Serbia Could Buy Weapons From the US

Of the four global powers that Serbia relies on its foreign policy, the United States is the only one that official Belgrade has not bought any weapons or military equipment from, the Balkan Security Network portal said. 

The Serbian military cooperates with the US military through the NATO Partnership for Peace program and the Ohio State Partnership program. 

The portal recalled that the Serbian military has bought missile systems, drones, helicopters, and other weapons and equipment from Russia, China, and the European Airbus consortium. It received Humvee vehicles as a donation from the US. “The Serbian military has a relatively small number of US combat systems mainly donated Humvees and radar systems leftover from Yugoslavia as well as some Maverick missiles and MK82 aerial bombs in storage”, the portal said. It added that the Serbian military could be interested in buying planes, vehicles, anti-armor missiles, and radar systems from the US. 

It said that Serbia is trying to meet its needs from the domestic industry but could be interested in buying Javelin missiles. 

PIC Strongly Condemns Discussions of Bosnia’s ‘Peaceful Dissolution’

The Peace Implementation Council Steering Board (PIC SB) condemns in the strongest possible terms the current political discourse centered around the so-called “peaceful dissolution” of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the Council consisting of 55 countries and agencies that support the peace process in Bosnia and Herzegovina, on Monday (26.04), following the recent publication of the alleged non-paper which discusses the dissolution of BiH. 

“The Peace Implementation Council Steering Board (PIC SB) condemns in the strongest possible terms the current political discourse centered around the so-called ‘peaceful dissolution’ of Bosnia and Herzegovina, not least the concrete steps by Republika Srpska representatives and state-level officeholders towards dissolution negotiations, including establishing negotiating teams and advocating for the breakup of the country via an online advertising campaign”, the PIC said in a public statement. 

Slovenian online media outlet necenzurirano.si published a document, in mid-April, claiming that it is the non-paper on the Western Balkans, allegedly sent by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa to Brussels, which sparked strong reactions in Bosnia and Herzegovina as parts of the document speak about redrawing of the country’s borders. 

The Council recalled that they previously underscored that irresponsible and divisive rhetoric and actions destabilize the country and distract from the real work leaders must do to build trust and enact rule of law, electoral and economic reforms to the the benefit of all citizens. 

Insecurity and instability and the consequent need for continued international supervision are the real price that citizens pay as their leaders engage in dead-end pursuits, the PIC added. 

“The PIC SB reaffirms its unequivocal commitment to the territorial integrity and fundamental structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a single, sovereign state comprising two entities, in which all three constituent peoples, Others and all citizens are equal, and underlines that the entities have no right to secede from BiH and exist legally only by virtue of the BiH Constitution”, the Peace Implementation Council noted, adding: 

“BiH territorial integrity is guaranteed under the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) and international law and change to its internal structure can only be made in accordance with the BiH Constitution, with which all parties remain obliged to fully comply. Continued inflammatory rhetoric, activities aimed at the dissolution or secession and other claims concerning the redrawing of maps pose a serious threat to peace and stability and as such undermines the GFAP. Rhetoric calling into question the existence of either entity or referencing potential for war is likewise destabilizing and unacceptable.” 

They reiterated that people of BiH need their political leaders and representatives to cease this dangerous rhetoric and instead, focus their efforts on urgently combating the COVID-19 pandemic, strengthening the rule of law, and implementing economic and other reforms that would move the country forward on its European path, to which they have all repeatedly committed themselves. 

The Steering Board of the PIC concluded the statement pointing out that the Russian Federation did not agree with this statement. 

Bosnia’s NATO Membership Action Plan Activated

Bosnia’s Annual National Program (ANP) has been sent to NATO and the country has activated its Membership Action Plan (MAP) in the alliance, the Croat member of the tripartite Presidency, Zeljko Komsic, said on Friday (23.04). 

“This is a political victory for all of us. Bosnia and Herzegovina and all its citizens”, he said. 

“Now we have before us the reforms that our country must fulfil in order to become a full member of this alliance”, he added. 

Komsic told the public broadcaster in Bosnia’s Federation (FBiH) entity that the ‘Reform Programme’ Bosnia sent to NATO is, in fact, the ANP. 

Sending the ANP and the activation of Bosnia’s MAP represents the next step on the path to membership in the alliance – which Bosnian Serb political leaders oppose. 

The country’s political leaders, however, did agree to send a ‘Reform Program’ to NATO in 2019 as a compromise, which was necessary to end a deadlock in the process of forming the government following the 2018 election. 

Komsic said that “it was clear from the start” that the ‘Reform Program’ was, in fact, the ANP. 

Osmani Says Reset Dialogue

Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani said on Thursday (22.04) that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue needs to reset, drawing a fierce reaction from Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic. 

“I believe that the dialogue process needs to be reset, not simply continued”, she said after a meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. 

According to Osmani, the institutions in Pristina will carefully review every agreement that has been reached with Belgrade to date. “We will conduct the dialogue based on the clear principle that Kosovo will in no way enter into any kind of dangerous adventure which has to do with changes to borders, a logic that belongs in the last century”, Osmani said. 

Foreign Minister Selakovic called her words scandalous, adding that they show that the authorities in Pristina do not want a dialogue. 

“The messages from Pristina that the Brussels agreement will be reviewed in order to reset the dialogue with Belgrade which is underway with the mediation and guarantees of the European Union is unprecedented political arrogance and demands an immediate sharp reaction from all those who want lasting stability and peace in the Western Balkans”, the foreign minister said in a written statement. According to Selakovic, Osmani’s message is an euphemism for a blockade of the dialogue. He said the results of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue is not a smorgasbord that allows you to pick what you want to implement. 

Freedom of Media Ranking 2021 SEE

Serbia has been ranked 93rd by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on its 2021 World Press Freedom Index, the media freedom watchdog organization said. 

“Europe registered a sizeable deterioration in its “Abuses” indicator, with acts of violence more than doubling in the European Union and Balkans, compared with a 17% deterioration worldwide”, the report said, adding that Serbia’s position remains unchanged compared to last year’s index. 

“With the political promises of previous years left unrealized, Serbia is a country with weak institutions that is prey to fake news spread by government-backed sensational media, a country where journalists are subjected to almost daily attacks that increasingly come from the ruling elite and pro-government media”, the report said. 

It added that the Serbian government used the coronavirus crisis to pass draconian legislation – later repealed –  under which journalist Ana Lalić was arrested at her home in April 2020 for a report about a local hospital. 

“Independent media outlets, many of them local ones, continue to cover dangerous subjects such as political corruption and organized crime despite being weakened by the coronavirus crisis and omitted from the distribution state funding, which went to pro-government media”, it said. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina ranked 58th among the 180 world countries ranked in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, which says that the “polarized political climate” and presence of “constant verbal attacks and nationalist rhetoric” has created a hostile environment for media freedom. 

While Bosnia’s ranking remains unchanged compared to last year’s Index, RSF warns of “a dramatic deterioration in people’s access to information and an increase in obstacles to news coverage”, explaining that the coronavirus pandemic “has been used as grounds to block journalists’ access to information sources and reporting in the field.” 

According to the report, Bosnia’s “polarized political climate, marked by constant verbal attacks and nationalist rhetoric, has created a hostile environment for press freedom and “editorial policies reflecting ethnic divisions and hate speech are ever more evident.” 

“Journalists are attacked for their ethnic origins as well as what they write, especially about migration. Defamation suits by politicians often serve to intimidate journalists and deter them from pursuing their work. Manipulation of the media for political purposes continues, especially in the public broadcast media but also in privately-owned media (and online media in particular)”, the report says. 

It noted that, although implementation of the defamation laws has seen some progress, “they continue to have a self-censorship effect on journalists.” 

However, the report also says that investigative journalism “plays a major role” in society in Bosnia and noted that several online media outlets have “exposed significant cases of corruption.”  

“Yet no legislation has improved the overall environment for journalists, no law on online media has been promulgated, and no progress has been made on media ownership transparency”, it said. 

Bosnia’s ranks higher than most other countries in the region in the Index, only surpassed by Croatia, which ranked 56 and Slovenia, ranking 36. Other countries from the SEE region has a ranking, as follows: Albania – 83; Kosovo – 78; North Macedonia – 90;  Montenegro – 104; Hungary – 92; Romania – 48; Bulgaria – 102; Greece – 70; Turkey – 153. 

Serbia, UK Sign Agreement Regulating Post-BREXIT Bilateral Trade

Trade, Tourism, and Telecommunications Minister Tatjana Matic and British Ambassador in Belgrade Sian Macleod signed a Partnership, Trade, and Cooperation agreement between Serbia and the United Kingdom set a new legal basis to regulate bilateral trade, which was previously defined by the Stabilization and Association Agreement between the European Community and the member states and the Republic of Serbia, the Serbian government said in a press release on Monday (19.04). 

Matic is quoted as saying that the new agreement keeps in place the same level of cooperation in all areas, as well as the degree of trade liberalization that existed before December 31, 2020. She said the agreement will enable the resumption of normal trade and creates conditions to increase trade and bring investments. 

The press release said that Ambassador Macleod said that the agreement confirms the two countries’ commitment to bilateral relations and regulates unhindered trade in the interest of business people and consumers. 

The press release said that the first temporary bilateral trade agreement between Serbia and the UK was signed in March 1879. 

Reactions on Slovenian Non-Paper Redrawing Borders on Balkans

According to the Chairman of Bosnia’s tripartite Presidency and leader of the strongest Bosnian Serb party in the country, Milorad Dodik, the “only option” for Bosnia in the future is the peaceful secession of its Republika Srpska (RS) entity. 

Dodik made the statement in light of a controversial document that was published on Thursday (15.04) by the Slovenian news portal necenzurirano.si – an alleged non-paper that proposes redrawing borders in the Western Balkans. 

The document presents the options of Kosovo joining Albania and including parts Bosnia’s Serb-dominated RS entity into Serbia while the country’s mostly Croat-populated parts would be annexed to Croatia. 

While the Bosniak and Bosnian Croat members of the tripartite Presidency condemned the document, Dodik argued that a “peaceful separation” is being discussed. 

“This is the only option and it will certainly, be realized in some coming period”, he said. 

He arguing that there is no other option in a situation where the main Bosniak party in the country, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), and its leader, Bakir Izetbegovic, are working towards Bosnia becoming a unitary state without semi-autonomous entities. 

Dodik said that the separation line between Bosnia’s two entities, which he called a “border”, is something that will not be changed under any circumstances as it internationally recognized in the Dayton Peace Agreement. 

“Izetbegovic wants to realize the concepts of his father (late BiH President Alija Izetbegovic) to create a Muslim state. Muslims would then rule there and decide on everything. Serb would be punished forever. Of course, this will not happen”, he said. 

After some Slovenian media outlets reported on the content of a non-paper document that contains the ideas about the change of borders in the Western Balkans, there is a perception that some circles in the European Union work to jeopardize the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Bosniak member of Bosnia’s tripartite Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic wrote to European Council President Charles Michel who, according to media, was a recipient of the document. 

“These developments have led to a serious destabilization and disturbance in our country, considering that the secessionist political forces, which have been threatening for some time with the secession of the Republika Srpska entity, are interpreting these allegations as proof of support to their secessionist plans within the European Union”, said Dzaferovic, adding that the EU is one of the witnesses of the Dayton Peace Agreement – the international document that ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which confirmed the continuity of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina in its internationally recognized borders. 

The Presidency member said the EU has been for the past 25 years the main stability factor in BiH along with the USA and that thanks to the Union’s positive influence the country has made achievements in its post-war recovery and reform development. 

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic on Saturday (17.04) blasted an alleged document on changing the borders in the Balkans, saying he hoped it did not come from Slovenia. 

In the past few days, the public in the region has been focusing on an alleged non-paper on changing the borders of the Balkan states and reorganizing them along ethnic lines. According to the media, the authors are Slovenia’s highest officials, which they have denied. 

“Regarding a peaceful break-up in Bosnia and Herzegovina – that’s such a flippant and dangerous topic that it shouldn’t be put even in a non-paper, regardless of who did that”, Milanovic told the press. 

“Any peaceful break-up, Croatia all the way to the Drina River, Belgrade to the Una River – that’s out of the question”, Milanovic said 

Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, said on Saturday (17.04) that he never saw the alleged unofficial non-paper on redrawing borders in the Western Balkans and that Serbia has nothing to do with it. 

The Serbian President stressed that he never saw such a map and that “the fact that some want to blame Serbia for it only speaks about them”, referring to “certain groups in Montenegro, Bosnia, and Herzegovina and Zagreb.” 

“I cannot agree to the unification of Kosovo and Albania, I must respect the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina”, Vucic said. 

He said he advocates for the “existing borders of Serbia, with Kosovo and Metohija included” and the border with “Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Republika Srpska included.” 

“Peace and complete stability are the most important thing for us”, Vucic said. 

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa’s statement that the breakup of Yugoslavia is not over yet and the idea of Greater Albania is unacceptable and very harmful, provocations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a Friday (16.04) press conference in Russia, after a meeting with his Serbian counterpart Nikola Selakovic.  

Dismissing the idea of redrawing new borders in the former Yugoslavia territory, Lavrov said that the “Greater Albania”, as a form of a solution to the Kosovo issue, was unacceptable. He also called Janez Jansa’s statement that the breakup of Yugoslavia was not over, unacceptable and very harmful provocations. 

“Talks of Greater Albania are nothing new. We’ve always called on our EU and NATO partners to dismiss such plans and not allow the spread of such rhetoric,” the Russian Foreign Minister said. “It’s a very dangerous game. The UN Resolution 1244 still exists and it has never been repealed. The responsible politicians, especially the heads of governments of European countries, have no right presenting ideas that undermine the very concept set out in Resolution 1244.” 

He recalled that the Resolution respects Serbia’s sovereignty and that the status of Kosovo should be found in the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina. “As President Putin said, we will support any solution that suits Serbia”, Lavrov said.

Serbia Implemented Only 4 of 17 Recommendations

The Council of Europe (CoE) anti-corruption body GRECO said in a report released on Thursday (15.04) that Serbia had implemented just four of its 17 recommendations in 2020.  

“As of 31 December 2020, Serbia had fully implemented four of the 17 recommendations issued by GRECO. Twelve recommendations had been implemented partially, and one recommendation remained not implemented”, the report said and added that Serbia implemented 23.5 percent of GRECO recommendations. 

The report said that Serbia implemented 16.7 percent of recommendations on judges and the same percentage on prosecutors. 

The GRECO annual report reviews measure to prevent corruption taken in member states in 2020 concerning MPs, judges, and prosecutors’ top executives and law enforcement agencies. It called a member state governments to rigorously manage the corruption risks that emerged because of measures are taken to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, including the infusion of large amounts of money into the economy to alleviate its economic and social impact. 

“By the end of 2020, GRECO’s member states had fully implemented almost 40% of its recommendations to prevent corruption in respect of MPs, judges, and prosecutors. The recommendations with the lowest compliance were those issued in respect of MPs (only 30% fully implemented), followed by judges (41%) and prosecutors (47%)”, a press release said adding that 16 countries, including Serbia, were subject to GRECO’s non-compliance procedure. 

Montenegro First Victim of ‘Chinese Debt Diplomacy’

The European Union has said it will not help Podgorica repay the billion-euro Chinese loan, making Montenegro the first European victim of ‘Chinese debt diplomacy’, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has reported on Tuesday (13.04.).  

„A billion Euro loan is a lot of money. Especially when the country has an annual GDP of four billion”, the newspaper wrote as carried by Deutsche Welle (DW). 

Official Podgorica has asked Brussels’ aid to repay the previous government’s loan from China in 2014 for a motorway section. 

But Brussels responded the EU did not finance loans from third countries and could offer favorable loans for other sections of the road instead. 

The Bar – Serbia’s border motorway should be 177 kilometers long. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the part from Podgorica to the northern town of Kolasin already cost a billion Euro, and the rest could be more expensive. 

According to FAZ, the coronavirus epidemic has crippled a small Balkan country’s economy heavily depending on tourism. The World Bank expects three percent growth in Montenegro this year. 

The first installment of the loan from the Chinese Exim Bank with an interest rate of two percent is due by mid-2021. 

„It seems Montenegro has become a victim of Chinese debt diplomacy that is emerging around the New Silk Road”, FAZ reported.
„It’s no surprise”, Sebastian Horn, a researcher at the Institute for World Economy at Kiel University, said. 

„The motorway financed and built by China had an unrealistic assessment of profitability from the beginning and exceeded the country’s ability to borrow”, Horn told FAZ. 

He recalled that several countries sought financial support from international organizations in the previous months due to debts to China. Among them are Ecuador, Kenya, Ethiopia and Pakistan. 

Mario Holzner, head of Vienna’s WIIW think tank dealing with Eastern Europe, recalled that China had reserved Montenegrin land as collateral if the loan was not repaid. 

„Of course, the EU has a chance to bind Montenegro to itself in the long run if it financially supports the country”, Holzner said. 

EU Position on Western Balkans and Borders is Clear

European Union’s position on the Western Balkans and borders in that region is very clear, there is nothing to be changed on that, European Commission’s spokesman Peter Stano said on Tuesday (13.04) in a daily press briefing. 

Stano was responding to a question about the alleged non-paper document that Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, according to some media outlets, sent to Brussels and which speaks about redrawing of borders in the Western Balkans.   

EC spokesperson said they were not aware of such document and suggested that any question on this matter should be addressed either to the Slovenian partners or the European Council. 

But, Stano said, the EU position on the Western Balkans and borders is very clear. 

“There is nothing that needs to be changed on that. We should work towards regional cooperation, reconciliation, this is the idea and this is the logic of the accession process. To try to solve all the issues that might be between the countries in a process that does not go into dangerous areas and sticks to the EU law and EU principles,” he said. 

The Slovenian PM himself denied the allegations, saying that he last met European Council President Charles Michel last year and that he could hardly hand over any document in February or March this year. He said that Slovenia is “seriously seeking for solutions towards the development of the region and the EU perspective of the Western Balkan countries” and that such claims are “trying to prevent such goals.” 

The allegations coincided with a statement by Bosnia Presidency’s Croat member Zeljko Komsic, who told media on Monday that Slovenian President Borut Pahor asked the Presidency members during his recent visit to Sarajevo if peaceful dissolution was possible in BiH. 

Bosniak Presidency member Sefik Dzaferovic also confirmed this was a topic of the conversation.