NATO Prepared a Response in Case Russia Vetoes EUFOR

Bosnia’s Defence Minister Sifet Podzic said from Madrid, Spain, that NATO decided to significantly help BiH, and that the country is considered part of a single European security structure. Podzic is the only defense minister from Membership Action Plan (MAP) member states to attend the NATO summit in Madrid. He pointed out that there was some concern in NATO about the EUFOR mission and its mandate and the potential veto, but that NATO had made it clear that they were ready to take a role in BiH if that happened.

“Last night I was very proud and I am glad that the allies are united in supporting and helping Bosnia and Herzegovina. The topic of the dinner was the Western Balkans and NATO, but it turned into BiH and NATO because I was the only non-NATO Defence Minister present,” Podzic said.

Regarding a possible Russian veto in the Security Council concerning the European peacekeeping force (EUFOR) mission in BiH, Podzic stated that the allies have a plan for a strong response.

“The allies are preparing a strong response to this possibility, and that is their obligation under the Dayton Peace Agreement, according to Annexes 1a and 1b, because they are in charge of implementing peace in the Balkans,” Podzic explained. Podzic elaborated that Bosnia has already started implementing measures from the new NATO package to help the country.

“NATO decided at an extraordinary summit last month to allocate this aid and equipment package. This was confirmed here yesterday and it is the most important thing for us. We are practically placed in the full architecture of future European security as if we were NATO member states. This will enable BiH to quickly conduct defense reviews, and modernize the armed forces, but it will also help due to the problems that BiH has with the budget,” Podzic said.

The Minister also said that any objections coming from the Republika Srpska (RS) entity will not prevent the implementation of this plan, as there are already documents that have traced BiH’s path towards the Alliance.

Rama: Relationship with Vucic aimed at not having ‘a radicalized Serbia’

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said during a visit to Kosovo that Albania’s efforts to build good regional relations with Serbia were in part to keep Belgrade in the Western orbit.

“It’s not in our interest to have radicalized Serbia, especially in today’s world”, Rama said at a joint press conference with his Kosovo counterpart in Prishtina, Albin Kurti. 

Rama was responding to criticism over perceptions that he is placing his relations with Serb President Aleksandar Vucic over Albanian interests in the region, especially those in Kosovo, where Rama and Kurti led a joint Albania-Kosovo governments meeting on Monday (20.06).

Rama and Kurti made it clear that they don’t see eye to eye on some issues, especially on Serbia and participation in the Open Balkan initiative, but said they would work together to bring Albania and Kosovo closer.

“I don’t think our different views on Serbia harm our shared goal – Serbia recognizing Kosovo as independent and the just peace needed for all”, Rama said.  

Prime Minister Kurti was repeatedly asked about Open Balkans, which Kosovo has refused to join as it is seen as a Serb-led initiative outside the EU’s Berlin process, saying he prefered to talk about bilateral cooperation with Albania and plans to have a port section dedicated to Kosovo in Albania’s Adriatic coastline and the construction of a new railway linking Kosovo and Albania.

Cooperation has never been wider and more intensive, both in the use of human resources and natural resources, Kosovo Prime Minister Kurti said at the joint meeting. 

“Relations between our two countries are proof that when there are no unresolved political problems, the success of relations in all other areas is guaranteed. It is also proof that cooperation, integration and sustainable development throughout the region is ensured by solving political problems at the beginning and not at the end”, Prime Minister Kurti said.

The countries’ governments approved 13 intergovernmental agreements and 8 interinstitutional agreements at the eights joint meeting, which have become a regular occurance, twice a year. The agreements ranged from law enforcement and education to customs and energy.

Belgrade-Pristina Negotiators Agree Energy Roadmap

Negotiators from Belgrade and Pristina agreed a roadmap for the implementation of energy agreements, European Commission envoy Miroslav Lajcak said on Tuesday (21.06). 

“Very pleased to announce that Kosovo and Serbia just adopted the Energy Agreements’ Implementation Roadmap in the framework of the EU-facilitated Dialogue. This is a major step forward”, Lajcak tweeted. 

According to the roadmap which Lajcak published on his Twitter account, the Elektrosever power company will be issued a licence by the Kosovo energy regulatory body (ERO) and will provide the Kosovo power company (KEDS) data on its customers within a week. Elektrosever will sign technical agreements with Kosovo energy authorities allowing it to operate on the Kosovo energy market. The roadmap says that Kosovo power companies and institutions will get access to Elektrosever infrastructure within 30 days and will submit an investment plan and planned expenses which the Kosovo authorities will approve within another 21 days. 

The roadmap allows ERO to revoke Elektrosever’s licence in case of non-compliance. 

The Elektrosever company was formed under the 2013 Brussels Agreement which included an energy agreement. The company was supposed to operate under Kosovo regulations and bill consumers in the north of Kosovo. The majority Serb populations of North Mitrovica, Leposavic, Zvecan and Zubin Potok have not been paying their power bills for more than 20 years. The Kosovo authorities have claimed that the losses for 2021 alone totaled some 40 million Euro. 

Scholz and Kurti Met in Pristina

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Friday (10.06) in Pristina that countries refusing to recognize each other have no place in the European Union (EU) and that Kosovo’s path to the EU is linked with its dialogue with Serbia.

It is important for Kosovo to move the EU-facilitated dialogue forward, Scholz told a news conference following his meeting with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

Scholz is currently on a Balkans trip and is also scheduled to visit Serbia, Greece, North Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Kosovo and Serbia should arrive at political solutions by means of a comprehensive agreement. A dialogue is the path that paves the way for Kosovo’s European prospects. A political agreement between the two countries is an important prerequisite to the future of Kosovo’s youth. The agreement should, in the end, also solve the Kosovo issue because it is inconceivable for two countries that do not recognize each other to become part of the EU. Rapprochement is expected from both sides, Scholz is reported to have said.

The German Chancellor said that Kosovo is a reliable partner which was proved by its response to the Russian aggression on Ukraine and that his visit to Kosovo, which marks the beginning of his Balkans tour, speaks of the close Berlin-Pristina relations.

Announcing that Kosovo will apply for EU membership candidate status this year, Kurti said he asked Scholz for support in the process. The Kosovo PM thanked Scholz for Germany’s continued support, adding that Kosovo will continue to be its loyal ally.

Serbia Not Allowing Kosovo to Participate in EUSAIR as an Independent Country

Serbia said on Monday (30.05) that it would not allow Kosovo to be part of the EU Strategy for the Adriatic-Ionian Region (EUSAIR) as an independent country.

EUSAIR is a forum bringing together Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Greece, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, and San Marino, launched in 2014 by the European Commission to help candidate countries and potential candidates draw closer to EU membership.

The ten countries are Adriatic or Ionian countries or are in the hinterland of the two seas, and they gathered in Tirana for an annual conference on 16-18 May. A Kosovo delegation led by Local Government Minister Elbert Krasniqi visited Tirana but did not attend the conference, however, the delegation met with European Commission officials, requesting accession to EUSAIR.

For a country to be admitted to EUSAIR it needs to have the consent of all ten member countries. “Under international law and the UN Charter, Kosovo and Metohija are an integral part of the Republic of Serbia, a member of the United Nations”, the Serbian Foreign Ministry said in an e-mail sent to the Croatian state news agency Hina, noting that parts of EUSAIR member countries cannot participate in EUSAIR because the countries of which they are part of, are already members. In 2008 Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia and its independence has been recognized by 22 of the 27 EU member countries.

This month Bosnia and Herzegovina took over the presidency of EUSAIR, to last until 31 May 2023, when the chairmanship will be taken over by Croatia. Krasniqi told Hina on Sunday (29.05) he believed that Croatia would support Kosovo’s bid and that during its chairmanship Kosovo could become a member. Croatian state secretary Andreja Metelko-Zgombic, who attended the meeting in Tirana, told Croatian reporters that Kosovo “should certainly be included in all initiatives, including international organizations.”

The EC, the EU’s executive body, said that EUSAIR could further expand but that the admission of new members did not depend on it but on the consent of all ten members, and that Serbia was blocking Kosovo’s entry. In its reply to Hina, the Serbian Foreign Ministry notes that among the EUSAIR member countries are also countries that have not recognized Kosovo’s independence, such as Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina. EUSAIR member-states local and regional authorities, universities, associations, and companies apply jointly for projects financed with money from EU funds.

Kosovo participates only in cross-border cooperation with North Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro as part of the IPA program, which enables potential candidates and candidates to use money from EU funds. Krasniqi said that those projects were excellent and that it was a pity Kosovo did not have such projects with Serbia or EU countries like Italy”, as it would provide citizens with additional opportunities. “The Kosovo and Serbian delegations did not meet or talk in Tirana. The Serbian ministry said Krasniqi had not been invited to the forum itself and only attended events on the margins of the conference.

The last country to join EUSAIR was San Marino, in February 2022 while North Macedonia joined in 2021.

“Serbia has good cooperation with the member countries of the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative and EUSAIR, and the latest work results of all four pillars show that EUSAIR has a future that will benefit all participating countries”, the Serbian ministry said. EUSAIR builds on the former Adriatic-Ionian Initiative adopted in Ancona in 2000 to promote regional cooperation and political stability as a foundation for the process of European integration.

Izetbegovic Says “Serbian World” is a Threat

SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic on Thursday (26.05) said the danger of the Greater Serbia project in the Balkans has not ended and that cooperation between the Bosniaks and Croats is essential to prevent it, but that it doesn’t exist as HDZ BiH party has decided to cooperate with Banja Luka and Belgrade. 

Addressing a special meeting of the main committee of the Party for Democratic Action (SDA) in Sarajevo on the 32nd anniversary of the party’s establishment, Izetbegovic said that the idea of a Greater Serbia has continued to live in the “Serbian World” project constructed in Belgrade as a version of the “Russian World” as imagined by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. 

Separatism and attempts to destroy BiH as conducted by the Serb member of the Presidency, Milorad Dodik, is a constituent part of that scenario, underscored Izetbegovic. 

A logical response in the fight against that Greater Serbia project, Izetbegovic said, would be cooperation with the “Croat factor,” in BiH and with Croatia because whenever that cooperation existed, the situation in BiH stabilised in everyone’s favour. 

That is not succeeding with the incumbent leader of the HDZ BiH, Dragan Čovic, because, Izetbegovic said, the largest Croat party in BiH has decided to achieve its political objectives by pressuring Bosniaks and cooperating with Dodik, as well as creating Serb-Croat collusion that includes Zagreb and Belgrade while flirting with Russia, undermining the position of the High Representative to BiH and weakening the international factor which is stabilising the situation in BiH. 

Izetbegovic said that SDA will not and cannot agree to any amendments to the election law that would bolster discrimination of BiH citizens, dividing them into legitimate and illegitimate ones, and that would “create a two-third majority rule of ethnocentric Serb and Croat parties” over the Bosniaks. 

EU Expects Serbia to Join Sanctions Against Russia

President Aleksandar Vucic said that European Union Council President Charles Michel expects Serbia to join in the sanctions against Russia. Speaking after a meeting with Michel, Vucic said that the EU Council president “expressed in a very strong way the expectation and wish for Serbia to join in imposing sanctions against the Russian Federation”. “I informed him of our political stands”, the Serbian president added.

The Serbian President said that Michel’s visit at this moment is of great importance to the future of the country. He said that he is grateful to Michel for always being prepared to hear the Serbian side and devoting special attention to the Western Balkans.

“We discussed Serbia’s European path and I stressed that our goal is full membership in the EU. I want to tell the citizens of Serbia that this is not just an emotional issue but a matter of reason”, Vucic said. He said the importance of the EU is reflected in the fact that trade with the Union accounted for more than 60 percent of Serbia’s foreign trade in 2021, totaling 30 billion euros, and the fact that it is the biggest foreign investor.

Asked if quicker accession to the EU means recognition of Kosovo, Vucic replied saying: “If you think you can get cheese for free – you will never get it because free cheese only exists in a mousetrap”. He added that the issue is not recognition but a comprehensive agreement on normalization.Michel told the news conference that he is in Belgrade to confirm that the EU is fully committed to Serbia’s accession negotiations and wants to expand the dialogue and cooperation, and promote peace, stability, and security.

He said that the war in Ukraine has shaken up Europe. “The time has come after COVID to recover our economies and protect each other… We have to speed up integration… We want the citizens of Serbia and partners in the region to have benefits. My visit sends a strong signal of close cooperation between Serbia and the EU”.

He said that the EU invests in Serbia and its people. “Your projects become ours, your future is our common future which is why the EU is the leading investor”. Michel elaborated that the European Geo-Political Community that he proposed would help ease accession for EU candidate countries by providing a platform to exchange views at the highest level and increase mutual political understanding. He added that it’s important to have that political format right now, enabling a common commitment to specific challenges.

Kosovo Insists on Mutual Recognition

Kosovo Foreign Minister Donika Gervala Schwartz said that progress can be achieved in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue only if Kosovo and Serbia recognize each other. “Kosovo should recognize Serbia and Serbia should recognize Kosovo as an independent state. Only then can we resolve all other issues bilaterally”, she told Al-Jazeera Balkans.

According to the foreign minister, progress is possible only if the two sides approach the dialogue seriously. “Everyone, even Serbia, knows that mutual recognition is at its center”, she added.

Gervala Schwartz said that Pristina will sue Serbia for genocide and added that “the aggressor should approach the victim and apologize for crimes committed”.

Less Than Half of Serbians Support EU Membership

Less than half of Serbians support the country’s membership in the European Union according to a poll by the Institute for European Affairs.

The Institute said that its latest poll showed that 45 percent of Serbians want the country to join the EU compared to a 2016 poll when 55 percent said they favor membership. It said that support for EU membership is the lowest it has ever been but that the evaluation of Serbia-EU relations is higher than in previous polls. It shows that 60 percent of the polled said that Serbia benefits from cooperation with the EU while 27 percent said it does not.

Hungary and Greece are viewed as the most friendly of the EU member states while Croatia, Great Britain, and Germany were listed among the greatest enemies of Serbia in the EU.

This was the Institute’s seventh annual poll in cooperation with Ninamedia. It was conducted in the first half of March among 1,228 people. The average grade for Serbia-EU relations was 2.85 of a possible 5.0 with 8.2 percent of the polled giving those relations a negative grade.

The Institute states that the 45 percent who support EU membership are highly educated and live in urban environments. A total of 43 percent expressed their view that they don’t want Serbia to join the EU and 12.3 percent were undecided.

The poll also showed that 43 percent of the public feel that they are not getting enough information about the EU while 39 percent said that they think they do. Asked how they would vote in a referendum on EU membership, 41 percent said they would vote yes, 39 percent would vote no and 13 percent said they don’t know.

Vucic Would Decide in 60 Days But Not On Sanctions On Russia

President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic said that the US Senator Chris Murphy accurately conveyed his words in his blog post about making a decision in 60 days, but he added that this did not refer to introducing of sanctions on Russia. 

“Call me in sixty days. Check to see if I’ve done what I am telling you I will do”, the senator quoted Vucic as saying at the end of their meeting in Belgrade. 

Answering the questions of the journalists after the military exercise „Shield 2022″ on Saturday (30.04), Vucic explained that that part of the conversation „concerned a specific project”, but he did not want to say what kind of project it was. 

“I reckon that you would be the happiest if I imposed sanctions on Russia, because all those you supported, you and your owner, want that”, Vucic told N1’s reporter and said that his questions made no sense. 

When it comes to mines produced in Serbia that were seen at the Ukrainian battlefield, Vucic said that the mines were delivered earlier, before the war broke out. 

“Do you want to ban us from producing mines and weapons, it is not the production of ballet shoes, it is weapons, I do not understand what you want from us, what you are passing on to us, is it that we are the only country that does not arm anyone, what is the meaning of this issue”, the president told reporters. 

Vucic also noted that he, as the president, will make decisions in the interest of Serbia in the next five years. 

“I really care about the Americans, I really care about the Russians and Europeans, even if I were left all alone in the world, I would only work for the benefit of my country”, said Vucic.