Serbian Media about Kosovo, Russia and US Elections
“Diplomacy defeat of the European Union” were the words, which the Serbian (as well as the other – see below) media used almost unanimously to describe the canceled Paris meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Hashim Thaci, President of the unrecognized Kosovo Republic.
The next round of Belgrade-Pristina dialogue was scheduled for July 1, under the auspices of France and Germany. However, the process of the Kosovo settlement negotiation was interrupted by a series of provocative actions from Pristina. First and foremost, the introduction of 100% taxes on goods imported from Central Serbia, including the first priority goods (which caused a humanitarian disaster in the north of the region) in November 2018. The previous meeting held in Berlin in late April, also under the patronage of France and Germany, brought no visible results.
The Europeans’ attempts to act as mediators between Serbia and Kosovo have been made since 2013, when Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and Prime Minister of Kosovo Hashim Thaci signed an Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalisation of Relations, which primarily concerned municipalities in the North of Kosovo – North Mitrovica, Zvecan, Zubin Potok and Leposavic, where the majority of the population are ethnic Serbs. In 2015, the Brussels Agreement approved the establishment of the Association of Serbian Comunitiers in Kosovo, which should have broad powers, but Kosovars still sabotage this decision.
Obviously, we cannot say so far that serious hopes are pinned on the next talks. We also should not assume that the outgoing Brussels elite would suddenly inspire the parties to a prolonged conflict with a fresh solution (the Juncker Commission mandate ends this year). Nevertheless, this coverage opportunity has prompted the media discussion of the negotiation format and its possible revision.
“If the EU cannot even force the Kosovo Albanians to revoke draconian 100% taxes on goods from Central Serbia, no one can guarantee the implementation of any arrangement under the Brussels Agreement – a key document of the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina”, states the author of the prestigious Serbian newspaper Politika in the article about the canceled Paris meeting.
However, an attempt to protect the Brussels format and the role of the European Union flashed through the media. It was undertaken by Thomas Schieb, German Ambassador to Serbia, who said in his interview with Radio Television of Vojvodina: “The dialogue is not dead, it is just not happening at the moment”. This quote made a headline of all media sources that published the RTV interview.
In view of these events, a very important question is whether the EU failure will lead to even greater US influence in the Balkans.
Washington’s involvement in the negotiation process is one of Pristina’s demands, repeatedly expressed by politicians of the unrecognized republic. At the same time, the US represents the undisputed “enemy number one” for a significant part of the Serbian public, for obvious reasons from recent history. On the other hand, such a step would allow Serbia to invite Russia to the negotiating platform, Belgrade media concluded.
“The involvement of Washington and Moscow in the dialogue is one of the solutions that could save the Brussels Agreement. After the cancellation of the meeting in Paris, it is absolutely unclear in what format the dialogue can be continued. The outgoing Brussels elite is unable to make the talk complete. And here the logical solution is to include Washington in this process, as the most influential Albania’s guarantor, but it is as well important that Moscow becomes Belgrade’s guarantor of implementing everything agreed”, the Politika author said (the article was written in late June). He also cited the comment of Serbian political scientist Dragomir Andjelkovic, who even called to cancel the Brussels Agreement and return back to the situation of six years ago.
Nevertheless, we can hardly expect “the broken ice” development of events in the near future: the United States is on the verge of a presidential election campaign. It is unlikely that Donald Trump will venture into the Balkan gamble while fighting for the second mandate. According to some Serbian analysts, this ambiguity provides the Kosovars a ground to delay adoption of any important decisions.
“The ultimate goal of imposing taxes is to make it impossible to continue the dialogue, and here the Kosovars are trying to “play the international card”: the US election campaign is coming and the EU is to assign the key positions,” says Milovan Dretsun, head of the Serbian parliamentary committee on Kosovo and Metohija.
According to Dragan Janjic, the Beta news agency editor-in-chief, by torpedoing the dialogue, Pristina just waits through all possible election campaigns to pass. “This refers to feasible elections in Kosovo, parliamentary elections in Serbia, designation of key figures in the EU and the election of the US president,” the journalist commented. Therefore, he believes that the current situation brings no signals of resuming negotiations in the near future.
The thesis about the important role of the US in stabilizing the Balkans relations is upheld by the Serbian editorial team of Deutsche Welle. Its authors discussed the possible inclusion of the US in the negotiation, as well as Washington’s potential pressure on its European partners in connection with revising its influence in the Balkan region.
In support of this argumentation, the German edition made a peculiar picks from the statements of two Serbian politicians. The media quoted Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, who (as articulated by the newspaper) spoke very complimentary of the role of President Donald Trump’s administration in the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. The German media conveyed the words of the Serbian MFA: “The cancellation of the Paris summit showed that nothing can be accomplished without the US”, Ivica Dacic said, adding that Trump’s administration acted quite correctly on the issue of dialogue with Pristina and showed later that it acts as a driver of dialogue”. According to DW, no less significant was the position of Head of Serbia’s delegation to the NATO Assembly, Dragan Sormaz, who stated that “the problem of relations between Belgrade and Pristina would have been better completed before the American elections next year, with the help of Trump”. Mr. Sormaz explains this by the fact that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is working hard to improve relations with the United States and the result is obvious.
To all intents and purposes, the negotiation process is really suspended for the time being in anticipation of changes in the players’ teams. Notably that even Kosovo’s internal political instability plays in favor of this delay, namely, the confrontation between Hashim Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj, Kosovo Prime Minister, triggered, inter alia, by the dialogue with Belgrade. Nevertheless, Pristina already has full arsenal of measures to buffet the negotiation: from well-known taxes and travel bans for Belgrade politicians to arrests of Serbs and special forces’ actions. The latter include the “anti-terrorist list” of persons, groups and organizations involved in terrorist acts, proclaimed by Hashim Thaci and announced by the Pristina media. According to Serbian experts, this document could provide a cover for violent actions in the areas populated by ethnic Serbs.