Western Balkans Overview Oct 02, 2023 – CWBS

Western Balkans Overview Oct 02, 2023 – CWBS
  • Reaction in Serbia and beyond to incident in north of Kosovo

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Alliance had approved the decision to increase the peacekeeping contingent after the recent turmoil in northern Kosovo. NATO will send an additional 700 soldiers – this is a battalion of reserve forces that has been put on high alert and will be employed as needed. “We continue to urge Belgrade and Pristina to engage in the EU-facilitated dialogue, as the only way to resolve outstanding issues and reach solutions that respect the rights of all communities,” the secretary general said, adding that this is the key to sustainable security and stability in Kosovo and the region.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti welcomed NATO’s decision, saying Serbia seeks to destabilize the region with Russia’s help. “These people want to set the clock 30 years back. But that won’t happen,” Kurti said. He believes that NATO’s support is needed now because of the long border with Serbia and after the Serbian army increasing its potential and having in service plenty of military equipment from both Russia and China. Kurti stated that the attackers that raided the village of Banjska wielded weapons produced in Serbia, which cannot be bought on the free market. In his opinion, the leader of the Serbian List, Milan Radojčić, is only the executor of the attack in the north of Kosovo. He received logistical, military equipment and support from Belgrade, as well as political orders. He believes that now someone is trying to use a time machine to return everyone to the 1990s, when there were Milosevic and Arkan were in power. Now the new Slobodan Milosevic is Aleksandar Vučić and Željko Ražnatović Arkan is Milan Radojčić infamous for various crimes committed in Kosovo, as well as smuggling. Kurti recalled that during the two and a half years he was in power, nine drug labs were destroyed in the northern part of Kosovo.

To normalize the situation, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić to emphasize the urgent need to de-escalate tensions with Kosovo and bring those responsible for the recent violent attacks to justice. Blinken expressed his support for the actions of KFOR and EULEX in response to the event, noting that incidents like those near the Banjska monastery pose unacceptable challenges for the international community, welcoming the increased presence of KFOR and NATO’s decision to allow the deployment of additional forces. The Secretary of State emphasized that Serbia should monitor the current de-escalation with complete fulfillment of its obligations under the agreement on the normalization within the framework of the EU-mediated dialogue.

At the same time, the European Union is also very concerned about the increased presence of the Serbian army near the border with Kosovo, said the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell. The deployment of the army along the administrative border line with Kosovo is really alarming and must be stopped immediately, Borrell said.

The presence of five thousand NATO soldiers in Kosovo is a guarantee that the crisis will not spill over across the region. It is good that North Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania are members of NATO, so that a direct clash between the armies of Kosovo and Serbia can be prevented, according to the President of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski.

Britain’s Ambassador to Serbia, Edward Ferguson, said many questions remained unanswered after the events in Banjska and that Belgrade should facilitate the investigation as there was no justification for attacks on the police. They pose a real threat to regional stability, and no one wants that in today’s world. Serbia’s international partners are closely monitoring the situation and hope that Belgrade, given its significant influence over the communities in northern Kosovo, will play a responsible role, both in calming the current tension and in helping find a way to more stable relations with its neighbors.

The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, in his address to the public, said that he didn’t read the letter of Milan Radojčić, the leader of a group of Serbs from northern Kosovo who attacked the Kosovo police. Vučić believes that this is a matter to be dealt with by prosecutor and other state bodies. “If someone thought they would escape, they won’t! I know for sure that the police must collect information,” said Vučić.

At the same time, the Security and Democracy Forum assessed that the “letter” of the former vice-president of the Serbian List, Milan Radojčić, who announced that he had personally planned a raid in the north of Kosovo, without having it approved in Belgrade, does not put an end to the story, but only raises more questions about the events in Banjska, which sharply threatened Serbia itself. Radojčić’s “letter” first of all reflects a complete misunderstanding of his own responsibility, as well as the political situation in which Serbia found itself as a result.

Meanwhile, the U.S. officially called on Serbia to withdraw its forces located on the border with Kosovo. “We are monitoring a large Serbian military deployment along the border with Kosovo. That includes an unprecedented staging of advanced Serbian artillery, tanks, mechanized infantry units. We believe that this is a very destabilizing development,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić had to reassure the Americans he had no intention of ordering the army to cross administrative checkpoints with Kosovo, adding that he would withdraw Serbian forces from the area as escalating the conflict would be counterproductive when it comes to Serbia’s bid to become a member of the European Union. Vučić noted that Washington’s warnings are disproportionate, as the number of Serbian forces close to Kosovo is decreasing, recalling that last year there were 14,000 soldiers near the administrative line, and today there are 7,500, and the number will be further reduced to 4,000.

Thus, one gets the impression that the president of Serbia understands Belgrade’s responsibility for the bloody incident in the north of Kosovo. And although for the domestic audience, accusations are voiced issued exclusively against the Albanian side and Prime Minister Kurti personally, in the meantime completely different arguments are used in communication with the international community. Vučić insists that the tragic incident harms Serbia’s European integration progress and casts a shadow over relations with the collective West – something that Belgrade wouldn’t like to happen, apparently. But then a logical question arises as to who was actually behind the actions of Milan Radojčić and his armed group. On the one hand, Belgrade tried to heroize the three Serbs who died in the shootout, portraying them as martyrs in the struggle for the rights of their people in the North of Kosovo, and on the other hand, Vučić speaks of Radojčić’s personal responsibility for the incident before law. The man says he he planned everything himself, but no one believes his story. It is very likely that someone from the entourage of President Vučić was in close contact with Radojčić and possibly gave him instructions regarding the plan. It seems that Vučić was either not deeply informed about the plotted provocation in the north of Kosovo or he simply did not want to be involved personally, but it is possible that he did not stop people from his own political circle from orchestrating Radojčić’s actions, but that implied their own full responsibility. After the failure of the provocation, someone had to be blamed, so the decision was to frame the main executor, who is far from being the mastermind, who is currently in the shadows. Belgrade understands that Western allies will soon find out who organized the attack but hopes that there will still be ways to retreat. If concrete evidence emerges for Washington or Brussels, Vučić, most likely, will not cover up a disgraced culprit until the end. At the same time, it is possible that the Russian side was also in direct contact with Radojčić and gave him their advice and instructions. But this could not go unnoticed by the Serbian security services, and once again, in this case, the allies will have questions to Belgrade. While the equation still has several unknowns, it will not be fully resolved for some time, but in case even one actual mastermind of the attack in the north of Kosovo is exposed, the situation will develop in an instant. The incumbent president of Serbia, by paying tribute to the Serbs killed in the incident, has already been able to protect himself from possible attacks from his own radical forces, when he will have to “surrender” someone from his entourage if somehow the details of the failed operation come to the sufrace. So he is in a win-win situation for now, unless someone points the finger at him personally – for whatever reason.

  • Milorad Dodik re-elected as leader of Union of Independent Social Democrats

Milorad Dodik was unanimously re-elected head of the Union of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) at the Seventh Party Congress in Doboi. He saw support of 937 delegates participating in the Congress. In a report he presented to the audience ahead of the vote, Dodik noted that the legality of the institutions and ownership of assets by Republika Srpska had never been in doubt, and that SNSD had been advocating for these issues for years. He emphasized that the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina has turned into an executor who seeks to destroy RS and in this sense is deemed unconstitutional as it seems to trample Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose Constitution it is supposed to protect.

Immediately after his re-election as the head of the Union of Independent Social Democrats, Milorad Dodik gave a speech in which he again laid out controversial views on his vision for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dodik said that in the future, an opportunity may come to propose an agreement for a “peaceful separation between Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina”, which should eventually happen, as this is what will ensure a better life in a peaceful way. “We only want a strong Republika Srpska, which actively cooperates with Serbia, as well as other factors,” emphasized Dodik. He also reiterated his controversial views on the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, saying that BiH is an imposed, forced state union created and maintained under pressure.

It is possible to predict that the President of Republika Srpska will continue his course toward the collapse of Bosnia and Herzegovina, so much will depend on whether the High Representative will have enough courage and Western support to stop this process with his decision to remove Milorad Dodik from his post. Of course, he will call his supporters to revolt, and there must be a clear calculation of the forces that the international community has stationed in BiH, and to what extent they are able to keep the situation under control during the first waves of discontent. The High Representative and the international community must finally determine for themselves the position of the leadership of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Croats regarding the separatist actions by Banja Luka. If the Croatian part of Mostar intends to silently support the actions of the current leadership of Republika Srpska, the situation seems rather shaky. It is obvious that Washington and Brussels should be in constant contact with Zagreb, as a determining factor that can influence the position of the actual Bosnian-Herzegovinian Croats and partly of Milorad Dodik himself. After all, the majority of the territory of the RS borders Croatia, so it objectively depends a lot on goods and services supply routes, as well as their people crossing out of the RS.

  • France strengthening its diplomatic presence in Western Balkans

The Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, Catherine Colonna, appointed René Troccaz as the country’s special envoy for the Western Balkans. According to the top diplomat, the appointment is in line with France’s intensified presence in the region in the context of the rapprochement of the Western Balkans with the EU, which Paris supports in every way possible. The special envoy will deal with the most pressing issues of regional policy, coordinating work with European and American colleagues. He will also monitor regional cooperation initiatives, in particular the Berlin Process, and will be able to represent France at official events and high-level forums. Among his latest diplomatic missions, Troссaz served as Consul General in Jerusalem and Ambassador to Cyprus.

Thus, after the European Union, US, UK, and Germany, France also appointed its special representative for the Western Balkans. Paris realized the importance of the developments unfolding in the region and the threat of conflict situations that could eventually turn into wars, of which the region saw a few in the 1990s. It is obvious that France sensed the process of revival of revanchist sentiments in certain social circles of some countries, and above all in Serbia, so it hastened to appoint a government-authorized official, who would constantly not only monitor, but also take an active part in the processes of early conflict resolution. Paris claims the position of a European leader so officials there understood the importance of strengthening France’s influence in the region, which by 2030 is expected to become part of the EU. It is this process of integration that can prevent the emergence of major armed conflicts or wars in the Western Balkans, which are on the verge of a geopolitical rift between the free Western world and the dictatorial regime in Moscow, which hopes to receive in this struggle some political, and possibly economic and military support from China, which penetrated quite well into a number of important economic projects across the region.