Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic-led “internal dialogue on the future of Kosovo” has entered a new stage, after Vucic stated openly that Serbia will not be let into EU unless it signs a legally binding document on normalization of relations with the separatist Kosovo. On the other hand, many in Pristina believe that U.S. should have a bigger role in the talks with Serbia for normalization of the relations.
EADaily has requested comments from Russian experts about how they assess the current state and the prospects of the Belgrade-Pristina talks on the status of Kosovo. Does Belgrade have any arguments? If Pristina insists on a bigger role of U.S. in the talks, is it possible to involve Russia as well? On what terms?
Researcher at the Institute for Slavonic Studies of the Academy of Science of Russia Georgi Engelhardt believes that Belgrade has a very serious argument against Pristina even under the Brussels Agreement of 2013.
The expert recalled that during the last four years, Serbia has proved its commitment to the dialogue in the current format and made a series of very serious concessions to Pristina. They were very painful concessions, since it has to close almost all its institutions in Kosovo and Metohija, make the Kosovan Serbs obey to the separatist government, demarcate the border, refuse from efforts to hold Kosovo from joining international organizations etc. Besides, the Kosovan branch of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party supported the “government” of Ramush Haradinaj, who was arrested in France at the request of Belgrade earlier this year over military crimes during the Kosovo war of 1998-1999.
“All these concessions are quite real and weighty. However, Pristina has made no commeasurable steps. Even the extremely limited autonomy in terms of the Community of Serb Municipalities has not been registered legally yet, though it was agreed upon in Brussels. The Albanian government fails to implement its commitments. Therefore, Belgrade has a brilliant opportunity now to demand Brussels to press the Kosovan side to implement its commitments as a condition for any other talks and concessions. They can link all the father steps to the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities,” Georgi Engelhardt said.
At the same time, the expert believes that President Vucic’s positions in the talks are not good, unfortunately. During the five years of talks under his presidency, Brussels, Washington, Berlin, and Pristina have understood that Vucic is very sensitive to external pressure and he can be easily forced to make very large and painful concessions, the expert said. He thinks that Vucic’s decision to use the Serb List (a branch of his party) to support Ramush Haradinaj’s government has affected his positions in the talks more than ever. “Haradinaj, one of the leaders of Kosovo Liberation Army guerillas, is blamed for many bloody crimes against the Serbian and Albanian,” he elaborated.
Georgi Engelhardt thinks it possible to involve Russia into the talks, but it will require changing the current format of talks and, consequently, an agreement of the other sides - Pristina and EU. “So far it is not clear what can make them go on a step so unfavorable to them,” he said.
As regards linking recognition of Kosovo to Serbia’s accession to EU, the expert thinks that the most rational (though immoral) recommendation to Belgrade would be postponing that issue until the very moment of accession to EU. “Actually, Serbia launched its course for accession to EU on October 5, 2000. The year 2017 is ending and the first possible date for its accession to EU has been announced quietly lately. It is 2025. It they continue at this pace, the country may not just lose the rights to part of its territory, it will lose other lands too, remaining outside the EU at the same time,” Engelhardt said.
Director of the Balkan Centre for International Cooperation Viktor Kolbanovsky, in turn, said Pristina’s recently intensified calls for more active involvement of U.S. in the talks between Belgrade and Pristina point to the fact that the Kosovo Albanians see the strengthening positions of Serbia. For the fear of losing their illegally obtained status and territories, Kosovans step up efforts to enlist the support of their American patrons that once led the NATO aggression against Yugoslavia. There are serious grounds for it, the expert said.
“Firstly, after the referendum in Catalonia, EU, including the European Commission, openly supported the territorial integrity of Spain, but Kosovo’s illegal separation from Serbia has not been revised anyway. Instead, undiluted hypocrisy of European bureaucracy has questioned the prospects of Belgrade-Pristina normalization in the format of European talks that Brussels undertook with the agreement dated April 19, 2013,” Kolbanovsky told EADaily.
The expert believes that EU’s double standards on Kosovo may bring good dividends to Serbia. After the Catalan precedent, Belgrade has all legal and moral rights to demand the EU lift its earlier made mandatory condition (for accession to the EU) to recognize Kosovo. “In this issue, Serbia has at least five ally countries inside the EU. Those countries have not recognized Kosovo, including the Spanish Kingdom that itself has survived separation,” Victor Kolbanovsky said.
Secondly, Belgrade is committed to its military neutrality policy and it has not joined anti-Russian sanctions, it keeps developing strategic partnership with Russia. Along with growing economic and defense capacity and strengthened political system, this makes Serbia a key player in the region and an important factor in European and international affairs, the Russian expert said. “On the one hand, Serbia’s leadership has to bear undiplomatic statements by Hoyt Brian Yee bluntly demanding it to stop ‘sitting on two chairs’ and balancing between Russia and the West. On the other hand, Belgrade has already host two rounds of talks between Russian president’s top aide Vladislav Surkov and U.S. Department of State Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker on settlement of the crisis in Donbass. As an active political player Serbia is turning into a valuable international mediator in the settlement of issues where other channels and formats are no longer effective,” he said.
According to Kolbanovsky, all these factors point to the fact that preconditions are being created for a new stage of the Kosovo settlement. “In the period from the tragedy of 1999 to the drama of 2008, the international law, morality and simple human truth that were on the side of Serbia were ruthlessly suppressed by the West. Eventually, the global balance of powers has changed and Kosovo has turned from the Serbia’s tragedy into a Pandora Box for the entire Europe,” the expert recalled. Belgrade tries hard to prevent new bloody conflicts on the Kosovan land, he elaborated.
As to the establishment of a new format on the Kosovo settlement involving Russia, the expert sees quite good legal basis for it. “Article 2 of the Declaration on Strategic Partnership between the Russian Federation and Republic of Serbia dated May 24, 2013, provides for ‘political coordination of bilateral, regional and international relations of mutual interest.’ Therefore, in case Belgrade’s official request, the issue will be considered at the level of foreign ministries of Russia and Serbia,” Kolbanovsky said.
The Russian expert recalls that Serbia has a right to return the Kosovo settlement to the initial format of UN where China, a permanent member of the Organization that has not recognized Kosovo, supports Serbia along with Russia.
“Serbia has enough political weight and international authority now to speak openly about what NATO, U.S. and EU did to it and to demand revision of the enslaving conditions and humiliating agreements that have been forced upon it in contemporary times. I think that as an experienced political strategist President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic sees the current capacities and advantages of Serbia in potential scenarios,” Victor Kolbanovsky said for conclusion.