Russian foreign minister cancels Serbia visit after neighbours close airspace

Russian foreign ministry blames west after Sergei Lavrov's visit to ally Belgrade is scrapped

Russia has blamed the west after its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, had to cancel a visit to Serbia when the countries around it closed their airspace to his aircraft.

Its foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, called the move “another closed channel of communication” in comments reported by Russian news agencies.

Lavrov had been due to hold talks in Belgrade on Monday with the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, but Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Montenegro closed their airspace to the plane that would have carried Moscow’s top diplomat, according to Serbian newspaper Večernje Novosti.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has already triggered an EU-wide airspace ban.

“Our diplomacy has yet to master teleportation,” a senior foreign ministry source told Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Later Lavrov described the move to block his plane as “unprecedented” and said he would invite his Serbian counterpart to visit him in Moscow instead.

He told reporters: “If a visit by the Russian foreign minister to Serbia is seen in the west as something approaching a threat on a universal scale, then things in the west are clearly pretty bad.”

Serbia’s interior minister, Aleksandar Vulin, said he deeply regretted “the obstruction” of the visit of Lavrov, whom he described as “a great and proven friend of Serbia”.

“A world in which diplomats cannot seek peace is a world in which there is no peace. Those who prevented the arrival of Sergei Lavrov do not want peace, they dream of defeating Russia,” Vulin said in a statement.

“Serbia is proud that it is not part of the anti-Russian hysteria, and the countries that are, will have time to be ashamed.”

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Vučić was re-elected for a second term in April but the war in Ukraine presents the president with a significant challenge, as Serbia is seemingly poised between its application to be a member of the EU and an instinctive alliance with Russia.

Serbia and Russia have close historic, religious and cultural ties and Moscow has provided crucial support to Belgrade at the UN security council, blocking Kosovo’s independence.

Serbia is totally dependent on Russian oil and gas and has not joined western sanctions against Moscow. In April Vučić accused Ukraine and an unnamed EU country of orchestrating a series of bomb hoax threats against Air Serbia planes. He did not provide evidence for the claim, which Ukraine called “baseless”.

The president has been slow to condemn Russian aggression, which was initially reported in pro-government tabloids as a Ukrainian invasion of Russia.

Vučić and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, agreed last month that Russia would continue supplying natural gas to Serbia, while other countries have been cut off for refusing to pay for Russian gas in roubles.

Staff and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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