BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia's deputy prime minister denounced her Russian counterpart on Wednesday for suggesting Serbia should be careful about its EU membership bid — a rare spat between the two traditional Slavic allies.
Russian deputy premier Dmitry Rogozin said during his visit to Serbia this week that if Serbia harmonizes its foreign policy with the European Union "you will have another Cologne here." He was referring to New Year's assaults against women in the German city that have been blamed largely on foreigners, some of whom are recently arrived asylum-seekers.
"You should be careful with this harmonization, not to find yourselves in a situation when newcomers behave as though they have a free hand, while your women are afraid to go outside," Rogozin said.
Serbian deputy premier Zorana Mihajlovic retorted Wednesday: "Regarding the scenario Rogozin is predicting, I think he should take care of his own country and we will take care of ours."
During his three-day visit, Rogozin said Russia is ready to arm Serbia with sophisticated weapons, which could be at odds with Belgrade's desire to join the EU. He also tried to discourage Serbia from membership in the 28-nation bloc.
"There is nothing more terrifying than the European bureaucracy," Rogozin said. "Soviet-era bureaucrats are just kids compared with Europe's. And the rules of the game are such that they erode your national identity."
Serbia, a traditional Russian ally, has officially sought EU membership, but has been struggling to overcome strong opposition from Kremlin-backed nationalists.
The pro-Russian opposition Democratic Party of Serbia was quick to denounce Mihajlovic's comments, saying she should retract her statement because it could "jeopardize relations with Russia and undermine joint programs."