Russia is poisoning hopes for the reconciliation between Kosovo and Serbia

A top EU official predicts that Serbia and Kosovo would support a deal to mend tense relations at a conference later on Monday (February 27) in Brussels, despite Russian attempts to sabotage the effort.

Peace talks in Brussels

After a lengthy break, the meetings between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti are now taking place. They were arranged by the top EU diplomat Josep Borrell and the EU’s special representative for dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, Miroslav Lajcak.

An EU official said Monday’s approach would finally seek to normalize relations and might be “the most important meeting in the current day.” Meetings held in the previous few years have primarily focused on resolving crises and signing commitments, many of which have never been implemented. 

History of the conflict

After the 1998–1999 war, Kosovo proclaimed its independence from Serbia in 2008. Belgrade views Kosovo as a province and rejects this. Since then, tensions have increased, and despite promises from both parties to begin a discussion process in 2013, little has been accomplished.

Some of the 50,000 ethnic Serbs who reside in Kosovo’s north do not acknowledge the province’s independence. Belgrade supported this and caused a flare-up between the Balkan countries, culminating in December 2022, including barricades, border closures, and demands for Serbia to send in the military.

The idea is not anticipated to be discussed by the leaders, but a senior EU official said that Brussels is willing to talk about how to implement it.

With monthly updates from the EU to member states on progress, the proposal would include a system to track implementation and the EU accession process for the first time.

The planned association of Kosovo’s towns with a Serb majority, which Pristina worries could result in the creation of a separatist territory, is anticipated to be the most controversial issue at the discussions on Monday.

Issues on which agreement should be reached

While Serbs argue that it is essential to preserve their rights, leaders of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority claim that such a body would grant Belgrade considerable control in their nation.

The idea has also sparked complaints from locals in Kosovo who assert that Serbs have primary minority rights, including access to free power, education in Serbian, and representation in the local and federal administration.

The association agreement was signed in 2013, and the Kosovo Constitutional Court ruled that it conflicted with the law of the land.

Kurti outlined the requirements under which he would support the association’s formation in January. Pristina has stated that it does not oppose the association as long as it operates as an NGO or is not monoethnic.

The US has gone so far as to imply that the association will be established with or without Kurti’s assent, supporting the diplomatic push for the plan made by the EU. Derek Chollet, a US advisor, urged both parties to take advantage of the chance before the meeting.

In a letter to Pristina over the weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Maloni urged progress in preparation for the summit.

Traditional Russian should try to influence at least something

Belgrade has always maintained a careful balance between its centuries-old ethnic and religious ties to Russia and its ambitions to join the EU and pursue an alliance with NATO.

Brussels has lambasted Serbia for not formally imposing sanctions against Moscow even though Serbia’s president has frequently denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the UN and other international forums.

According to AFP, the unnamed official claimed that amid geopolitical unrest in the region, Russia’s envoy to Serbia had been “hyperactive” in giving interviews and attempting to scuttle the talks.

As we wrote earlier Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani stated on 11th February that the mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group could cooperate with Serbian paramilitaries to smuggle weapons and unmarked military uniforms into Kosovo. According to her, Serbia’s goal is “to prepare the situation for possible annexation – not through a traditional military operation, but through a hybrid attack.”

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