Serbia Approves New Government Featuring US-Sanctioned Ministers

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(Bloomberg) -- Serbia’s parliament approved a new cabinet that includes two ministers under US sanctions, underscoring President Aleksandar Vucic’s increasingly fraught balancing act between seeking to join the European Union and maintaining ties with Russia.

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Aleksandar Vulin, sanctioned by the US for alleged drug trafficking and abuse of public office to help Russia’s “malign activities” in the Balkans, will serve as a deputy to Prime Minister Milos Vucevic. He had served as defense minister and intelligence chief in the previous administration until he resigned in November, when the sanctions were leveled.

Nenad Popovic, who is also under US sanctions for alleged corruption and ties to Russia, will be a minister without portfolio. Lawmakers in Belgrade voted 152-61 to approve the government on Thursday, following an election in December that was dominated by Vucic’s Progressive Party.

In what’s seen as a nod to the West, Serbia’s former ambassador to the US, Marko Djuric, will take over as foreign minister while Tanja Miscevic will stay on as minister for EU integration. Former Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic will become the new interior minister as well as deputy premier, while Sinisa Mali will remain at his post as finance minister.

“Full membership in the European Union remains a strategic goal of Serbia, and the government will continue to fulfill the remaining criteria through our reform process,” Vucevic told parliament when presenting his cabinet lineup and program.

Vucevic has made clear his cabinet won’t adopt US and EU sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and would continue to oppose full international recognition of Kosovo.

Serbia’s refusal to recognize Kosovo, a former province that declared independence in 2008, has proved a major stumbling block in the country’s bid to join the EU. Belgrade has relied on the support of China and Russia for its position over Kosovo.

--With assistance from Misha Savic.

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