Serbia and Kosovo move forward with normalization of relations

The European Union, Serbia, and Kosovo have set up a Joint Monitoring Committee to monitor the implementation of the EU’s proposed Ohrid Agreement on the normalization of relations.

The EU diplomatic service reported this.

Joint Monitoring Committee to monitor the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement

“The EU, as the Facilitator of the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, together with Kosovo and Serbia, as parties to the Dialogue on normalization of their relations, have today established a Joint Monitoring Committee to oversee the implementation of the Agreement on the path to normalization between Kosovo and Serbia and its Implementation Annex. The establishment takes place 30 days after the High-level meeting of the Dialogue in Ohrid, North Macedonia,” the diplomatic service said in a statement.

Kosovo will be represented by Ambassador Agron Bayrami in Brussels and Serbia by chief negotiator Petar Petkovic. The committee will meet regularly in Brussels. 

Its terms of reference are expected to be finalized and approved at the committee’s first meeting. It will take place after the next high-level meeting of the Dialogue, scheduled for May 2 in Brussels.

EU’s proposal to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia

On February 27, the head of the EU’s foreign policy service, Josep Borrell, published the full text of the EU’s proposal to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia. 

The document contains clauses on mutual recognition of documents and state symbols, as well as Belgrade’s Agreement not to prevent Pristina from joining international organizations. 

In March, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo leader Albin Kurti held 12-hour talks on the Borrell plan in the North Macedonian city of Ohrid.

As part of the plan, EU and US leaders also insist that the Kosovo authorities create a Community of Serbian Municipalities with autonomy rights following the 2013 Brussels Agreement.

EU-mediated negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina have been ongoing since 2011, three years after Kosovo proclaimed its independence in 2008 following the Kosovo-Serbia war of 1998–1999.

In 2013, Serbia and Kosovo signed an agreement to normalize relations with the mediation of the EU, but the Dialogue soon reached a deadlock. 

Tensions on the border between Kosovo and Serbia

Tensions on the border between Kosovo and Serbia have persisted since mid-2022, occasionally escalating into road closures in northern Kosovo and bellicose rhetoric on both sides.

In December, a protest was called by the Serbian branch of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, and it caused tensions. Serbian nationalist songs against Kosovo were heard, and calls that “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia.”

Serbia’s balance between the EU and Russia

Serbia is at the heart of a geopolitical struggle between the West and Russia. Due to Serbia’s refusal to accept sanctions against Russia, the European Union is putting further pressure on Serbia. 

Since Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, the EU has made it clear that it expects the Western Balkan nations that aspire to join it to back its international policy, including the sanctions on Russia in response to its assault against a sovereign state in Europe.

According to EU lawmakers, the criminal war launched by Russia against Ukraine makes it more critical than ever for candidates and EU member states to adhere to the terms of the EU’s standards in foreign and security policies.

The situation in Serbia has been precarious since Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is trying to balance EU efforts to isolate Moscow and Belgrad’s links to Russia, its energy supplies, and diplomatic support for its stance on Kosovo. 

By endorsing the UN resolution denouncing the invasion of Ukraine and refusing to recognize Russia’s annexations while also rejecting support for the EU sanctions, Vucic has balanced a fine line between pleasing Moscow and the West simultaneously. But Belgrad has angered the EU leaders by refusing to participate in the sanctions regime.

Russia’s goals in the Balkans

Traditionally, Russia gets more support from the Serbian far-right forces. By backing its Serbian allies, Moscow tries to counterbalance the West’s influence in the Balkans and destabilize the situation in the region. Since the Russian Empire formed political and religious ties with the Balkans, it has been a long-standing goal for Moscow. 

Russia positioned itself as a friend of the Orthodox Christian Slavs, particularly in Serbia, as the region was contested between the Catholic Western powers and the Islamic Ottoman Empire.

The main goal of Russia’s strategy is to develop asymmetrical ways to impede the Balkans’ integration into Western institutions while strengthening ties with Serbia. Mainly, Moscow aims to capitalize on regional divisions and escalate hostilities between ethnic and religious groups.

To enhance its influence, Moscow frequently directs its support through proxies and various non-governmental channels, including support for organizations like clubs, sports teams, religious institutions, media outlets, and veteran organizations. Developing this soft power provides the Kremlin with plausible deniability.

By preventing the UN from recognizing Kosovo’s independence, Moscow presents itself as a supporter of the territorial integrity of Serbia. As a result, Russia gets popular with the Serbs. So, the Serbian government is under pressure to keep good ties with Moscow.

Serbia makes a strategic choice

Vucic’s balancing policy ends with the normalization of relations with Kosovo under the EU mediation and further European integration. 

For Serbia, joining the EU will be a much better strategic choice than maintaining a solid relationship with Moscow, which has been severely condemned in the international arena and sanctioned for its war in Ukraine, and has become isolated and weaker.

Read also: Dangerous relationship between Serbian far-right and Russia

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