Western Balkans overview Aug 28, 2023 – CWBS

Western Balkans overview Aug 28, 2023 – CWBS
  • Participation of the Chairman of the Presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina Željko Komšić and Presidium member Denis Bećirović in the Crimea Platform summit in Kyiv

Russia decried the very presence of members of the Presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Crimea Platform summit in Kyiv a “hostile act” to which Moscow could respond. In a statement posted on its website, the Russian Embassy in BiH, said it perceives the presence of BiH representatives at the summit as a “frankly hostile act” and an attack on the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, and Moscow “reserves the right to respond to unfriendly actions.” BiH was represented at the summit by Presidium Chairman Željko Komšić, as well as Presidium member Denis Bećirović. During their visit to Kyiv, they met with President Volodymyr Zelensky and honored the memory of civilians killed by Russian invaders in Bucha. In his address, Komšić emphasized that Crimea is part of Ukraine and that there can be no compromises on the issue of the inviolability of borders. BiH presidium member Bećirović said that the competent bodies of the BiH condemned Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine as an act of violation of international law. To date, Bosnia and Herzegovina has voted a total of 86 times, like the EU, on matters condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine. More than 60 of the world’s most influential leaders attended the Third Summit of the Crimea Platform, and as Bećirović noted, “the voice of Bosnia and Herzegovina was heard on all meridians and parallels.” He commented on the statement of the President of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, who said that members of the Presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina expressed their private views while in Ukraine. “I can only state that he is a lower-level representative of BiH authorities and as such has absolutely no competence to speak on foreign policy. This is the exclusive competence of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Bećirović emphasized. “In these difficult moments, supporting Ukraine means being on the right side of history and sharing the principles on which the civilized world is based. Supporting Ukraine means pursuing a position that is worldview-wise, legally, morally, politically, and historically correct. And the majority of BiH strongly supports Ukraine,” Bećirović concluded.

Despite criticism of Komšić and Bećirović’s visit to Kyiv by representatives of the Republika Srpska and the most powerful Croatian party in BiH, the CDU, these two members of the Presidium demonstrated their determination in the need to provide assistance to Ukraine in countering Russian aggression and ensuring its territorial integrity, as well as their maturity in approaches to resolving issues of war and peace, determining who is the aggressor and who is the victim of a military incursion. The question is not how much BiH can really help Ukraine, but whether it will have strength to clearly determine that it is on the right side of historical processes. Today, Ukraine is going through what BiH was going through in 1992-1995, and most of the Sarajevo officials prove that they remain part of the European camp of fighters for the triumph of international law, European values, and Ukraine’s freedom.

  • Kyiv-Belgrade relations. Serbia’s participation in the Crimea Platform summit

During the latest meeting in Athens between the presidents of Ukraine and Serbia, Volodymyr Zelensky invited Aleksandar Vučić to join the Third Summit of the Crimea Platform. Ultimately, it was Prime Minister Anna Brnabić who represented the country by delivering an address via video conference. The prime minister stated that Serbia had never been in favor of value neutrality and fully respects the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. Brnabić noted that Serbia “sincerely regrets the suffering of Ukraine and Ukrainian people.” 

She said Serbia would continue to pay special attention to the humanitarian situation in Ukraine and provide assistance to the nation, as evidenced by the country’s decision to donate goods and medicines to alleviate humanitarian suffering. “Serbia is a true friend of Ukraine,” she added. Meanwhile, the head of Serbian diplomacy, Ivica Dačić, met next day with the ambassador of the Russian Federation in Belgrade, Aleksandr Botsan Kharchenko, stating that Serbia did not, in fact, join the statement of the Crimea Platform summit because, according to him, it goes beyond the limits acceptable to the government.

And precisely at that time in Belgrade, citizens, joined by European ambassadors, gathered for the Peace March on the occasion of the 32nd anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence Day. The ambassadors sported clothes and accessories in the colors of the Ukrainian flag – blue and yellow, while citizens carried the banner saying “Ukraine will win”. The American ambassador to Belgrade, Christopher Hill, said the United States would support Ukraine for as long as it takes. Hill also commented on the summit in Athens, noting a successful meeting between the presidents of Serbia and Ukraine, which shows that Belgrade and Kyiv are getting closer. He also noted that it is good that the Prime Minister of Serbia participated in the Crimea Platform summit. The head of the European Union delegation in Serbia, Emanuele Giaufret, noted that the participants of the Peace March sought to demonstrate solidarity, but also admiration for the courage of the Ukrainian people. According to the diplomat, Serbia will continue to support sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Europe must remain united in these difficult circumstances, concluded Giaufret.

This week’s meeting of the presidents of Ukraine and Serbia at the Athens summit had a significant impact not only on these two countries’ public but also on all countries across the Balkan region. The improvement of relations on the Belgrade-Kyiv axis is seen as important and significant. This is confirmed by the participation of Prime Minister Brnabić in the Third Summit of the Crimea Platform and her meaningful address delivered via video conference. Meanwhile, the pro-Russian forces in the government of Serbia take a different stance, expressed it in a statement by the leader of the Socialist Party and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dačić. In order to avoid serious criticism from Moscow, Belgrade resorted to such a maneuver by highlighting a comment by the Kremlin-friendly politician. Serbia continues to maneuver between Brussels and Moscow, but pro-European notes have been sounding much louder recently than pro-Russian ones.

  • The process of the new government formation in Montenegro

The leader of the Europe Now (REZ) movement, Milojko Spajić, who secured the mandate to form a new government, said the conclusion of the REZ’s Main Council is that they agreed on a parliamentary majority to form a government. He said that the leader of Democratic Montenegro, Aleksa Bečić, will be pitched as the new chairman of the Skupstina (parliament). “We expect to see support of 44 lawmakers (of 81 in total) in parliament when voting for the new government,” Spajić said. When asked to confirm if the pro-Serbian bloc “For the Future of Montenegro” will definitely not be part of the next government of Montenegro, he replied affirmatively. “We can’t trust their sincerity,” said the REZ leader. At the Main Council, the Europe Now movement discussed the principles of forming the 44th government. The country’s Bosniak minority will also be part of the new cabinet. Earlier, they put forward an ultimatum that they would not join the top executive body alongside any pro-Serb deputies. The government also enjoys support from local Albanian deputies.

Thus, it appears that the new configuration of the Montenegrin government will work exclusively along  pro-European lines, involving all representatives of national minorities who sealed their parliamentary mandates in the latest elections, except for the Serbian one. It is obvious that the efforts on the part of Belgrade to exert pressure on Montenegro had the opposite effect. Besides the For the Future of Montenegro bloc, another force – the Democratic Party of Socialists, which had long been in power and was involved in a number of corruption-related cases – was not invited to the government coalition either.

  • U.S. special representative to the Western Balkans meets with North Macedonia’s political leaders

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Special Representative to the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, held meetings with the President of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski, and the Head of Macedonian Diplomacy, Bujar Osmani. At the meetings, U.S. support for the country’s European aspirations was confirmed and expectations were expressed that North Macedonia would continue its path to full membership in the European Union. The parties exchanged their views on the latest political developments, with an emphasis on North Macedonia’s European dossier, as well as the need to continue the negotiation process with the EU through the implementation of constitutional amendments.

After Escobar met with Prime Minister Kovačevski, it was assessed that any other result than continuing the European path does not correspond to the strategic interests of North Macedonia to realize the goal of European integration, which enjoys unequivocal support from the Macedonian citizens and, as never before, from international partners. A negotiated framework involving full protection of the Macedonian language and identity has been reached with the EU, and decisions to recognize more national minorities, including Bulgarian, are expected to advance. Prime Minister Kovačevski said there is enough time to adopt constitutional changes, adding that this is critical to do so through due debate. He believes that the opposition force, VMRO-DPMNE, has enough European potential so they are able to support the move because otherwise, the alternative would be the country’s blockade and isolation. Meanwhile, the opposition holds a different opinion, claiming they will not support externally imposed constitutional amendments, and demand snap elections. The readout of VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski’s meeting with Escobar states that the current government misinformed the international community, in particular the U.S., regarding a number of domestic political issues. It was confirmed that VMRO-DPMNE’s main commitment and priority is the EU integration and Euro-Atlantic values. At the same time, Mickoski pointed out that the only way out of such an extremely difficult situation is to hold early parliamentary elections for citizens to elect a legitimate government.

Thus, the arrival of the U.S. special representative did not work in the interests of North Macedonia’s government. The opposition stubbornly retains its current position, which is to first hold early elections (where it expects to win) before passing constitutional amendments. It will be difficult for Brussels and Washington to change VMRO-DPMNE’s opinion. The force has skillfully built up its political defenses and is gradually moving the country to early elections. The only way out for the current authorities in Skopje will be to hold a snap vote and win it, including by campaigning on the existing support from Washington and Brussels and exposing the elaborate tricks on the part of the opposition. But whether the stunt will work remains unclear.

  • Military aid to Ukraine from the Western Balkans

After a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Athens, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said he had prepared a new EUR 30 million aid package, which will bring the total amount of support from Zagreb to Kyiv to EUR 200 million. Prior to that, Croatia sent Ukraine nine Mi-8 helicopters. Croatia also handed over to Ukraine a batch of small arms and protective equipment, as well as 15 Soviet-era 130 mm M-46 guns. Croatia and Ukraine recently agreed to have Ukrainian grain supplied through the Croatian ports of Vukovar on the Danube and Rijeka on the Adriatic Sea. “Several thousand tons of grain have already been exported. The majority went to Italy, the rest – to the north of Africa,” Plenković confirmed.

Meanwhile, the president of Montenegro said his country would unveil a package of military support to Ukraine worth EUR 10 million and join the security guarantees laid down for Ukraine by the Group of Seven nations. Partially recognized Kosovo has also joined the G7 declaration of “security guarantees” for Ukraine, the country’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti wrote. The Kosovar prime minister said the country would help Ukraine bring victory over Russia closer and hold the Russian leadership to justice for war crimes.

It can be noted that most of the countries of the Western Balkans do not stand aside in terms of providing support to Ukraine, including military assistance. At one time, a major aid package came to Kyiv from North Macedonia, including Soviet-era attack aircraft and fighter jets. BiH produces a significant number of Soviet-standard firearm munitions that can be used in Ukraine, including through supplies through third countries. Some military aid to Kyiv came even from Serbia, while Belgrade officials distanced themselves from direct supplies of weapons to the Ukrainian army. At the same time, American sources indicated exactly what types of weapons and ammunition Ukraine had received. Moscow is trying through its lobbyists in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to hamper any direct contracts but it is not so easy to do this with respect to purchases of arms and ammunition by third countries.

  • The alternative Serbia – Bulgaria gas pipe can be built as early as autumn 2023

The construction of the second gas pipeline connecting Serbia and Bulgaria will be completed in October this year. This opinion was expressed by the Minister of Mining and Energy of Serbia, Dubravka Jedović. “The project is strategically important not only for the gas sector, but also for the Serbian energy sector as a whole, as it will provide an additional source of gas supply and a highly safe way of obtaining this energy carrier,” Jedović said, while visiting one of the construction sites. It is worth noting that Balkan Stream’s main gas pipeline has already been built between Serbia and Bulgaria. This is a branch of the Turkish Stream pipeline, through which Russian gas flows from Turkey to Serbia and further to Europe. The pipe was commissioned on January 1, 2021. The construction of the new pipeline, according to Jedović, is aimed at reducing dependence on Russian gas supplies by diversifying sources. Diversification is one of the requirements that the European Union put forward to Serbia. In October 2022, during a meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, openly called on Serbia to diversify its sources of gas supply, claiming that too much focus on Russia is not good. Brussels officials then unambiguously hinted to Belgrade that the alternative interconnector would bring Serbia one step closer to the EU. Observing the construction of the new gas main, Minister Jedović expressed hope that soon Serbia would be able to receive gas from Azerbaijan and the Caspian region, as well as liquefied natural gas from the terminal in Greece. “In the future, this line (Serbia-Bulgaria gas pipeline) will become even more significant due to the diversification of gas supplies throughout Europe and the possibility of purchasing gas from different suppliers. Thanks to this interconnector, Serbia will enjoy great energy security and will also play the role of a transit state for the entire region, as in the case of the Balkan Stream gas pipeline, Dubravka Jedović said. In turn, construction contractors reported that at the moment they have received 100% of the pipes for the job. Some 70% of these pipes have already been laid. Also, 45% of all ground structures at the Serbia-Bulgaria interconnector have been erected.

Thus, by building a new branch of the gas pipeline that will deliver gas from Azerbaijan and liquefied gas from the ports of Greece, Serbia is strengthening its energy independence and fulfilling EU directives on the need to obtain no more than a third of energy from a single supplier. During the recent negotiations between the president of Serbia and the prime minister of Hungary in Budapest, Viktor Orbán has already expressed a significant interest in receiving gas from Serbia, should any problems arise regarding its shipment from Ukraine due to hostilities. Aleksandar Vučić assured his interlocutor of Serbia’s readiness to provide such service as Belgrade will profit off transit.