The West Makes Serbia an Offer It Can’t Refuse

Serbia has resisted various forms of pressure since NATO began its war against Russia in Ukraine and remains the only European country refusing to join in Western sanctions on Russia.

Washington and Brussels have apparently had enough and issued Belgrade an ultimatum in January. The exact contents of the proposal haven’t been made public, but statements from Serbian officials hint at the following:


Serbia must normalize relations (as opposed to full recognition) with Kosovo and accept its membership in international organizations like the UN, NATO and the Council of Europe. (NATO seized Kosovo from Serbia in 1999, following the bombing of the country. Most EU countries and the US support Kosovo independence, which was unilaterally declared in 2008. Serbia continues to view the region as part of its territory.)

In return Serbia would supposedly get some financial rewards and join the EU in 2030.

It remains unclear if joining sanctions on Russia is part of the ultimatum. One of many reasons that Belgrade and Moscow enjoy close ties is that Russia routinely blocks Kosovo’s UN membership, which it could still do even if Serbia recognized Kosovo.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić believes the ultimatum is more the result of the West’s agenda, “which includes the defeat of Russia and everything that stands in the way on this agenda, will be crushed.”


Should Belgrade refuse the ultimatum, it can expect the following:

EU and US investment in the country evaporates.

Serbia’s EU candidacy dies.

A ban on lending by European banks, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank and the IMF.

Reprisals on ethnic Serbs in NATO protectorates of Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina (violence flared up in such areas in Kosovo in the runup to the ultimatum).

An increase in efforts to interfere in Serbia and install a “pro-Western” government.

A reintroduction of visas.


Seizure of assets.

According to Belgrade-based political analyst Dusan Janjic, there would be “conflict management” and destabilization controlled by the US, after which Washington would impose a solution.

Quite the way to start off a relationship.

Serbia officially applied for European Union membership in 2009. Reaching an agreement with Pristina and normalizing relations is the main hurdle for it to join the EU – a path it has been on for 14 years. So if it accepts the West’s terms, it gets to continue that process and gets an undisclosed amount of financial aid.

So there’s that. Now the fallout from a rejection of the ultimatum.

Two-thirds of Serbia’s trade is done with the EU. Russia and China rank second and third, respectively, but ten times lower than trade between Serbia and the EU. In recent years, Serbia has looked increasingly eastwards for trade – even signing a deal with the Russian-led Eurasian Union in 2019 despite threats from Brussels. Belgrade and Moscow also have strong military ties. But at the end of the day, Serbia is a landlocked country surrounded by NATO.

According to economist Branko Milanović, “the loss could be, depending on the severity of sanctions, up to 5-10% of GDP in the first year.” More:

This would divide the public. Although currently all parties are in favor of the rejection of the ultimatum, and the pro-European parties, having been cheated by Europe many times,  have taken a strongly anti-acceptance stance, seemingly stronger than the government, it is likely though that after a few years, the body public would seriously split between the “party of rejection” and the supporters of new negotiations with the EU. If such parties become equal sides and start violently accusing each other, it might end in a civil war. Since the West would have very few friendly parties to negotiate with in Serbia, and since Serbia is surrounded by NATO members, even a formal occupation of the country by NATO cannot be excluded. One should not forget that, right now, both Bosnia and Kosovo are NATO protectorates, and that the West can, by one single move, overthrow at any time the governments in Montenegro and North Macedonia. Moreover, NATO tropes are in all these countries, plus in other border states (Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary). Like in World War II, the very same countries could just march in.

So it would seem Brussels and Washington have Serbia over the barrel, but what do Serbians want?

Vucic says that the Assembly in Belgrade needs to discuss the proposal and there is the possibility of a national referendum. Should the latter take place, it is likely Serbia will refuse. From Euractiv:

Support for EU membership is low in Serbia, with a majority of 44% against joining the bloc. According to a recent Ipsos poll, just 35% are in favour, while the rest remain unsure. A further survey by one of the country’s leading pollsters found in August 2022 that only 20% of those surveyed viewed the EU positively.

A Demostat survey last year showed that only a third of Serbian citizens would vote for joining the EU, with 51 percent against. Additionally 80 percent were against the introduction of sanctions against Russia. Politically it will be impossible for Belgrade to acquiesce to the West’s demands, as it would be viewed as abandoning Serbs in Kosovo, in addition to ignoring public opinion.

The West’s hard line will likely only harden Serbs anti-EU attitudes as it confirms suspicions that the real goal is to force Serbia to heel. Additionally, the EU is simply not as attractive as it used to be, especially as it continues its self-immolation at the altar of American hegemony. Therefore, all it has to offer is threats. As Milanović puts it:

[The] EU reminds me of the bullies that were roaming the area around my high school in Belgrade. They would accost younger pupils and offer to sell them…a brick. The kid would say, “But I do not need the brick”. Ah, the bully would retort, “Yes, I know that you do, and it would cost you ten dinars”. The poor kid would pay 10 dinars knowing that the refusal would lead him to be beaten, hit in the head, kicked – and yet the ten dinars would be taken from his pocket.

And while Russia has its own reasons for wanting to keep Serbia peeled off from the EU, it’s hard to argue with this assessment from Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova:

The EU is leading Belgrade to a ‘bright future’ on one hand while committing anti-Serbian provocations with the other,” the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman claimed. “This is betrayal from the outset,” she added, comparing relations between Brussels and Belgrade to “a marriage that starts with adultery.”

There have been reports that Serbia, should it take the deal, would be recognized as the “leading power in the region.” It’s unclear if such a designation would mean an end to ultimatums.

It’s more likely that once the EU – and more specifically Germany – has Serbia under its thumb, it will likely want more, starting with the green light on the Jadar lithium project, which could supply 90 percent of Europe’s current lithium needs.

Serbians have resisted the project as they don’t want the dirty mining project in their backyard.

But Berlin isn’t taking no for an answer. Belgrade revoked the mining licenses for Rio Tinto’s $2.4 billion lithium project last year, and yet Germany’s ruling coalition continues to push the plan as part of the EU “Global Gateway” infrastructure program.

The proposed mining project is but one fear that Serbians have over a surrender to the West.

If we take a step back and examine the larger picture, we see NATO currently aligned with Eastern European fascist elements against Russia, almost like a replay of WWII with the US switching sides. Serbia, like Russia, was attacked by German and Germany-aligned fascists during the second world war, which resulted in the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Serbs.

So one can understand the hesitancy to surrender sovereignty to a Germany that plans to serve the U.S.-led Western empire by strengthening its role as European leader, including pushing for a larger, more militarized EU, which will be governed by majority decisions and include the Balkan statelets.

In such a scenario, Germany would wield even more control over the EU than it does today, as its influence on most of the poor Balkan states would help bring about a majority. Germany is among the top three export destinations for Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo and is one of the top European investors in the region, making Berlin the most important EU partner for the Balkan states. This is not lost on Serbia.

“Germany wants full dominance in the Balkans,” said Vučić back in December. And by extension, that means the US does too.

While the writing is on the wall regarding the West’s failed war against Russia, Serbia may well end up being the consolation prize. Whether Belgrade accepts the ultimatum or not, the outcome will be the same the West has declared. Finally, after Germany’s attempts in both world wars and NATO’s “noble bombing” in the 1990s, Serbia will be subdued.

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  1. bwilli123

    Aleks at Black Mountain analysis argues that a land-bridge from a Russian partially conquered Ukraine to Hungary->Serbia is an unstated SMO goal, because that in itself would lead to the death of NATO.

    …Essentially, Serbia and Hungary currently are being held hostage by the West. Since they are landlocked countries that are also hostages to America, but more submissive hostages than other European nations, Serbia and Hungary can’t develop independent foreign politics or foreign trade. If they don’t do what they are told, many things can happen to them apart from military action:

    Blackmailing, Intimidation, Blockade of trade routes, Denial of critical supplies, Closure of air space

    And all this without openly admitting it, but by inventing reasons. The West loves to use Croatia for trade restrictions against Serbia into the European direction. Croatia then invents some reasons why Serbian lorries aren’t allowed to drive through Croatia. And similar stuff.

    That’s the reason why Serbia has been forced these many years to say that it wants to join the EU, even though the people don’t. Such fealty is required by the West, to not press Serbia down again.

    And here comes the war in Ukraine and “West-Ukraine” into play. If Russia manages to secure the landbridge to Hungary in Western Ukraine, then the whole house of cards built on blackmailing Eastern Ukraine falls apart. Russia would have through Hungary, which faces problems like Serbia’s even though Hungary is part of the EU and NATO, direct access to Serbia.

    It would allow Serbia and Hungary to freely choose with whom they want to trade and have relations. Hence, the whole heartland would be open to these countries. And with it the SCO and BRICS states. The West couldn’t threaten these countries any longer with blocking them from trade and supplies, and if military threats are employed, Russia could deploy troops or provide unlimited military assistance through the corridor….”

  2. Magua

    Serbia. Serbia? Nothing, good can come of this nothing. At a minimum the ‘West’ (my mind wanders to the West End of the Roman Empire, we the ‘greater west’ have seemed to have arrived at that end as well) is acting completely undemocratic, I do believe to harm Russia, yet again. What country in their right mind would want to be part of the EU. You don’t’ have to be in the EU to trade with it, there are other ways besides WTO (See Richard North). As a citizen of the United States this isn’t what I want, in fact there is nothing the State Department is doing that I like or want. Exactly, what year are we living in? We stand on the shoulders of PCM and see nothing .

    1. Polar Socialist

      And as proved by Greece, Poland and Hungary, being inside the EU doesn’t mean you wont get punished for the mistake of assuming sovereignty.

  3. The Rev Kev

    ‘Should Belgrade refuse the ultimatum, it can expect the following’

    Some of those threats are not the threats that the EU thinks that they are. For example-

    ‘EU and US investment in the country evaporates.’ – They could get investments from China.

    ‘Serbia’s EU candidacy dies.’ – I would call that a plus that as the EU may not last that long.

    ‘A ban on lending by European banks, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank and the IMF.’ – Again, China might offer loans to them at better rates.

    ‘An increase in efforts to interfere in Serbia and install a “pro-Western” government.’ – Would they notice the difference?

    1. Catchymango

      While I agree they definitely aren’t fatal, they certainly could cause severe disruption to employment and other economic issues in the short to medium term, particularly if the govt attempts to largely continue abiding by the neoliberal principles of the Washington Consensus.

      I wonder if countries like India, South Korea and Singapore would consider moving in?

  4. TM

    Reprisals on ethnic Serbs in NATO protectorates of Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina (violence flared up in such areas in Kosovo in the runup to the ultimatum).

    Considering the number of my countrymen that are constantly emigrating or working abroad and sending remittances back home, I wonder if they can even find enough working-age males in Bosnia to cook up ethnic tensions. I don’t see much appetite to re-run the war, but poverty, dysfunctional politics and lack of hope make fertile soil for intelligence services.

  5. Synoia

    The people in that area survived over a Thousand years of “Conversion by the Sword” to Islam. Such a determination not to be pushed around is somewhat baked in.

    I liked Belgrade when I visited. Nice City, much History.

    1. Victor Moses

      Synoia – your claim about ‘conversion by the sword’ is completely ahistorical and typically orientalist claptrap. Only a minority of the Slavic peoples of the Balkans converted and most did so willingly.

      These arguments about not being pushed around and reclaiming sovereignty remind me of the pro-brexit crowd. At the end of the day – if you can easily replace your current trading partners then you have solid ground to stick to your guns. If you can’t- get ready to become a rerun of post brexit Britain.

    2. Karen’s hubby

      Serbia did not fight for their independence. It was served on a plate to them by big brother Russia. Same as western powers did with Greece.
      Those who fought the most the ottomans were also the biggest losers; the Albanians. All small countries are creatures of big powers, Balkans are no exception.

  6. Anonymous

    Biden is a war criminal, like Clinton, like Albright, etc. The USA had so much to offer after World War 2. It was a beacon of stability and model of democratic values, but it has since lost its way, turning into the planet’s biggest bully while simultaneously destroying its own people.

    How many Americans live under the poverty level? Suicides have gone up by 25% in certain demographics. Massive overdoses on opioids don’t even get adequate news coverage. Gun shootings of CHILDREN have become normalized (I still can’t wrap my head around this.). So, then how can regular Americans care about the havoc its politicians are wreaking in the Balkans, the Middle East and even in the Ukraine now? Many Americans can’t afford to eat, get a doctor, or even send their children to schools where they won’t get shot.

    In time, Serbia will survive and become stronger. And our holy land of Kosovo will be returned to us. Republika Srpska and Montenegro will rejoin. The Serbian people will finally be reunited as one, as it should be and as it always was. But unfortunately, I fear that the USA won’t survive. What a shame because at one time it had so much good to offer the planet, so much hope, and so much to admire.

    1. JBird4049

      >>>So, then how can regular Americans care about the havoc its politicians are wreaking in the Balkans, the Middle East and even in the Ukraine now? Many Americans can’t afford to eat, get a doctor, or even send their children to schools where they won’t get shot.

      That is an easy question to answer; we do not care. Most of us do not even know about it. Those relative few who know much about this despite the propaganda and censorship, I think do not support this latest ultimatum. Meanwhile, food, housing, and medical care are a real concern for those Americans not in the top ten percent. Even if you are fine today, you are likely not tomorrow, which drains away any efforts to be worried about anything else.

  7. wild west

    When USSR (communism) failed everything that was done during that era was bad and had to be quickly dismantled, one way or the other. But one thing was sacred and had to be kept no matter what – and that one thing were the borders that were establish by those bad communists – either Stalin, Khrushchev, Tito, or somebody else. If people were allowed to democratically decide where to live most likely some past and current wars could be avoided.

  8. Stephen

    Does resonate a little of Austria’s ultimatum to Serbia in 1914. That did not end well. For Austria and Germany.

    Part of me still thinks that much of the constant goading of Serbia harks back to that.

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