Russia–Serbia relations

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Russia–Serbia relations
Map indicating locations of Russia and Serbia



Russian–Serbian relations (Russian: российско-сербские отношения, Serbian: rusko-srpski odnosi) refer to bilateral foreign relations between Serbia and Russia. Serbia and Russia have maintained diplomatic relations since 1838.

Serbia has an embassy in Moscow and Russia has an embassy in Belgrade and a liaison office to UNMIK in Pristina. Serbia also announced to later open a consulate-general in Yekaterinburg.

SFR Yugoslavia recognized Russia in December 1991 by the Decision of the Presidency on the recognition of the former republics of the USSR. Diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the USSR were established on June 24, 1940, and Serbia and the Russian Federation recognize the continuity of all inter-State documents signed between the two countries. There are about 70 bilateral treaties, agreements and protocols signed in the past. Serbia and the Russian Federation have signed and ratified 43 bilateral agreements and treaties in diverse areas of mutual cooperation so far.[1]

According to censuses, there were 3,247 ethnic Russians living in Serbia (2011) and 3,510 Serbs with Russian citizenship (2010).

Serbia and Russia are both Slavic and Eastern Orthodox countries and thus both share vast cultural and religious similarities.


Middle Ages[edit]

After the Ottoman invasion of Serbia in the 14th century, Serbian refugees found refuge in Russia.[2] Lazar the Serb (built the first mechanical public clock in Russia) and Pachomius the Serb (hagiographer and translator) were some of the notable Serbs in Russian medieval history.[3] Elena Glinskaya (1510–1538), the mother of Russian emperor Ivan the Terrible (r. 1547–84), was maternally Serbian.[4] The Orthodox worship of Saint Sava was established in Russia in the 16th century.[2]

19th century and 1900s[edit]

The Serbian rebels under Karađorđe signed an alliance with the Russian Empire in 1807 during the First Serbian Uprising. After the Ottoman Empire had allied itself with Napoleon in late 1806, and was attacked by Russia and Britain, it sought to meet the demands of the Serbian rebels. At the same time, the Russians offered the Serbs aid and cooperation. The Serbs chose alliance with the Russians over autonomy under the Ottomans (as set by the "Ičko's Peace"). Karađorđe was to receive arms, and military and medical missions, which proved to be a turning point in the Serbian Revolution.

Russian intervention became gradually effective, with the Akkerman Convention (1826) signed between Russia and the Ottoman Empire saw the autonomy of the Principality of Serbia. Serbia was thus put under Russian protection, although Russia was unable to exert control as it did in Wallachia and Moldavia. Serbian autonomy was briefly abolished by the Ottoman sultan in 1828, then regranted in 1829. Russian protection was recognized until its abolishment in 1856 after the Russian defeat in the Crimean War.

Serbia declared independence and war on the Ottoman Empire in 1876. The war ended with Serbian victory. Russian–Serbian relations deteriorated following the Treaty of San Stefano and Treaty of Berlin (1878), which saw Russian protection of neighbouring Bulgaria. Russia had made territorial concessions of partial Serbian expansion in the war to Bulgaria in the San Stefano treaty (superseded by the Berlin treaty), which was of great disappointment to Serbia. Following this, Serbian economic (and foreign policy) dependence on Austria-Hungary, which bordered Serbia to the north, modern Vojvodina, and the west in Bosnia and Herzegovina, was crucial. Serbian irredentism was forced, with Austro-Hungarian support, on the south and east, clashing with Bulgarian irredentism, with Russian support. Austria-Hungary and Serbia concluded a secret political agreement in 1881. The People's Radical Party was founded in 1881, gaining parliament majority by 1891; its aim was to throw off Austro-Hungarian dependence. Serbia was defeated in the war with Bulgaria in 1885, and Bulgarian unification was internationally recognized. Meanwhile, tensions between Serbia and Austria-Hungary grew. Serbian pretensions in creating a South Slavic state (Yugoslavism as opposed to Austro-Slavism) put fear in Austria-Hungary of potential devastation of the Austro-Hungarian empire. On the other hand, Russia became increasingly disappointed in Bulgaria where the monarchs, belonging to the German dynasty, pursued politics that Russia criticized. The 1901 massacres of Serbs in Kosovo was instrumental in a diplomatic conflict between Austria-Hungary, which supported the Albanians, and Serbia, which was supported by Russia. The Serbian king was overthrown in 1903, which saw the extinction of Obrenović dynasty and return of the Russophile Karađorđević dynasty. Serbia was supported by Russia in the economic Pig War (1906–08) with Austria-Hungary. Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908; Russia did not interfere in the Bosnian crisis. The "National Defence" (Narodna Odbrana) organization was founded following the annexation, and sought to liberate Serb territories from Austro-Hungarian rule.

World War I[edit]

"The Chain of Friendship", an American cartoon from 1914 incorrectly depicting the web of alliances, depicting a Russian man telling an Austrian he will hit him if he "hits that little feller" (in reference to the Serb)

One of the factors that led to the beginning of World War I was close bilateral relations between the Kingdom of Serbia and the Russian Empire. While Russia and Serbia were not formally allied, Russia openly sought political and religious influence in Serbia.[5] In May 1914, Serbian politics were polarized between two factions, one headed by the Prime Minister Nikola Pašić, and the other by the radical nationalist chief of Military Intelligence, Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević, known by his codename Apis.[6] In that month, due to Colonel Dimitrijević's intrigues, King Peter dismissed Pašić's government,[6] but the Russian Minister in Belgrade intervened to have Pašić's government restored.[6] Pašić, though he often talked tough in public, knew that Serbia was near-bankrupt and, having suffered heavy casualties in the Balkan Wars and in the suppression of an Albanian revolt in Kosovo, needed peace.[6] Since Russia also favoured peace in the Balkans, from the Russian viewpoint it was desirable to keep Pašić in power.[6] However, the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand led Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia during the July Crisis. Russia mobilised her armed forces in late July ostensibly to defend Serbia, but also to maintain her status as a Great Power, gain influence in the Balkans and deter Austria-Hungary and Germany. This led Germany to declare war on Russia on 1 August, ultimately expanding the local conflict into a world war.

Inter-war period[edit]

After the war ended, the Russian Civil War ensued, in which a small number of mercenaries from Yugoslavia fought for both the Russian Whites and the Bolsheviks. After the war ended in 1922, relations between the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union dwindled up until the buildup to World War II, as the latter had a newly formed communist government whereas Yugoslavia remained a monarchy until 1941. Meanwhile, the January 6 Dictatorship in Yugoslavia almost banished by decree the use of Serbian Cyrillic (the alphabet in Yugoslavia closest to Russian Cyrillic) to promote the exclusive use of Latin alphabet in Yugoslavia.[7] However, the policy did not last permanently.

World War II[edit]

While Yugoslavia was still a monarchy in the years before Nazi Germany gained enough power to change the political landscape in Europe, communist elements were already gaining a presence in Yugoslav Parliament. Due to this, relations between communists from Yugoslavia were fostered with the highest officials of the Soviet Union. Initial relations, however, remained tense. In 1937, for example, Stalin had the Secretary-General of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, Milan Gorkić, murdered in Moscow during the Great Purge.[8] While the Soviet Union failed to take any action during the Invasion of Yugoslavia, Soviet troops did participate in many battles in cooperation with the Yugoslav Partisans, especially in the territories of present-day Serbia. The most notable of these battles in which Soviet soldiers fought in Serbian territories was the Belgrade Offensive, which literally ended sectarian violence and Nazi occupation in Yugoslavia.

Cold War[edit]

After the war ended, Yugoslavia was again established by a communist government under Josip Broz Tito with which Joseph Stalin wanted connections to. He essentially wanted the newly established Democratic Federal Yugoslavia to become a member of the Warsaw Pact as a buffer against the "New Imperialist threat" perceived at the time to be Great Britain and the United States. However, Tito famously rejected Stalin's pressures to fulfill membership and helped create the Non-Aligned Movement, which was regarded as the third major power bloc after NATO and the Warsaw Pact. In 1948, motivated by the desire to create a strong independent economy, Tito modeled his economic development plan independently from Moscow, which resulted in a diplomatic escalation followed by a bitter exchange of letters in which Tito affirmed that: "We study and take as an example the Soviet system, but we are developing socialism in our country in somewhat different forms. (...) No matter how much each of us loves the land of socialism, the USSR, he can in no case love his own country less."[9] The Soviet answer on May 4 admonished Tito and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY) for failing to admit and correct its mistakes, and went on to accuse them of being too proud of their successes against the Germans, maintaining that the Red Army had saved them from destruction. Tito's response on 17 May suggested that the matter be settled at the meeting of the Cominform to be held that June. However, Tito did not attend the second meeting of the Cominform, fearing that Yugoslavia was to be openly attacked. At this point the crisis nearly escalated into an armed conflict, as Hungarian and Soviet forces were massing on the northern Yugoslav frontier.[10] On 28 June, the other member countries expelled Yugoslavia, citing "nationalist elements" that had "managed in the course of the past five or six months to reach a dominant position in the leadership" of the CPY. The assumption in Moscow was that once it was known that he had lost Soviet approval, Tito would collapse; ‘I will shake my little finger and there will be no more Tito,’ Stalin remarked.[11] The expulsion effectively banished Yugoslavia from the international association of socialist states, while other socialist states of Eastern Europe subsequently underwent purges of alleged "Titoists". Stalin took the matter personally and attempted, unsuccessfully, to assassinate Tito on several occasions.[12]


The Breakup of Yugoslavia and the Dissolution of the Soviet Union happened simultaneously. As a result, diplomatic relations between the newly formed Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Russia were slow to materialize. Throughout the 1990s, FR Yugoslavia was hard hit with sanctions from the western world and relied on Russian imports to soften the effects of the embargo. In the late 1990s, the Kosovo War began, which led to a complete collapse of relations between Yugoslavia and the West; this resulted in the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, which Russia strongly condemned. President Boris Yeltsin stated that "Russia is deeply upset by NATO's military action against sovereign Yugoslavia, which is nothing more than open aggression."[13] Russia also condemned NATO at the United Nations and supported the statement that NATO air strikes on Serbia were an illegal action. Volunteers and mercenaries from Russia were cited to have gone to Kosovo in large numbers to fight the KLA, and to resist and complicate NATO operations.[14] Around the time of the bombing, a Russia-friendly rhetoric developed in the Serbian political team as Borislav Milošević, the brother of Slobodan Milošević and the Yugoslav ambassador to Moscow at the time, proposed that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia could join the Union State which is composed by Belarus and Russia.[15] Russia has been critical about Serbia's plans to join the EU and in 2016 Dmitry Rogozin, on the anti-immigrant wave, threatened that "you will have another Cologne here", to which Serbia's deputy prime minister replied suggesting that he first takes care about his own country.[16]

Political relations[edit]

Embassy of Serbia in Moscow
Meeting between Boris Tadić and Dmitry Medvedev in 2008 in Moscow when the deal regarding the South Stream construction was sealed
Boris Tadić and Dmitry Medvedev with war veterans during the celebrations for the 65th anniversary of the Belgrade Offensive in October 2009
Dmitry Medvedev received the Order of the Saint Sava of the First Degree – the highest honor given by Serbian Orthodox Church
Dmitry Medvedev was the first foreign official to speak in front of the National Assembly of Serbia

Highest level visits of Serbian officials to Russia include President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Koštunica meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in October 2000, visit by the Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić in February 2001, visit by the Federal Prime Minister Zoran Žižić in April 2001, visit by the President Vladimir Putin to Belgrade and Pristina in June 2001, visit by the Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica to Sochi in June 2004, President of Serbia and Montenegro Svetozar Marović attended the 60th anniversary of Victory Day in 2005, President Boris Tadić and the Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica attended the National Exhibition of Serbia in Moscow in November 2005, visit by the Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica to Saint Petersburg in May 2006, visit by the Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica to Saint Petersburg in June 2007, visit by the President Boris Tadić and the Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica to Moscow in January 2008, visit by the President Boris Tadić to Moscow in December 2008, visit by the President Dmitry Medvedev to Belgrade in October 2009.

Visits by other high officials such as Ministers of Foreign Affairs or Chairmen of Parliaments are held on average once a month.[17]


Russia backs Serbia's position regarding Kosovo. Vladimir Putin said that any support for Kosovo's unilateral declaration is immoral and illegal.[18] He described the recognition of Kosovo's unilaterally declared independence by several major world powers as "a terrible precedent" that "breaks up the entire system of international relations" that have taken "centuries to evolve", and "undoubtedly, it may entail a whole chain of unpredictable consequences to other regions in the world" that will come back to hit the West "in the face".[19] During an official state visit to Serbia following the declaration, Russian President-elect Dmitry Medvedev reiterated support for Serbia and its stance on Kosovo.[20]

Russia has also said that the March 2008 riots in Tibet were linked with the recognition by some states of the independence of Serbia's breakaway province, Kosovo. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in an interview with a Russian newspaper, also linked the demands for greater autonomy by ethnic Albanians in Macedonia with the Kosovo issue. Lavrov said, "There are grounds to presume that this is not occurring by chance. You can see what is happening in Tibet, how the separatists there are acting. The Albanians in Macedonia are already demanding a level of autonomy that is a clear step toward independence. Furthermore, events in other areas of the world give us grounds to assume that we are only at the beginning of a very precarious process".[21]

On 23 March 2008 Vladimir Putin ordered urgent humanitarian aid for Kosovo Serb enclaves.[22] Prime Minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, opposed the Russian plan for sending aid to Kosovo Serbs. He stated that Russia could only send aid if it was agreed and coordinated with Government in Pristina.[23]

On July 15, President Dmitry Medvedev stated in a major foreign policy speech "For the EU, Kosovo is almost what Iraq is to the United States.... This is the latest example of the undermining of international law".[24]

On 29 May 2009, President Dmitry Medvedev described Serbia as a "key partner" for Russia in Southeast Europe and announced "We intend to continue to coordinate our foreign police moves in future, including the ones related to the solving of the issue with Kosovo".[25]

Russian ambassador to Serbia Aleksandr Konuzin told a Belgrade daily in June 2009 that "Russia's stand is rather simple — we are ready to back whatever position Serbia takes (with regards to Kosovo)."[26]

Recent bilateral meetings[edit]

Economic relations[edit]

Aeroflot plane after arriving at Belgrade

Russia is an important partner in Serbia's economic cooperation with the world and is in first place in terms of trade volume, in first place in terms of import and in fifth place in terms of export. Commodity trade between the two countries in 2007 increased over that in 2006 and amounted to more than $3 billion. Exports from Serbia amounted to US$451.5 million, while its imports amounted to $2.6 billion.

Energy sources (oil, oil products and gas making up 83.5 per cent on the import side), raw materials and machine-building products account for the preponderant part of imports from the Russian Federation, while Serbia exports pharmaceutical products, flooring, machines, equipment, food, textiles and other consumer goods.[27]


Naftna Industrija Srbije, the best performing company of Serbia,[28] is majority owned by the Russian company Gazprom Neft, a subsidiary of the government-controlled Gazprom.


Russia and Serbia have shared a visa-free policy for travelers going between the two countries since 2008.[29]


Russian Orthodox Church in Tašmajdan park, Belgrade

Yugoslavia and the Russian Federation signed the Agreement on cooperation in the Fields of Culture, Education, Science and Sports on July 19, 1995. Based on this, the Program of Cooperation in the Areas of Education, Science and Culture was signed in December 2001 for the period 2002–04. The Days of Culture of the Russian Federation were held in Serbia and Montenegro in 2002 and those of Serbia and Montenegro in the Russian Federation in 2003.[30]

The Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Belgrade opened on April 9, 1933. Popular name of the centre is Russian Home.[31]


According to censuses there were 3,247 Russians living in Serbia (2011)[32] and 3,510 Serbs living in Russia (2010).[33] There were 11,043 speakers of Serbian language in Russia, out of which 3,330 were native speakers and 3,179 native speakers of Russian in Serbia.[34][35][36] According to 2015 data there were 29,499 Serbian citizens in Russia.[37] According to 2013 data there were 3,290 Russian citizens in Serbia.[38]

Popular culture[edit]

Hotel Moskva in Belgrade, Serbia

One of the most successful and prestigious hotels in Belgrade, Hotel Moskva is named after Russia's capital. It has been on separate occasions the host to Anatoly Karpov, Mikhail Kalashnikov, Maxim Gorky, and many other prominent Russians.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bilateral Political Relations with Russia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia
  2. ^ a b Predrag R. Dragić Kijuk (1999). Hilandar: 1198-1998. Association of writers of Serbia. p. 163. 
  3. ^ Davidović 2003, p. 25
  4. ^ Robert Payne; Nikita Romanoff (2002). Ivan the Terrible. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 436. ISBN 978-0-8154-1229-8. 
  5. ^ Jelavich 2004, p. 10.
  6. ^ a b c d e Fromkin, David. Europe's last summer: who started the Great War in 1914?. New York : Knopf : 2004. pp. 124–25. ISBN 978-0-375-41156-4. 
  7. ^ Dangerous Decree, Time (magazine), 21 October 1929
  8. ^ Banac 1988, p. 64.
  9. ^ "The Best Years of Our Lives". Time Magazine. 23 August 1948. Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  10. ^ "No Words Left?". Time Magazine. 22 August 1949. Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  11. ^ Laar, M. (2009). The Power of Freedom. Central and Eastern Europe after 1945. Centre for European Studies, p. 44.
  12. ^ Medvedev, Zhores A.; Medvedev, Roy A.; Jeličić, Matej; Škunca, Ivan (2003). The Unknown Stalin. Tauris. pp. 61–62. ISBN 978-1-58567-502-9. 
  13. ^ "Russia condemns Nato at UN". BBC News. 1999-03-25. 
  14. ^ "Fighting for a foreign land". BBC News. 1999-05-20. 
  15. ^ The Daily Beast - May 16, 1999 - A Milosevic in Moscow
  16. ^ "Serbia tells Russia to mind its own business". EU Observer. Retrieved 2016-01-14. 
  17. ^ Meetings between Top Leaders and High-ranking Officials of Russia and Serbia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia
  18. ^ "Putin: supports for Kosovo unilateral independence "immoral, illegal"". Xinhua. 2008-02-14. Retrieved 2008-02-25. 
  19. ^ "Putin calls Kosovo independence 'terrible precedent'". 2008-02-22. Archived from the original on February 25, 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-18. 
  20. ^ Medvedev pledges support for Serbia Al Jazeera English, 25 February 2008. Link accessed 2008-03-07.
  21. ^ "Russia links Tibet violence to Kosovo precedent". RIA Novosti. 2008-03-18. Retrieved 2008-03-19. 
  22. ^ Russia's Putin orders aid for Kosovo Serb enclaves
  23. ^ Thaci opposes Russian aid to Kosovo Serbs
  24. ^ Russia's Medvedev condemns Western 'paternalism'
  25. ^ "Medvedev calls Serbia Russia's key partner". Makfax. 2009-05-29. Retrieved 2009-05-30. [dead link]
  26. ^ "Ambassador underlines Russian backing for Serbia". B92. 2009-06-12. Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  27. ^ Economic relations with Russia, Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  28. ^
  29. ^ Visa-free travel between Russia and Serbia agreed
  30. ^ Cultural-educational cooperation with Serbia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia
  31. ^ О нама, Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Belgrade
  32. ^ 2011 Census of Population, Households and Dwellings in the Republic of Serbia POPULATION ETHNICITY
  33. ^ "1. НАЦИОНАЛЬНЫЙ СОСТАВ НАСЕЛЕНИЯ" (PDF).  (441 KiB), pp. 12-13
  36. ^ [1]
  37. ^ Официальные статистические данные Статистические сведения в отношении иностранных граждан, находящихся на территории Российской Федерации Сведения в отношении иностранных граждан, находящихся на территории Российской Федерации, в половозрастном разрезе (по состоянию на 4 марта 2015 г.)
  38. ^ Миграциони профил Републике Србије за 2013. годину
  39. ^ Politika (Serbian) - Хотел на Теразијама променио девет држава Retrieved January 23, 2008.


Further reading[edit]

  • Raquel Montes Torralba (2014). "Belgrade at the crossroads: Serbian-Russian relations in light of the Ukraine crisis". ARI. Real Instituto Elcano. 
  • Đorđević, Marija (2009). "Часовник Лазара Србина". Belgrade: Politika. 
  • Ivanova, Ekaterina Vladimirovna, and Jovana Blažić Pejić. "Писма митрополита Михаила грофици АД Блудовој: Прилог проучавању руско-српских односа (1871-1874)." Мешовита грађа 35 (2014): 121-138.
  • Leovac, Danko Lj. Србија и Русија за време друге владавине кнеза Михаила:(1860-1868). Diss. Универзитет у Београду, Филозофски факултет, 2014.

External links[edit]