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Specter Of Russia Haunts Vucic

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) greets Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic during the latter's visit to Moscow in May, not long after Serbia's parliamentary elections.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) greets Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic during the latter's visit to Moscow in May, not long after Serbia's parliamentary elections.

"It would not be the end of the world if I do not form a government," Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic quipped while speaking to reporters this week. It's been three months since he comfortably won the elections, and yet Vucic has yet to name his cabinet. Vucic failed to give a clear explanation for this, but hinted that unnamed forces may be at work behind the scenes.

It seems there is no pressure coming from within his party, or from his coalition partners. And Vucic is as popular as ever, and has plenty of political capital to spend following his election victory. Yet he says he does not want to put together a government he cannot stand by. How could one form a government that is not to one's liking? Perhaps if somebody is handing that individual a list of unacceptable names.

"It goes without saying that there are many who would like to have a major influence on the [composition of the] Serbian government," was the cryptic explanation Vucic gave in his July 25 press conference.

Who, then, is putting pressure on the Serbian prime minister?

It is known that, immediately following the April elections, Vucic was in Moscow. After his meeting with Vladimir Putin, there was a statement on the Russian president's official site that made it clear that Putin wanted -- or expected -- to see individuals appointed who would contribute to "improving Russian-Serbian relations."

That's the root of Vucic's quandary, according to Serbian journalist Bosko Jaksic:

"After his May visit to Moscow it was clear to me that pressure was coming from that direction, and has only increased since then, since there is no one here [in Serbia] who could wield that kind of influence," Jaksic explained in an interview with RFE/RL in Belgrade on July 25.

"There is no one in the Progressive Party of Serbia," Jaksic said of Vucic's party. And if the Socialists -- coalition partners in the previous government -- "are putting any pressure [on Vucic], they can only do so with Moscow's help," Jaksic argued, "because on their own they do not have the bargaining power or political clout."

"It therefore seems obvious to me that word is being sent down from Moscow," Jaksic concluded.

Western Influence?

On the other hand, political analyst Dragomir Andjelkovic, who is considered close to the Progressive Party, believes that the pressure on Vucic is coming from the West, as Brussels might feel emboldened to interfere in Serbian domestic politics since the opening of chapters 23 and 24 of the EU-accession process.

Jaksic does not rule out Western influence, but would consider it merely a reaction to Moscow's meddling in Serbian affairs.

"The pressure coming from the East is the aggressive sort, which comes with concrete demands, and wants to dictate the shape of the new government," Jaksic said. "We only need to go back to Putin's statement. There is certainly pressure from the West, too, but more in the form of a warning: 'Vucic, do not let Moscow tailor your cabinet, because you will find yourself on a collision course with us.'"

Jaksic added that Vucic is partly responsible for the situation, "because he's been enthusiastically offering himself to both sides, encouraging the expectations of both [Europe and Russia], even though Euro integrations are nominally the priority."

Vucic, meanwhile, has suggested that the task of forming a government might soon be out of his hands if he fails to resolve his doubts. "There is no pressure, but if I cannot form a government by the first half of August, someone else will."

Who, precisely? More cryptic messages, it seems. But Putin's friendly arm around Vucic seems to be growing heavier by the day.

About This Blog

Balkans Without Borders offers personal commentary on contemporary Balkan politics and culture. It is written by Gordana Knezevic, senior journalist and former award-winning editor of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje, as well as the director of RFE/RL’s Balkan Service between 2008 and 2016. The blog reflects on the myriad ways in which the absurdities of Balkan politics and the ongoing historical shifts and realignments affect the lives of people in the region.


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