Western Balkans Overview Mar 25, 2024 – CWBS

Western Balkans Overview Mar 25, 2024 – CWBS
  • EuCo greenlights negotiations between BiH and and EU

The European Council agreed with the recommendation from the European Commission and supported the opening of accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina. The resolution of the European Council states that the next step – the approval of the negotiation framework, the actual start of negotiations – will be taken once BiH fulfills the Commission’s recommendations of October 12, 2022. (A list of conditions that the European Commission formulated for Bosnia and Herzegovina on the same day when it recommended that BiH be granted candidate status.)

Among the tasks to be completed by Bosnia and Herzegovina is adopting a new law on courts; taking decisive measures to fight corruption and organized crime; ensuring tougher control of borders and migration (partially implemented after BiH’s agreement with Frontex); ensuring the prohibition of torture; guaranteeing freedom of expression and media and protection of journalists; and ensuring the effectiveness of the coordination mechanism on European integration.

The European Council’s decision to launch negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, which requires Bosnia and Herzegovina to fulfill a number of conditions before obtaining a negotiating framework and the actual start of accession talks, has become acceptable to the countries that previously expressed unofficial skepticism about the “green light” for European integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, said in this regard that it will support the European Commission’s proposal to launch negotiations, but we support the Commission in that, before agreeing on the framework of negotiations, it is extremely important for BiH to take all necessary actions based on the recommendations of the European Commission.

  • KFOR responds to unstable situation in Kosovo by increasing contingent

On March 21, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti posted on social media a video that he claimed showed Serbian army special forces near the border with Kosovo. “It is not normal that this military equipment approaches only a few meters from the border. They came to provoke, but we recorded it, proved it, but we did nothing. We were wary in case they crossed the border, but they did not cross it,” Kurti told a Cabinet meeting the day after footage was released.

The peacekeeping mission of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Kosovo – KFOR – carefully monitors every scenario related to security and reacts to everything that can affect security, KFOR said, commenting on the claims by the Prime Minister of Kosovo about the movement of specialized units of the Serbian army near the border with Kosovo. Moreover, the NATO mission did not give a clear answer as to whether the movement of Serbian armed forces was actually observed in two places near the Serbian-Kosovo border, as claimed by Kurti.

KFOR called the general situation in Kosovo peaceful but unstable, stressing that the goal of the mission is to prevent escalation. KFOR stands ready and willing to take all necessary measures in order to fulfill the mandate given to the force by the United Nations to achieve a secure environment and freedom of movement for all residents of Kosovo, the NATO mission in Kosovo said.

Meanwhile, it became known that Bulgaria and Slovenia are increasing their presence in KFOR, and Albania is continuing the participation of its contingent.

On March 21, the Ministry of Defense of Bulgaria organized a ceremonial send-off of a military contingent of 100 soldiers who will strengthen the NATO mission in Kosovo.

In mid-March, the Council of Ministers of Albania decided to extend the participation of its armed forces in KFOR until 2027. Albania currently has 90 troops in KFOR.

The Slovenian authorities announced their intention to increase their presence in KFOR during the meeting between the Prime Minister of Slovenia and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob said a more concrete plan had not yet been adopted, but Slovenia expressed its willingness to do more, especially for the stability of the Western Balkans. Slovenia currently contributes to the KFOR mission with 103 soldiers.

Currently, KFOR is a 4,443-strong force representing 28 nations. Following a deadly incident in northern Kosovo last September, around 1,000 additional soldiers were deployed to the NATO mission and KFOR’s presence in the north was increased. In particular, the number of patrols was tripled, including at the administrative border.

On March 14, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg published the annual report for 2023, which covers all aspects of the Alliance’s work over the past year. The part concerning the Western Balkans states that NATO’s presence in Kosovo remains crucial for the stability of the Western Balkans.

  • 25th anniversary of NATO’s operation against Yugoslavia

The commemoration of the anniversary of the NATO air raids against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was held in Serbia using radical anti-NATO and pro-Russian rhetoric.

The central event, with the participation of the state leadership, took place in the Serbian city of Prokuplje. In his address delivered on site, President Aleksandar Vučić emphasized that NATO sought to destroy Serbia by bombing, but “25 years have passed and we still do not give up, we do not agree to the dismemberment of Serbia”, “we will never voluntarily agree that you took away from us Kosovo and Metohija”.

Several patriotic opposition parties and the right-wing movement “People’s Patrol” organized a rally in the center of Belgrade. It was held outside the building of the former General Staff, which was destroyed amid bombing, after which the participants marched along the central streets of Belgrade to the Russian Church. Banners were seen with the inscriptions “When the army returns to Kosovo”, “Pray to God and stick to Russia” and the flag of Serbia with the letter Z, which is a symbol of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


Russia tried to use the anniversary as a pretext for anti-Western propaganda, but failed.

The Russian Federation initiated a meeting of the UN Security Council, at which it was going to discuss the 25th anniversary of the NATO operation, but on March 25, the UN Security Council did not support holding a debate on the issue. Three members of the Security Council voted for the Russian proposal – the Russian Federation itself, as well as China, and Algeria. The remaining 12 countries abstained.

At the start of the meeting, the representative of France noted that, by initiating such a debate, Russia wants to use NATO’s intervention in 1999 to justify the war in Ukraine and Georgia.


The top officials of Montenegro, which was part of Yugoslavia in 1999 and is now a member of NATO, for the first time honored the memory of the victims of bombings. Parliament Speaker Andrija Mandic and Defense Minister Dragan Krapovic laid wreaths at monuments outside the former Yugoslav military bases in Danilovgrad and Podgorica, which were hit by Alliance airstrikes.

Mandic is known for his radical pro-Serbian and pro-Russian views. At the same time, Krapovic represents the moderately pro-Serbian and largely pro-Western Democrats party.

So that the laying of wreaths for the “victims of NATO” does not call into question the Euro-Atlantic choice of the country, the head of the Ministry of Defense emphasized in a statement to the media that currently Montenegro is a reliable member of NATO. At the same time, the first commemoration of the victims of bombings sends an unequivocal signal of a change in the vector of Montenegrin politics to an even more pro-Serbian one.

  • Kosovo can raise its status in NATO Parliamentary Assembly

On March 24, the Standing Steering Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Estonia decided to raise the status of Kosovo from an observer to an associate member of the Assembly. The decision, as informed by the Kosovo representatives, will be formalized by a vote in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly at the spring session in Sofia on May 27.

Kosovo Defense Minister Ejup Maqedonci emphasized that it is a “big step forward for the security and prosperity of Kosovo and the region.”

The report comes on the 25th anniversary of the start of the NATO air raids against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić characterized the decision of the NATO PA committee as a symbolic step aimed at the West’s support for Kosovo.

If the announced decision on Kosovo is adopted in May, it should indeed strengthen Kosovo’s position on the international stage.

  • Another round of negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo yields no results

Bilateral and trilateral negotiations between Serbia, Kosovo, and the EU took place in Brussels on March 25, with the participation of Petar Petkovic, director of the Department for Kosovo and Metohija Affairs of the Government of Serbia, the Kosovo delegation led by Besnik Bislimi, and the EU’s special representative for dialogue, Miroslav Lajčak.

The main topic was the ban on the use of Serbian dinars for cash transactions in Kosovo, introduced by Pristina.

The chief negotiator from Kosovo, Besnik Bislimi, said after the meeting that the parties’ proposals regarding the dinar are still far from being agreed by all parties, and “there is a need to hold another meeting to see if there is a possibility to get closer to a solution or not.”

“After three and a half hours of direct discussions with the Pristina side, where we talked about proposals, bilateral discussions also took place with the EU, and it was agreed to continue negotiations in Brussels on April 4,” said Serbia’s chief negotiator Petar Petkovic. He accused the Kosovo side of failing to show “any political will” to reach an agreement, and the European Union – of being unable or unwilling to find a solution.

Earlier, the USA and EU called on the Kosovo authorities to postpone the introduction of the ban on the use of the dinar. But Pristina did not give up its decision, despite pressure from partners, and neither did it declare readiness to go for compromises on the issue.

  • Serbian football becomes part of Russia’s hybrid influence

Minister of Foreign Affairs and First Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia Ivica Dacic visited Moscow, where he held talks with the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Sergey Lavrov, and attended a friendly match between the national football teams of Serbia and Russia on March 21. The Serbian national team became the first European team to play in the Russian Federation after Russia unleashed full-scale aggression against Ukraine.

Following Dacic’s visit to Moscow and his attendance at a football match, the U.S. Department of State said: “We do not believe that any country should provide Mr. Putin with a platform to promote or justify his ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine.”

Two days later, on March 23, a friendly match was played between Red Star (Belgrade) and Zenit (St. Petersburg) in the capital of Serbia. During the match, the Belgrade club’s fans unfolded at the stands a giant image of a soldier in camouflage wielding a gun, Russian and Serbian flags and a banner with crossed out EU and NATO logos. The fans chanted “Russians and Serbs, brothers forever.”

During Zenit’s stay in Belgrade, the delegations of Crvena Zvezda and Gazprom met, reaching an agreement to extend the sponsorship contract for the Belgrade team until 2027.

Serbian-Russian football matches and Gazprom’s financing of Serbia’s leading club are yet another illustration of Russian presence in Serbian football and a serious symptom of the transformation of the most popular sport in Serbia into a tool of Russian hybrid influence.

  • Region seeing more military exercises

According to the Balkan Defense Monitor 2024, the absolute majority of countries in the region last year saw an increase in the number of international military exercises. The report covers Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.

In 2023, North Macedonia participated in 31 exercises against 20 in 2022. Albania participated in 20 international military exercises, three more than in 2022. In Montenegro, 25 exercises were conducted in 2023, compared to 17 in 2022 and only 10 in 2021.

In the case of Croatia, the number of drills increased dramatically – from 14 in 2022 to 66 in 2023.

The authors of the study stated that four of the six countries studied are members of NATO, and the increase in the number of military exercises can be explained by the increase in “NATO vigilance”.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is officially a candidate for joining NATO, ran 14 international military exercises in 2023. Although the number is lower than that of NATO Allies in the region, it is still higher than in 2022, when only nine international exercises were conducted with the participation of BiH.

Serbia is the only country that does not follow the regional trend. Last year, the country held only one international military exercise – Platinum Wolf 2023 – which was positioned as preparation for peacekeeping operations, while none was held in 2022. This is explained by the decision of the government of Serbia to suspend military drills with the participation of international partners, which was adopted shortly after the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine. Before the decision on the moratorium, Serbia conducted exercises with both NATO and Russia (and Belarus).

Currently, NATO and the USA remain dominant partners in exercises for all countries across the region, the authors of the study noted. Even Serbia, which has introduced a moratorium on international military exercises, made an exception to host the Platinum Wolf 2023 exercise at its training ground, which the Serbian side co-hosted with the Americans. The authors of the report assessed the decision as a gesture of goodwill towards the West, and noted that similar steps can be expected from Belgrade in the future.