Serb president pledges EU course, hints Russia sanctions

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Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic takes oath during the ceremony of his inauguration for a second term in Parliament building, in Belgrade, Serbia, Tuesday, May 31, 2022. Vucic was inaugurated Tuesday for his second term as Serbia's president, saying the Balkan country will remain on its European Union membership path and hinted that a new government might consider joining Western sanctions against ally Russia over the war in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE – Aleksandar Vucic was sworn in for his second term as Serbia’s president Tuesday, pledging to keep the Balkan country on its European Union membership path and hinting that a new government might consider joining Western sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine.

Despite voting in favor of three U.N. resolutions condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Serbia remains the only European state that has not joined sanctions against its ally Moscow.

In his inaugural speech in parliament, Vucic said Serbia’s priority will be its EU membership path and that the new government -- which should be formed in July -- will have to work harder on gaining entry into the 27-member bloc and consider sanctions against Moscow, although he didn't specifically refer to Russia.

“Forming a new government is of utmost importance because of the situation we are in, difficult situation,” he said. “We will have to deal with new sanctions and stuff, which could damage us so we will ask our European partners to help us,” he said.

Vucic, who convincingly won the presidential election mostly on his pro-Russian agenda, said that he wants to take Serbia into the EU during his new term. But he has spent recent years cementing ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a long-time ally.

Opposition groups and foreign observers said the April vote was far from being free and fair and that Vucic's autocratic rule sidelines the government and parliament.

Vucic announced on Sunday that he has secured an “extremely favorable” three-year natural gas deal with Russia during a telephone conversation with Putin -- something widely seen as his determination not to join EU sanctions despite pressure from the West.

But the Serb president on Tuesday appeared to soften his pro-Russia stance, saying “we must be firm on the European path."

He said Serbia will not seek NATO membership and would maintain its military neutrality.

“We are not politically neutral because we want membership in the European Union,” said Vucic.