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Serbia & UAE – New Strategic Partnership

It is New Geopolitical Reality: Strategic Partnership Between Serbia And The UAE

Diplomatic, economic and military relations between the Republic of Serbia and the UAE have risen to very high levels. The Serbs now perceive the UAE as “Serbia’s best friend in the Arab world”. Relations between Belgrade and Abu Dhabi are so branched and layered that they have reached the level of strategic partnership. Along with France, Italy, Russia, China and Azerbaijan, the UAE has become part of the “elite circle” of countries with which Serbia has strategic partnership agreements. However, it was not always like that. Precisely relations were often very bad and on the verge of diplomatic war.

The gradual development of the relations

Serbian-Emirati ties are several decades old. Relations between the UAE and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were established in 1971. Even then, as one of the republics of Yugoslavia, Serbia began to slowly but surely develop its relations with the Gulf monarchy. Relations were often bad because of Belgrade’s relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. During the war in BIH, Abu Dhabi financially supported the Bosniaks in the war against the rebel Bosnian Serbs supported by neighbouring Serbia.

Emirati leaders generously aided the military forces of Bosnian Muslims. UAE President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahjan donated more than $10 million. Defense Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum invested nearly $15 million. At the same time, we should not forget that in addition to financial injections, the Emirati authorities equipped and sent foreign radical Islamic fundamentalists to Bosnia and Herzegovina who fought as Mujahideen in the war. In addition to military action, foreign volunteers committed numerous crimes and misdeeds against Serbian and Croatian soldiers and civilians.

When open war broke out in Kosovo between Serbian security forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army in 1998, Abu Dhabi backed the Albanian independence movement. It again angered the Serbian government. The authorities of the Emirates wholeheartedly helped the Kosovars, and the basic motivation, apart from the Kosovars’ affiliation to Islam, was driven by the inhuman actions of the Serbian Army, that is, the massacres of the Kosovar Albanians. The Emirates strongly supported the NATO bombing of Serbia.

As part of the KFOR peacekeeping mission, the Emiratis deployed around 1,500 soldiers to the breakaway southern Serbian province. When Kosovo declared independence in 2008, the UAE became the first Arab country to recognize the self-proclaimed republic. Such a procedure enraged Serbia. It led to the severing of the newly created diplomatic ties between Belgrade and Abu Dhabi. More precisely, official diplomatic relations between the independent Republic of Serbia and the UAE were established in 2007.

Dramatic turn in Serbia and UAE relationship

The fundamental driving force behind the development of good relations between Serbia and the UAE, which will acquire a strategic character, is the current Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić. Vučić’s political prudence and pragmatism led to a 180-degree turn in the previously bad relations. The Gulf Kingdom was also interested in thawing ties with Belgrade. Relations took a dramatic turn in 2012 after the coming to power of the Serbian Progressive Party and the visit of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Muhammad Bin Zayed, to Belgrade the following year. What exactly was it about?

Serbia struggled with major economic difficulties characterized by high public debt and unemployment. The Serbian manufacturing lagged behind European competition. Serbia desperately needed foreign direct investment. Serbian failing economy was still recovering from international sanctions in the 1990s. Even more so from privatization looting by tycoons. Vučić desperately needed foreign investors to revive factories, crafts and agricultural activities to employ the Serbian masses and preserve social peace. Social peace was a prerequisite for the enthronement of Vučić and his authoritarian regime.

In Serbia, the Emiratis saw an opportunity to build a strong foothold on the European market and gain access to the once-strong military industry that was internationally respected during Yugoslavia. Serbian military industry needed investments to modernize its capacities. his was not a problem for the sheikhs. The two countries quickly recognized the tangible benefits of close bilateral relations. In a relatively short period of time, the growing partnership between Belgrade and Abu Dhabi has expanded to air transport, (urban) construction, agriculture, military industry and tourism. UAE foreign direct investment in Serbia increased from EUR 300,000 in 2010 to EUR 180 million in 2018.

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