As part of a larger tour through the Balkans, U.S. Senator John McCain met with Serbia’s President-elect Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic. The two officials discussed further political and military cooperation between the two countries.
McCain thanked Serbia for its continuing support and contributions to the fight against ISIS, but also expressed concern about Russian actions in the region, referring to the October alleged coup attempt of Montenegro, which was recently approved by the U.S. Senate to join NATO via a treaty.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had argued that Montenegro’s membership would support the country’s democratic reform, trade, security and foster stability among its neighbors.
McCain is a strong advocate of a strengthened NATO presence in the Western Balkans by supporting the first Croatian and Albanian membership.
Vucic noted that during the meeting, he and McCain talked about peacekeeping operations, Serbia’s European path, mutual relations, military exercises and activities. He also repeated that Serbia does not want to belong to any military alliance.
“Thanks to McCain for the visit, one of the most important people in the U.S., and thank him for showing concern for the Western Balkans. Thank him for being willing to hear something different in Serbia from other countries in the region,” said Vucic.
One of NATO’s top officials, Admiral Michelle Howard, who heads NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy. “If Vucic makes good his vow to continue moving toward EU membership, Serbia would remain balanced between Russian influence and the rest of south-east Europe,” said Howard.
The realities of Serbia and Kosovo relations remains tense, even though the war ended over two decades ago. Serbia continues to regard Kosovo as a renegade province, although the country declared its independence in 2008. Serbia is also suspicious of NATO, since it bombed Serbia in response to its strongman during the war.
“Every time I talk to someone who’s from that region, they just remind me that grievances run deep in this part of the world, that the dead get buried but the grievance does not,” said Howard. “It’s a very complex environment.”
On his Balkan tour, McCain has also visited Slovenia and Croatia, where he met top officials, discussed cooperation within NATO and expressed “appreciation for the countries’ contributions to international coalitions, from Kosovo to Afghanistan to the fight against ISIS”. Serbia had 127 joint military activities planned with the U.S. in 2016, according to defense ministry data provided to BIRN in August 2016.