will insist that the prime minister or myself, if I am duly authorized, to hold consultatioins with parliamentary parties for the sake of reaching a consensus on Kosovo and Metohija.
We can no longer run things in Pristina, that is obvious, but it is also obvious that Pristina cannot rule Kosovo Mitrovica either.
We need to move quickly and reach a consesus with the parliamentary parties now that Pristina is aparently preparing a dimploatic, political and other forms of advance to the north of Kosovo and Metohija.
Are you ready for a chill in relations with Brussels if the EU keeps up its pressure on Belgrade to recognize Kosovo?
As far as I know, the EU is making no such demands. I am going to Brussels on June 13 to find out whether they had any prior agreements on this score with Mr.Tadic and if so, I will tell the Serbian people about this loud and clear. I have no right to spoil our relations with the EU, this is up to the Serbian people. I believe we still have time before we join the EU (when, in theory, such a condition may arise) to develop this country according to the principles they have, say, in Germany. I would very much like the Serbians to live the way the Germans do.
By joining the EU Serbia will have to give up on its free trade agreement with Russia. Don’t you think that at a certain point Serbia will have to choose exactly who it is going to build economic ties with?
I would hate to have my country making a choice like that. I want us to be as open to the East as we are to the West… I think we’ll be able to use this agreement before we join the EU, so that we grow economically to an extent where Russia will no longer have to give us any preferences like, for example, a customs agreement, whereby a huge volume of goods going to Russia are exempt from customs duties.
This agreement is essentially meant to boost our economy. This gift from Russia gave us a chance to develop to a degree where we no longer needed any more gifts, but I have to admit that we could have made a better use of the preferences we got twelve years ago…
There is much talk in Russia about drawing up the so-called “Milosevic list” of Hague tribunal and EU officials guilty of the death of President Milosevic. What do you think about this?
If Russia is indeed preparing such a request to the ITFY, it will come with solid proof and I would be happy if it did, because we in Serbia are very suspicious about the details of Milosevic’s death.
Serbia should get more actively involved in the work done by the Hague tribunal to be able to help its fellow citizens prove their innocence and not only help prove their guilt. I believe that both sides in these trials must be treated as equals and Serbia can ensure such equality.
What is your idea of the Hague tribunal? How come six defendants died there not living to see the end of their trial?
Eleven, to be exact. Well, for fairness sake, I should say that Russia helped make the ITFY happening and there is nothing Serbia can do about this. By passing a law on cooperation with the tribunal, we gave it a stamp of recognition and I think that all Belgrade can do now is to wait until these trials are over, while giving the defendants all the help they possibly need.