Serbia obtains a new government; tough decisions lie ahead

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s new government was inaugurated after formally winning parliamentary approval on Wednesday, about six months after an election that reaffirmed the dominance of autocratic President Aleksandar Vucic and his right-wing populists.

The vote in the 250-seat assembly was 157 for and 68 against the new cabinet. The rest of the deputies were absent.

The new government, which will be led by Vucic’s close aide Ana Brnabic for her third consecutive term as prime minister, will have to grapple with strategic decisions facing the Balkan country. These include Western calls for Serbia to join sanctions against its ally Russia over the war in Ukraine and normalize relations with the former Serbian province of Kosovo – if it wants to join the Union. European.

The new cabinet has 28 ministers, including some resolutely pro-Russian like Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic. It also has officials seen as pro-Western, but they will head lesser ministries that will have little say in Serbia’s future foreign policy decisions.

Vucic, who leads the ruling SNS party and wields almost total influence over government policies, said he had “unlimited confidence” in Brnabic, 47, who became the first female – and openly gay – Premier minister in 2017.

In his inaugural speech in parliament, Brnabic tried to play down claims that the new government is either pro-Russian or pro-Western.

“We are building a European Serbia and the (EU) membership itself certainly does not depend only on us,” she said. “Serbia will also continue to invest in its friendships with other countries,” she added, in an apparent reference to Russia and China.

Although most of its foreign trade is with EU member states, Serbia is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas and has purchased arms from Russia, while China is a major investor.

A former anti-Western ultranationalist, Vucic has said he wants to bring Serbia into the EU. But he refused to join Western sanctions against Russia and maintains friendly relations with Moscow despite the war in Ukraine. Alignment of foreign policies with those of the EU remains one of the main prerequisites for Serbia’s membership of the 27-nation bloc.

Political analyst Milan St. Protic said Vucic and the governments he hand-picked during his 10-year rule enabled the expansion of Russian influence in the country.

“It’s clear that Serbia got into Russian jaws,” Protic said. “When this door was opened, they (the Russians) came in from all sides.”

Vucic won another five-year term in the April vote, which was both a parliamentary and presidential election.

Analysts said Vucic wanted to delay forming a new government for as long as possible to delay making big decisions that could hurt his standing among his overwhelmingly pro-Russian electorate.

Russia wields strong political influence in Serbia, which is considered Moscow’s strongest ally in Europe. There are fears in the West that Moscow could use Belgrade to destabilize its Balkan neighbors, who are still reeling from the devastating wars of the 1990s.

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