Western Balkans overview Oct 09, 2023 – CWBS

Western Balkans overview Oct 09, 2023 – CWBS
  • Leaders of Western Balkan countries condemn Hamas attack on Israel

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has condemned the horrific attacks on Israel, saying the world needs Israelis and Palestinians to stop the violence together. Throughout history, the Jewish people have experienced great suffering, and therefore Israel deserves a peaceful and safe life, Vučić said.

Montenegrin President Jakov Milatović condemned the Hamas attack on Israel and expressed his condolences to the families of the victims. According to him, Montenegro stands in solidarity with Israel.

Member of the BiH Presidium, Denis Bećirović, said he was following the escalation of conflict in the Middle East with deep concern and strongly condemned any kind of violence, especially when innocent civilians are killed. Bosnia and Herzegovina remains committed to the fight against terrorism, violent extremism, and radicalization in all its forms.

The head of the BiH Council of Ministers, Borjana Kristo, condemned the lightning attack on Israel by the Palestinian group Hamas, which killed hundreds of Israelis.

The leaders of the countries across the turbulent Western Balkans almost unanimously condemned the attack by Hamas militants on Israel. All of them have an understanding of the danger of provocative moves by radical groups, which, under the guise of fighting for their national rights, commit crimes against the innocent civilian population.

It is worth noting that the geopolitical tension that arose as a result of the latest Palestinian-Israeli conflict undoubtedly plays into Russia’s hands. Russia and Palestine have been linked by close relations since Soviet times. Interested in promoting its influence across the Arab world, the USSR directly referred to Israel as an “ally of Western imperialism,” and praised the activities of the Palestinians as a “national liberation movement.” Unlike Hezbollah, Hamas is not 100% Iran’s proxy. Hamas has long-standing and multifaceted ties with Russia. The group’s delegations are received at a high level (up to the Russian foreign minister) in Moscow (the latest such visit took place in September 2022, already after the start of the full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war). From 2015 to 2020, seven official meetings were held between the top leadership of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Hamas. In addition, Russia is literally filling the Gaza Strip with various types of weapons, including ATGMs, supplying these arms via Syria, Iran, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

  • Ethnic Serbs being recruited into Russia’s army ranks 

Russia has been recruiting Serbian mercenaries and accommodating them at a dorm in Moscow suburbs, planning to form a full-fledged ethnic Serbian brigade. The Russian Air Force reported that the Serbian mercenaries were part of the 106th Airborne Division. Among those engaged in the recruitment effort are Serbian commander Davor Savicic, who has been fighting in eastern Ukraine since 2014; Aleksandr “Surgeon” Zaldostanov, leader of the “Night Wolves” biker group; and son of the ex-president of Yugoslavia, Marko Milosevic, who lives in Russia. BBC’s Russian service examined the recording of one of the meetings involving Davor Savicic, who purportedly stated he would form a full-fledged Serbian brigade as part of the 106th Tula division of Russia’s Airborne Assault Forces by the fall of 2023. He is set to draw up for service to a thousand Serbian nationals. Within the said project, a whole system was developed in the Moscow region, where foreigners coming to Russia were accommodated in temporary student dorms next to a stadium in Krasnogorsk. There is even a list of Serbs who have already been contracted into the Russian army. Among them was Serbian citizen Vukasin Stevanovic. He refuted reports that he had signed the contract and is now serving with the 106th Airborne Division. Stevanovic claims that he is employed in Russia as an ordinary construction worker. But in several photos on his social media, he poses wielding a weapon, sporting a military uniform.

The fact that Serbian mercenaries are participating in the war in Ukraine was confirmed at the end of August by Davor Savicic and Serbian sniper Dejan Beric in the Russian propaganda panel show Solovyov Live. Savicic said that at the outset of the invasion, his battalion was deployed in the area of the Hostomel airfield near Kyiv, after which they were transferred to Kharkiv region, and then to the village of Bohorodychne, Kramatorsk district, Donetsk region.

It should be noted that mercenary service in Serbia is a criminal offense, so Serbs recruited into the Russian army face up to 10 years in prison back home if found guilty. However, in relation to those who fought against the Ukrainian army in Donbas alongside Russian forces since 2014, that is, before the large-scale military invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army, the Serbian judiciary applied the lightest forms of criminal prosecution. It is obvious that it was these mercenaries who earlier handed over the Orthodox icon stolen from one of the Luhansk museums to the President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik. While still a member of the Presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he presented it to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergei Lavrov, while carelessly posting its photo on social media and failing to blur out the seal of the Ukrainian museum. Dodik excused himself that this icon was given to him by people who had never been to Donbas, which, however, does not remove the suspicion that it was stolen by Serbian mercenaries from the museum exhibit in the Ukrainian city that came under temporary Russian occupation. Then Lavrov was forced to return the stolen icon back to Dodik.

  • Amid EU sanctions on Russian oil, Republika Srpska is forced to change the owner of its refinery in Brod

The oil refinery in Bosanski Brod (Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina), which currently belongs to Russia, is set to be handed over to Azerbaijan. The arrangement is expected to be completed in Moscow, where Dodik, according to his own statement, is planning to fly late October to meet with Vladimir Putin and government officials. Such developments could be predicted from Dodik’s statement made during his visit to Budapest on August 20, where he met with the President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan. Then Dodik said that “Azerbaijan is interested in investing in energy projects in Republika Srpska.” Before that, Dodik visited Azerbaijan in May, on the same occasion. There he met with the Prime Minister, Ali Asadov.

Russian oil, due to EU sanctions against the country that is waging military aggression against Ukraine, can no longer be delivered to the oil terminal and processing plant in Brod in Republika Srpska, BiH, but could legally flow through Azerbaijan. Another important reason for such an “economic move” is the sale of bitumen production at the Brod Refinery. The stocks available at the refinery have been sold out, while the demand is high, especially from Albania. The same “package” also includes the sale of the Nestro Petrol gas station network, which is located on the territory of Republika Srpska and also belongs to Russia, but it should be absorbed not by Azerbaijan, but by the Hungarian energy giant MOL. At the same time, Dodik held negotiations with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest, where the latter agreed to take over all investment projects that Germany had snubbed in RS as a sign of condemnation of separatist moves by Dodik and his political force.

Thus, the pro-Russian politicians in RS, with Moscow’s permission, are reorienting the ownership of their main refinery, the entity’s largest enterprise. Azerbaijan emerging in the scheme is somewhat understandable, since Baku agreed with Sarajevo on the possibility of supplying Azerbaijani gas through the Adriatic-Ionian pipeline, which is being laid from Albania to Italy along the coast of two seas, including through the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Gas supply often goes hand in hand with oil business. Hungary, on the other hand, decided to go for investments in Republika Srpska, saving it from bankruptcy. In return, Dodik promised not only to transfer the network of gas stations, but also to introduce the study of the Hungarian language in all RS schools and higher educational facilities. It is not surprising that the pro-Russian Orban helps the pro-Russian Dodik, because all this is done with the political and financial blessing from the Kremlin.

  • Western Balkans’ foreign ministerial in Tirana within the Berlin process

A meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs of the Western Balkan states was held in the capital of Albania, Tirana, within the framework of the Berlin process. During the summit, the parties discussed the current geopolitical situation, regional security, importance and challenges of regional cooperation, European prospects of the Western Balkans, achievements within the Berlin Process, tools for the accelerated process of economic development in the context of the New Growth Plan presented by the European Commission in May, and progress in the implementation of the Common Regional Market.

Meetings like the one in Tirana strengthen the collective determination of the countries of the Western Balkans to achieve full EU membership. When it comes to the European Union’s expansion policy towards the Western Balkans over the past two years, it took place against the background of deep geopolitical changes not only in Europe, but also on the world stage. The countries of the Western Balkans jointly seek to uphold stability, democratic values and sovereignty in the region, and ensure a secure and prosperous future for all. The aspiration of the citizens of the Western Balkan countries is to achieve a better quality of life and a political environment that ensures a future without fears of tomorrow. The countries across the region also seek to implement the Common Regional Market, especially in the context of the proposed accelerated integration of the EU into the single market. A well-functioning common regional market improves economic cooperation between the countries of the Western Balkans and harmonizes the economy with EU standards and practices.

It should be understood that the Berlin process played a key role in promoting dialogue, improving infrastructure, strengthening economic cooperation, and addressing regional problems in the Western Balkans. This proves the EU commitment to support the Western Balkans on the path to its countries’ membership in the European Union. The Berlin Process is a regional initiative launched in 2014 with the aim of accelerating the European integration of the Western Balkan countries, their economic and infrastructural development, and better regional cooperation.

However, the event saw an embarrassing element when the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, Ivica Dacic, decided not to attend a joint photo op for the top diplomats from the Western Balkans and the European Union after the end of the summit. The Serbian minister noted that he did not come because, among other things, the Kosovo flag was showcased behind the ministers’ backs. Thus, Belgrade, for obvious reasons, does not recognize the statehood of Kosovo and ignores its existence, although if Serbia wants to join the EU, it must do so in one form or another.

  • Miroslav Lajcak advocates EU sanctions lift off Kosovo

The special representative of the European Union for dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, Miroslav Lajcak, announced the possible lifting of EU sanctions against Kosovo due to recent events in the north of the country. He reiterated the European position that normalization must be achieved through dialogue and that this is the only possible solution. In his opinion, the provocation on September 24 came as no accident. It was a terrible incident that needs to be properly investigated. The fact is that many things have changed, which will affect continued dialogue in many ways, but there is one thing that has not and will not change, and that is that the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia requires an agreement, which means a compromise that can be achieved only through dialogue, Lajcak believes. He believes that whoever says that dialogue is dead is saying that the European future is dead, because Kosovo and Serbia’s path to Europe lies only through normalization. In the current circumstances, it is unfortunate that Kosovo remains under the EU restrictions and the issue should be resolved, suggested M. Lajcak.

It should be remembered that the European Union introduced sanctions against Kosovo back in June, referring to the fact that Kosovo did not take into account the request from Brussels to take urgent measures to reduce tensions in the north throughout May.

However, now, the EU’s special envoy for the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, Miroslav Lajcak, believes that it is necessary to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina, while he once again rejected the statements of the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, that he had sided with Serbia. The leaders of the UNSC member states, with whom Lajcak spoke in New York, are concerned about the relations between Serbia and Kosovo, the EU special envoy said at the regional forum in Budva (Montenegro). It was not for nothing that he noted there is no normal future for the two sides without normalization, which should be achieved exclusively through dialogue. Kosovo and Serbia have a great influence on the situation of all the countries of the Western Balkans, and this is already a given.

  • NATO Deputy Secretary General comments on developments in Western Balkans

NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană said this year had been difficult for the Western Balkans region, particularly in Kosovo, where 93 KFOR soldiers were wounded in May and violence has recently reignited. Then, on September 24, a Kosovo police patrol was attacked, as a result of which one policeman was killed and two others were wounded. The following shootout in the Banjska monastery led to several attackers being killed. Therefore, violence must stop, said Geoană during a speech at a conference in Budva.

He recalled that NATO had deployed hundreds of additional troops in Kosovo in response to increased tensions. Just last week, the United Kingdom deployed another 600 soldiers, while the Alliance stands ready to make further changes to KFOR’s posture if necessary. KFOR continues to monitor the situation closely and everyone is ready to respond, with neutrality and impartiality being key to the success of KFOR’s mission.

Geoană reminded that the commander of NATO forces in Kosovo is in constant contact with all his main interlocutors, including the Kosovo security agencies and the leaders of Serbian forces. At the same time, KFOR will take all necessary measures to fulfill the mission in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1244, i.e. preservation of a safe environment and freedom of movement for all citizens in Kosovo.

Thus, NATO strongly supports the EU-mediated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. Controversial issues, according to Brussels, can only be resolved by political agreement. It requires honesty, patience, persistence, and compromise. Therefore, it is time for de-escalation. Speaking about the situation in BiH, Geoană says he believes that separatist rhetoric and actions cause serious concern. NATO will resolutely support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the country’s efforts towards Euro-Atlantic reforms. Likewise, official Brussels supports the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of all countries in the Western Balkans, as well as the EU-led operation within the framework of the Berlin Plus agreement and the renewal of the EUFOR mandate.

Brussels believes that NATO’s open-door policy has served many Western Balkan countries well. Since Montenegro and North Macedonia became NATO Allies, most countries in the region are now partners of the Alliance, making the entire region much safer.