After intense criticism from the European Union, Serbia says it will reduce the number of flights to Russia originating from its territory.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, most European countries have suspended flights to Russia and flights involving Russian carriers. Serbia, however, has not; in fact, in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine, the mostly state-owned carrier Air Serbia almost doubled its flights to Russia, giving rise to criticism from neighboring countries that Serbia is taking advantage of the war.
As early March, Air Serbia was offering 15 direct flights to Russia, up from eight in the period prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The direct air route from Belgrade to Moscow crosses Ukraine, an airspace now avoided by most other commercial airlines as a result of the war.
Passengers also have the option of flying from Belgrade to Moscow via Istanbul, on jointly operated flights managed by Air Serbia and Turkish Airlines.
In response, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzheppa took to Twitter on 15 March to criticize Serbia for being the only country in Europe with open flights to Russia.
“Making money on blood is unworthy of an EU candidate country,” she declared.
As a result of intense scrutiny, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic this week announced that Air Serbia would reduce flights to Russia to just one per day.
Addressing a Turkish audience, President Vucic also said that given Turkey straddles both Europe and Asia, NATO cannot be critical of the country’s decision to continue offering flights to Russia.
With a federal election fast approaching on 3 April, President Vucic is no doubt walking a fine line between upholding the country’s goals of joining the EU while also maintaining Serbia’s culture and political ties to Moscow.
“Serbia is on the European path, and that is our strategic commitment, but Serbia will not rush into hostilities because someone else is asking us to,” the president told reporters on 25 February.
While many European capitals have seen mass protests against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pro-Russian demonstrations have drawn large crowds in Serbia. Many Serbians still resent NATO’s bombing of the country during the 1999 war between Serbs and ethnic-Albanian separatists in Kosovo.
Image via Pixabay