Western Balkans Overview Feb 5, 2024 – CWBS

Western Balkans Overview Feb 5, 2024 – CWBS
  • Outrage in Belgrade, Washington, Brussels as Kosovo shuts down parallel Serbian structures

In early February, the government of Kosovo announced the closure of three so-called parallel Serbian structures, functioning as parallel municipalities in Peja, Istog, and Kline. The structures created by the Kosovo Serbs with the support of Belgrade were accused of committing criminal offenses – forgery and spreading false information. Kosovo police searched the premises of the three structures and reported that some of the documents had the logo of the Serbian government. Documents of parallel government structures, illegal from the perspective of Pristina, were also discovered. Numerous documents were seized, while heads of parallel structures were detained “for questioning.”

“The era of lawlessness has ended over, and the only institution of Serbia within the Republic of Kosovo will be its embassy in Pristina,” Kosovo’s Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla said.

In late January, the Minister of Local Self-Government of Kosovo, Elbert Krasniqi, announced the closure of another parallel Serbian structure in Dragash municipality, which had issued Serbian documents to citizens from four municipalities in the southern region of Kosovo.

Kosovo’s Serb party Srpska Lista, commenting on the shutdown of Serbian institutions, called on Belgrade to seek intervention from the European Union and the NATO mission in Kosovo, KFOR, to prevent Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s “settling of accounts” with the Serbian community. “The actions by Pristina should be considered as those by the occupiers and nothing else,” Srpska Lista said.

The Directorate for Kosovo and Metohija Affairs of the Government of Serbia called the Kosovo police operation an “illegal and violent action”. The agency stated that “the invasion of armed members of the Kosovo Police against the provisional authorities of the municipalities of Peja (in Gorazhdec), Istog (in Osojan) and Kline (in Videje) is a continuation of the ethnic cleansing and extermination of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, under the direct leadership of Albin Kurti, right before the eyes of the entire international community.”

The American Ambassador to Pristina, Jeff Hovenier, accused the Kosovo government of unjustified increase in ethnic tensions.

The European Union has expressed serious concern about special police operations in the offices of institutions run by Serbia. Peter Stano, spokesperson for the European Union’s Foreign Affairs and Security Policy stated that the sudden closure of these offices will have a negative impact on the daily lives and living conditions of the Kosovo Serb communities, as it will limit their access to basic social services due to the apparent lack of alternatives at the moment. It is assumed that the status of these structures will be resolved within the framework of the EU-facilitated dialogue in connection with the creation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities, the statement emphasizes. The European Union urged Kosovo to avoid unilateral actions that could increase tensions and to resolve these issues through EU-facilitated dialogue.

The reaction expressed by the international community demonstrates that the current policy of the Kosovo government under Kurti’s leadership sees no support from Kosovo’s Western partners. Washington and Brussels are not ready for unconditional support for Pristina and will put pressure on the Kosovo authorities to reach compromise solutions within the dialogue under the EU auspices. At the same time, Kurti and his team are determined to continue the policy of building Kosovo’s statehood by reducing Serbia’s authority over the Serb-populated areas of Kosovo.

  • Kosovo’s Western allies call on Kosovo authorities to postpone introduction of euro and ban on dinar

It is about the decision of the Central Bank of Kosovo regarding the exclusive use of the euro from February 1 and the ban on the use of the Serbian dinar in cash transactions.

As is known, Kosovo unilaterally adopted the euro in 2002.

At the same time, Serbia, which considers Kosovo its territory, finances Serbian institutions in Kosovo in dinars and pays social benefits to Kosovo Serbs. Until February 1, Serbs in Kosovo could make payments, including cash, in dinars, and withdraw dinars from their accounts in Serbian banks in Kosovo. This became impossible after the new rules were introduced by Pristina.

First, the ambassadors of France, Germany, the UK, Italy, and the USA, and then the European Union, expressed concern about the negative impact of the decision on the daily lives of Serbs in Kosovo. Diplomats and officials have called for a longer transition period and asked for more information about the innovation to the public.

In turn, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić announced that Serbia would request an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in response to Kosovo’s decision to use the euro and ban the Serbian dinar.

It is clear that the replacement of the dinar with the euro is part of the policy of strengthening the independence of Kosovo from Serbia, carried out by the government led by Albin Kurti. However, such steps find no support in the West. The EU and the US do not want an escalation of conflict between Pristina and Belgrade and are trying to persuade the Kosovo authorities to go for compromise. First of all, it is about the implementation of the agreement reached earlier within the EU-mediated dialogue on the creation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities, that is, granting a special status to regions with a predominantly Serbian population in the north of Kosovo.

  • Kosovo and Turkey sign a military agreement

Defense Ministers of Kosovo and Turkey, Ejup Maqedonci and Yasar Guler, signed a framework military agreement.

The deal envisages the deepening of military cooperation in the field of education, training, exchange of military personnel, Turkish investment in Kosovo’s defense industry, and rehabilitation of Kosovo Security Forces personnel in Turkey.

Macedonsi, who visited Turkey with a delegation from the Ministry of Defense and the Security Forces of Kosovo, noted that the purpose of military cooperation between Pristina and Ankara is “jointly contributing to maintaining peace and stability in the region and beyond.” At the same time, analysts claim that the agreement shows the Kosovo authorities see Turkey as an alternative ally to the West, which is ready to support the state-building process in the military sector, primarily the transformation of the Kosovo Security Forces into a real army.

Serbian Defense Minister Miloš Vučević, commenting on the agreements between Pristina and Ankara, said the Republic of Serbia would put forward an adequate response to the signing of a military agreement between Turkey and Kosovo.

Belgrade’s reaction is predictable and will lead to further militarization of the region.

  • Serbia strengthening “concept of total defense”

By the end of the year, the Armed Forces of Serbia will have been purchased a large number of domestically produced kamikaze drones, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić is convinced. During the briefing on the results of the analysis of the state of the Armed Forces of Serbia for 2023 and the review of weapons and military equipment, Vučić also talked about equipping attack drones with larger caliber ammunition and announced the delivery from Russia of an “important system” used in electronic warfare.

According to the Serbian president, Serbia should strengthen the “concept of the so-called total defense”. “We must be ready, we do not threaten anyone, we protect the country and deter potential aggressors,” Vučić emphasized.

The President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, who attended the event, emphasized in his speech: “The Serbian people believe in peace and in Republika Srpska, they believe in Serbia, we are happy with every progress that Serbia shows and its ability to protect its territorial integrity and the freedom of the Serbian people.”

The presence at the event of the leader of Republika Srpska, which is part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as his statement, is a demonstration that Belgrade’s defense strategy includes the protection of not only the state of Serbia, but also the ethnic Serbs, who are mostly citizens of Serbia, in the region, primarily in BiH.

  • NATO reaffirms support for Bosnia and Herzegovina

The entire composition of the North Atlantic Council (NAC), led by NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Joane, was on a two-day working visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The visit by members of NATO’s highest political body was the first one since 2010 and was seen by local pro-Western politicians as a demonstration of the Alliance’s support for BiH at a time when the world is hearing predictions about possible destabilization of the Western Balkans if Russian aggression against Ukraine is not stopped.

The Deputy Secretary General of NATO emphasized during the visit that BiH is a long-term and close partner of NATO. During talks, the parties discussed the security situation in the country and its implications for stability in the broader region, because what is happening in BiH is important for the security of the Western Balkans, and what is happening in the Western Balkans is important for all in Europe. NATO strongly supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of BiH, the official said. Separatist policies and divisive rhetoric undermine stability and hinder reforms, she said, adding that all political leaders must work together to preserve unity and protect state institutions.

After the meeting with the Alliance delegation, the Bosnian member of the BiH Presidium, Denis Bečirović, noted that all members of the North Atlantic Council declared their support for BiH, its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and “clearly said that they condemn any calls for secession.”

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Elmedin Konakovic, emphasized that the NAC meeting in Sarajevo was an event of exceptional importance. “This is an important political and any other message to those who from the outside, from some international circles, claim control over this part of Europe, and especially to those inside who may be thinking about some negative steps in the near future,” he said.

Meanwhile, Russian propaganda media broadcasting in the Serbian language said that the topic of discussion at the meetings with the NATO delegation was “disciplining Republika Srpska.”

Earlier, pro-Russian President of RS Milorad Dodik has repeatedly made statements about the possible disintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina and plans for the secession of Republika Srpska.

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina and NATO: cooperation but no integration

Approaching NATO membership remains a key foreign policy priority for Bosnia and Herzegovina. This statement was made by the Bosnian member of the BiH Presidium, Denis Bečirović, after the leadership of Bosnia and Herzegovina met with members of the North Atlantic Council (NAC), who were visiting BiH. Bečirović said he had asked NAC members to speed up Bosnia and Herzegovina’s accession to NATO, citing the fact that BiH’s pro-Russian politicians, primarily Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, threaten regional peace. According to the Bosnian member of the Presidium, all laws necessary for Euro-Atlantic integration have been passed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the country is currently not neutral.

Bečirović’s statement was criticized by political representatives of Bosnian Serbs and the Russian embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik wrote on X that BiH has a common foreign policy that is agreed at the level of Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, recalling that the People’s Assembly of Republika Srpska expressed its negative opinion on NATO integration. He emphasized that Bečirović cannot speak on behalf of the citizens and peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina if he believes that Republika Srpska is part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In another address, the one to his party congress, Dodik said: “We are not for accession to NATO but we are for cooperation.”

It should be noted that full membership in the Alliance is a goal fixed in the current defense law of 2005. In 2010, after an official appeal by the BiH authorities, Bosnia and Herzegovina was invited to join the Membership Action Plan (MAP). In 2019, the People’s Assembly of Republika Srpska adopted a document in which it supported NATO cooperation, but opposed joining the Alliance. In the same year, Bosnia and Herzegovina approved its first Reform Program – in fact, it is a standard NATO document for the MAP implementation, the Annual National Program (ANP), but the name was changed at the request of representatives of Bosnian Serbs, who believe that the document with such a title would no longer mark a step toward joining the Alliance.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Elmedin Konakovic, believes that currently BiH has no clear plan for Euro-Atlantic integration, and that cooperation cannot fully replace membership in the Alliance.

“Today, more than ever, I regret the decision of the previous government to transfer BiH from the clearly defined path of full membership in NATO to that of cooperation with NATO. Cooperation with NATO is very important, perhaps decisive for BiH, and the mistake is that we do not have a clearly defined path, despite the fact that we have adopted laws that guarantee it,” Konakovic said after meeting with NATO representatives.

  • Belgrade assigns former head of security agency as ambassador to Podgorica

The new Ambassador of Serbia to Montenegro, Nebojša Rodić, officially took office on February 2, after handing his credentials to the President of Montenegro, Jakov Milatović, at the residence in Cetinje.

Serbia had not had an ambassador to Montenegro for the previous three years, after the then-Serbian ambassador Vladimir Božović was expelled in November 2020 by the former government of the Democratic Party of Socialists, led by Milo Djukanović, for violating the Vienna Convention.

Experts pointed out that the background of the new ambassador of Serbia may be a demonstration of Belgrade’s desire to strengthen its influence in Montenegro – from 2012 to 2013, Nebojsa Rodic served as director of the Security Information Agency (Security Service) of Serbia, and in 2014 he was Minister of Defense.