BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Despite pressure from the European Union, Serbia will not impose sanctions against Russia or curb its food exports to that country, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said Friday.
After the U.S. and the EU slapped sanctions on Russian state banks and major industries last month over the crisis in Ukraine, Russia responded with a wide-ranging ban on food products imported from those countries.
Serbia, a traditional Russian Slavic ally which is seeking EU membership, is hoping to capitalize on Russia's ban by increasing its food exports and replacing some Western goods on the Russian market.
The EU has warned candidate countries to refrain from exploiting the Russian ban.
Vucic said his government will accept EU's demands not to additionally subsidize those exports to Russia, but will not prevent Serbian companies from making new deals. Serbian officials have said that they hope to increase the food and agricultural exports to Russia from the current $170 million (128 million euros) a year to $300 million (226 million euros).
The EU said Friday it welcomes that "Serbia will not increase the state support for its exports to Russia."
"We welcome the attention the Serbian government pays to this issue and we appreciate the constructive approach as announced by Prime Minister Vucic," the European Commission said in a statement.
Although Serbian officials had said they respect Ukraine's territorial integrity and are against Russia's annexation of Crimea, they told the West that imposing sanctions against Russia would be disastrous for its economy, especially because its energy sector is almost entirely in Gazprom's hands.
"It is Serbia's strategic goal to become a member of the European Union," Vucic told reporters. "At the same time, Serbia did not and will not introduce sanctions against the Russian Federation."
"In the interest of Serbia, we need to maintain friendly relations with Russia," he said.