Western Balkans overview Nov 6, 2023 – CWBS

Western Balkans overview Nov 6, 2023 – CWBS
  • Head of Serbia’s Security and Information Agency steps down

On November 4 Aleksandar Vulin “unexpectedly” resigned from the position of head of the Security Information Agency (BIA). “The USA and the EU demand my head as a prerequisite for not introducing sanctions against Serbia,” Vulin said in a statement, which he wrapped up with the words “Long live the Serbian world”, proving once again his devotion to the idea of a Greater Serbia. Vulin is a “close confidant” of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. While Vučić seeks to create the impression of balancing between the West and Russia, Vulin is considered an open sympathizer of the Kremlin. He often visits Moscow and has developed operational ties with the Russian special services, Western media report. The US imposed sanctions on Vulin in July, saying he promotes Russian influence in the Balkans. Serbia has traditionally had good relations with Russia. It is the only country among the Balkan states that are candidates for EU membership, which did not impose sanctions on Russia over its aggression against Ukraine.

U.S. Special Envoy to the Western Balkans and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar notes that the U.S. does not make personal decisions on behalf of the Serbian government but its position on Vulin is very clear as he has long been a very destabilizing figure in the region, and the sanctions were based precisely on that. A similar response came from the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. The U.S. position on Vulin is well known, the diplomats noted, adding that he remains under U.S. sanctions. The U.S. looks forward to continuing to deepen partnership with Serbia towards its full integration into Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community, the embassy noted. The United States has imposed sanctions on Vulin over his alleged involvement in transnational crime, illegal drug operations, corruption, and the spread of Russian influence in the Balkans.

“Alexander Vulin has never been a Russian asset. That he always preferred Russia to the USA, the British or the Germans, there is no doubt. But to say that he worked for someone else and not for Serbia is an absolute lie,” said President Vučić.

In accordance with the Law on the Security and Information Agency, the BIA director is appointed and dismissed by the Government of Serbia. Since extraordinary parliamentary elections have been scheduled in Serbia for November 1, and the government is under a technical mandate, the question of whether Vulin’s resignation will be accepted is not fully clarified. It is clear that the technical government cannot appoint a new director. Vulin’s resignation “coincided” with the visit to Belgrade of the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. It is obvious that the president of Serbia decided to pass the ball towards Washington and Brussels at a time when the general parliamentary and partially local elections in the country have been announced. Meanwhile, Vulin is one of the leaders of the Movement of Socialists party, which is participating in the elections and is a partner of the ruling party led by President Vučić. It is obvious that now Vulin has his hands untiedregarding party and pre-election campaigning, which would not be the case had he remained head of the BIA. Therefore, whether he will get a position again depends on the outcome of the elections. It is clear that if the opposition wins, he will not receive any position and risks being persecuted, but with the victory of the ruling political force led by Presiden Vučić, he has a chance to reappear in the political circle of the Serbian leader if his party will show solid election results.

  • Officials in Banja Luka begin to realize futility of attacks on High Representative

The Parliament Speaker in Republika Srpska, Nenad Stevandic, said the High Representative of the International Community, Christian Schmidt, is a problematic figure tasked with stealing the property of Republika Srpska (RS). “We in Republika Srpska were concerned about Schmidt from the very beginning. As soon as someone is deployed without legitimacy and as soon as he tries to pretend that there is something behind it.” He believes that “the attack on the property of Republika Srpska was concealed, as soon as this suspicion was expressed, information was quickly found as to why he was problematic.

It is undeniable that he enjoys the support of several embassies of powerful nations to make us go crazy over our assets. If this is a fictitious conflict, which will result in the detention, arrest, and conviction of Milorad Dodik, and all of us will face sanctions, then they are wrong because all the institutions in the RS are operable. If they think we are a problem, here we are all ready to sacrifies our political heads. We will resign, so let these ambassadors, who say they work in the interests of the people, take part in the campaign and stand for their favorites, and we will see who the people will choose,” said Stevandic.

Stevandic claims that the RS leadership is not the problem and that Dodik is just an alibi for Republika Srpska to be beheaded and its assets – stolen. “We are not ready to be too liberal and elegant in this ugly time. Everything should be under control. We should worry about how our country will get through this crisis,” Stevandic said. “Write that the assets of the Republika Srpska are inviolable, and we will immediately resign. We are fighting for the assets, not for ourselves,” Stevandic said.

The statement of the Speaker of the RS Parliament bears much less aggressive messages than before, when RS President Milorad Dodik declared he would arrest the High Representative should he arrive in Banja Luka. Finally, the officials in RS began to understand that a direct confrontation with the Office of the High Representative (OHR) would not bring them anything good. Stevandic felt that it is possible that the high representative will soon dismiss Dodik from his post for separatist efforts and attempts to destroy the unity of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although Dodik has repeatedly stated that he will travel to Moscow for a meeting with Putin late October, this has not happened yet. On the one hand, Dodik understands that it is easier for him to be removed from his position if he flies to Moscow and on the other hand, if there is an order to not only remove him from the political scene, but also to arrest him, then this will be an excuse to flee to wherever he will be accepted if Dodik finds out about it in advance.

  • Security Council unanimously votes to expand EUFOR mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Fifteen members of the Security Council unanimously supported the expansion of the EUFOR mission. EUFOR forces will remain in BiH to ensure peace and stability in the country in accordance with the Dayton Peace Agreement. Over the past two years, due to the war in Ukraine and the possibility of the crisis spilling over into the Western Balkans, EUFOR has increased the number of soldiers to 1,100 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In addition, the European Parliament welcomed the granting of BiH candidate status for EU membership, as it recognizes the importance of the Western Balkans in the enlargement of the European Union and calls on the EU to accelerate the accession process of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The European Parliament criticized the activities of the President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, and the Chairman of the National Assembly (Parliament) Nenad Stevandic. The reception of high-ranking Iranian officials in Sarajevo and the abstinence of BiH during the vote on the resolution on human rights in Iran were also criticized.

Thus, the activities of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina are fully supported by both the UN Security Council and the European Parliament, but certain critical remarks were made regarding his activities. BiH Chairman Željko Komšych spoke about this particularly sharply at the meeting of the UN Security Council. “That is why the OHR was urged to work exclusively within the framework of its mandate, and not to contribute to the strengthening of political and ethnic differences and tensions by its actions, and to use the Bonn powers only as last resort, as stated in the position of the European Parliament. It should be recalled that for more than two decades the High Representatives have not used their Bonn powers to remove the highest officials in BiH whose activities threaten the country’s territorial integrity. It is clear that the use of such a step would always be negatively perceived by part of the local population, because such a step would mean that the country is under an international protectorate. At the same time, over the last two decades, there have been no such radical actions against the territorial integrity of BiH as those initiated by RS President Milorad Dodik and the political leadership of Republika Srpska.

  • President of Serbia once again states he would not recognize Kosovo’s independence under any conditions

The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, once again stated that he does not recognize the independence of Kosovo, adding that he said this in the face of the leaders of the EU and three countries – France, Germany, and Italy, who are not indifferent to such an epilogue because they know that by violating the territorial integrity of Serbia, they violated all international legal norms. Vučić said he told Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz, Giorgia Meloni, Hosep Borrell, and Miroslav Lajčak to their faces that recognizing Kosovo is off the table. “I will not sign or agree to the independence of Kosovo. And they know it,” Vučić said. When asked if he had been threatened, he replied that they were not threats, as European leaders do not use such language, but he understood well that Serbia could face certain consequences. He added: “My stubborn repetition of the history of aggression in 1999 and the destruction of the norms of international law is a pebble in their shoe.” Today, resolution 1244 is formally in force, which is de facto and de jure referred to when talking about KFOR in Kosovo, but they do not respect it, as well as the UN Charter.

Vučić stated that “bots” and “trolls” from Pristina are fantastic weapons in the hands of Albin Kurti. Social networks have incredible influence even on the politics in Brussels. Vucic said that in this regard he was not surprised by Ursula von der Leyen’s statement voiced in Pristina, which said what the biggest powers — Germany, France, Italy, and the United States — think and want. “But she was very fair in Belgrade, she didn’t want to say it.” I am not surprised that she said this in Pristina because a few days before that I heard the same thing from the head of the European Parliament. He thanked von der Leyen for the fact that she did not want to react “with the first blow” to the request to impose measures of influence on Serbia and that she came to Belgrade and wanted to listen to the Serbian side. Asked when the main negotiators are expected to meet next, Vučić said Belgrade had accepted the invitation, but he was not sure if the other side had.

The statement of the Serbian president is fully in line with the conditions of the pre-election campaign, as early parliamentary and partly local elections will be held on December 17. The fact that the head of the EC said somewhat different things in Pristina and Belgrade is also a confirmation of this. It seems that Brussels and Washington gave an unspoken “green light” to Aleksandar Vučić for the possibility of using the topic of Kosovo as a striking force in the election campaign. The firm and unyielding position of the President of Serbia may appeal to many voters. But it will be another matter when the elections are over so the Western allies will remind Aleksandar Vučić of the commitments undertaken earlier. And this, among other things, will be the de facto recognition of Kosovo. It is possible that even after the elections, the president of Serbia will not fulfill the agreements achieved with Brussels and Washington, then severe sanctions will be applied to him and we will have to say goodbye to the country’s desire to become a member of the European Union. Then Belgrade will have to become open friends with Moscow and Beijing. Vučić himself and his wife visited China at the recent “One Belt, One Road” summit. Among the EU countries, only Hungary was represented there at the highest level. Serbia has signed almost two dozen bilateral documents with China, which indicates a possible backup plan in case of losing the prospect of EU membership. Prime Minister Brnabić also visited Beijing and met with President Xi. It is obvious that Belgrade is looking for Chinese support for the election campaign. Of course, China will provide it, since the number of its allies in Europe has greatly decreased. These are Serbia, Hungary, and Belarus. Beijing’s relations with Russia are somewhat different. It is interesting that Hungary has recognized the independence of Kosovo, but this does not prevent Belgrade from maintaining close contacts with Budapest.