(Bloomberg) -- Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said his government will maintain its neutral position regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine despite enormous pressure building on the Balkan nation to participate in sanctions directed at the Kremlin.  

The former Yugoslav republic seeks to keep its close ties with Moscow -- which provides Serbia with energy, defensive equipment and geopolitical support -- even as it holds onto its ambition to join the European Union. The Serbian leader last week stopped short of backing EU and U.S. sanctions, though said Ukraine’s territorial integrity must be safeguarded. 

“These past days have been a nightmare,” Vucic told reporters in the central Serbian city of Kragujevac on Monday, without elaborating on demands from foreign officials. “Serbia has its position regarding the Ukraine crisis and it will keep it as long as it can.” 

The EU has pushed allies to coordinate in the latest round of restrictive measures in response to President Vladimir Putin’s order to invade Ukraine. Serbia and five other Balkan states have sought to join the bloc for more than a decade, struggling to meet accession standards amid reluctance by some EU states to accept newcomers.

Friendly ties with Putin have paid off. Vucic negotiated a below-market price for natural gas imports, as well as purchases of Russian fighter jets. The Kremlin has also backed Belgrade in opposing full international recognition of Kosovo, a former province that seceded in 2008. 

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.