Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Friday that tanks being sent to Ukraine by North Atlantic Treat Organization (NATO) countries is galvanizing the Russian people.
Germany announced on January 25 that it would send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, followed by the U.S. then promising to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks.
Other Western countries expected to also send tanks include the United Kingdom, France, Slovakia and Norway. Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria have already sent them.
“The West’s biggest mistake is that they have announced supplies of tanks, especially terrific German-made tanks,” Vucic said, according to Russian state media outlet Tass. “But they have only rallied the Russian nation. It is the West’s biggest political mistake because they have united the Russians in the span of one day.”
One day earlier, Vucic said during a parliamentary meeting that Serbia has no desire to join NATO and will continue to remain militarily neutral. He added that the current path to European Union accession remains a “vital interest.”
“This morning, I listened to nonsensical statements by fake patriots who said we have been leading Serbia toward Atlantic integration,” Vucic said Thursday, according to Tass. “We are not. We will stick to military neutrality and, unlike those who destroyed our army, we are building an army of our own.”
Russian officials and state TV commentators were quick to criticize the sending of tanks.
Russia’s ambassador to Germany, Sergey Nechaev, called Germany’s decision “extremely dangerous” and contradictory to statements from German politicians about the country’s unwillingness to be drawn into the Ukraine conflict.
Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov brought up Germany’s past, saying it had forgotten about its “historical guilt.” In a broader context, Solovyov has questioned the entire Russian army, and during one of his recent live programs, he rhetorically asked, “Are we going to fight?”
Arkady Moshes, program director for the EU Eastern Neighborhood and Russia research program at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, told Newsweek that criticism from Russia’s biggest media influencers could lead to further turmoil down the line.
“My wild guess is that the political leadership needs scapegoats, and ‘incompetent’ generals can be one,” Moshes said. “This is risky as, sooner or later, people may question the competence of that same political leadership responsible for the appointment of the generals, but apparently works for now (as do the reshuffles).”
“If this is indeed the case, generals can take it easy,” he added. “Also, this can be a message to those in the West who can still be intimidated by the prospect of ‘escalation.’”
Serbia, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina are the only Balkan nations not to be part of NATO.
The Associated Press reported that Vucic faces consternation from many of his right-wing colleagues in his homeland’s parliament, due to claims of betraying Serbia by not rejecting a plan encouraged by Western nations for peace with Kosovo.
Even though Kosovo became sovereign in 2008, its independence from Serbia remains unrecognized by the Serbian government.
Vucic told lawmakers that Serbia could become a “pariah” if relations with Kosovo are not normalized. His response only led to pushing, shoving and shouting.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Vucic about relations with Kosovo.
“Secretary Blinken thanked President Vucic for his constructive engagement on the EU proposal to normalize relations with Kosovo,” said a statement by the State Department. “The Secretary and President Vucic agreed that regional stability is essential for securing Serbia’s European future.”
Newsweek reached out to Vucic’s office, the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Pentagon, NATO and the U.S. State Department for comment.
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