The U.S. needs to have a strong relationship with Serbia and must find ways to promote a partnership in order to help the stability of the broader Balkan region, U.S. Representative Ted Poe of Texas said while visiting Serbia earlier this week.
Poe, co-chairman of the Serbian Caucus, recently signed a letter, along with 13 other members of Congress, to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterating the need for renewed political attention to the Balkans and additional support to Serbia, as the largest country and political pivot in the region.
He spoke with VOA's Serbian service upon his return from Belgrade, where he met with President Aleksandar Vucic, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic.
Terrorism is one of the main reasons for a closer cooperation between the two countries, Poe told VOA's Serbian service. The Balkans have seen an increase militant activity.
The prevention of terrorist recruitment and an exchange of intelligence information would help make the world a safer place, he said.
Poe also noted that Russia has been using its power to manipulate countries in Eastern Europe while the West "did not do a whole lot." He said the Obama administration seems to have ignored the Balkans — which he described as a mistake, one that he said he hoped the Trump administration would not make.
No interest in Russia sanctions
While Serbia has said its main goal is to join the European Union, it has refused to join the bloc in imposing sanctions against Russia over the crisis in Ukraine. Unlike its neighbor Montenegro, which joined NATO in June, Serbia has expressed no interest in becoming part of that alliance.
"I appreciate Serbia's position of being a neutral country, but we should be concerned of the Russian 'bear' looking for more places to gobble up, and the Balkans may be one of those places," Poe said.
Europe needs to understand that Russia has not changed its outlook since it was the Soviet Union, he added. "They interfere with elections, everybody's elections," he said. "They send disinformation through social media into all countries, they spread their propaganda.
"Russians really can't be trusted, but being neutral is a decision Serbia has to make."
Speaking of the possibilities for economic cooperation, the U.S. congressman said the export of American natural gas to Serbia and other Balkan countries would be beneficial from a geopolitical standpoint, alleviating Russia's grip on Eastern Europe, where Moscow has the only gas pipeline in the region.