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US Ambassador: Russia Not Alone in 1944 Serbian Liberation

Russia -- Michael Kirby, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for consular affairs, leaves the Russian-American consultations on the adoption of Russian children by American citizens, Moscow, 29Apr2010

The main political chatter in Serbia recently has focused on how long the government can balance between the East and the West after the Ukrainian crisis widened the gap between the two blocs.

After word that Russian President Vladimir Putin might come to Serbia to celebrate the 70 anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade, US Ambassador to Serbia Michael Kirby said his country expected Serbia to distance itself from its Eastern partners.

Asked about his country’s opinion on the visit of Russian and Chinese presidents to Serbia, Kirby said:

"You can have good relations with Russia and China, and with the United States. But our positions on visits of Chinese and Russian officials are different. The Chinese almost never attacked anyone, while the Russians have. That is something to bear in mind.”

"It is not yet certain whether Putin will come but, if it happens, why is he coming, for the celebration of the anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade? Belgrade was also liberated by the Third Ukrainian Army. A number of peoples and republics were part of the Soviet Union. I wonder whether others were invited beside Putin"

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic responded to questions about Kirby’s comments by saying only that Kirby is a nice man and a good Ambassador.

Vucic said, "I think this question was addressed to the Russian side, not to us. Do not worry about that, there are people whose job is to think about such statements[B2] . Do not worry; Serbia is on the right track and everything will be all right. "

Meanwhile, the American ambassador clarified his comments.

“Serbia has the right to invite whoever[B4] they want to, I just wanted to say that the historical context was somehow distorted,” he explained to reporters in front of the Serbian Supreme Court of Cassation in Belgrade.

Was the US Ambassador’s statement appropriate to his diplomatic role? Foreign policy analyst Bosko Jaksic said the content of the Ambassador’s message is more important than the circumstances.

“First, Washington gives itself the right to comment on the visit of the Russian president. Even though Serbia is on the periphery of the American political interests, interest in Serbia is increasing in the times of crisis and it is proportional to the interest of the other force--Russia. Second, that the Ambassador quoted historical data when saying that 12 nations participated in the liberation of Belgrade indicates that this statement was carefully prepared. And it is quite logical to ask why Putin is the only one who is invited. While relations between the USA and Russia are strained due to the Ukrainian crisis, it is clear that America will not miss the chance to point out that they are expecting Serbia to draw closer to the West. I also remind you that American vice president Joe Biden said to Mr. Vucic that he trusts in his leadership and his commitment to make sure that ‘Serbia will stand by its European partners in support of international principles.’ Therefore[B9] , Kirby’s statement should be seen as information and not as a warning.”

Serbia has to balance its diplomatic ties with Moscow and with the West. Asked if this government will succeed in doing so, Jaksic said:

“The only this left is to believe the Prime Minister who said that everything will be all right.”

Moscow hasn’t officially confirmed that Putin will attend the ceremony marking Belgrade’s liberation in 1944. During his visit to Moscow in July Vucic announced that he invited the Russian president to attend the ceremony and said,

“Putin accepted my invitation and he will be in Belgrade before the end of the year.” The Russian president last visited Serbia in March 2011. After official talks with then-Serbian president Boris Tadic, Putin visited Belgrade’s Marakana stadium during the football match between Russia’s Zenit team and Belgrade’s Red Star where he was welcomed by the crowd.