Arms, Bribes & No Visa. Battle for Derecognition of Kosovo

I believe that those are just rumours. No one assisted us, we had done it on our own, and we will continue to do so, and if someone helps us along the way, we are grateful. I would like to know who it was“. Reply of Ivica Dacic to RFE reporters to whether Russia has supported Serbian derecognition campaign, 26.06.2019.

November 11th. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia has announced that Ghana has withdrawn its recognition of Kosovo and became the 16th state in the last two years that made a u-turn upon this issue. A political victory of Belgrade was claimed by Prishtina as fake news and diplomatic sabotage (for obvious reasons) and became a hot topic in Serbian, as well as in Kosovar media.

It might be concluded that such diplomacy could be a part of Serbian foreign policy. But why and how? According to the Kosovar Ministry of Foreign Affairs, its independence is being recognized by 116 states (Kosovo Thanks You 2018). Since 16 states have revoked it (or at least announced they will do so), Kosovo has recognition of 99 states – 51% of all the United Nations members.

In the meantime, Serbia announced that by the end of 2019, their goal is this number to be 96-95 (Telegraf.rs 2019), so the number of states which recognizes Kosovo as independent state entity will be lower than 50%. In this sense (with no regards to the lack of a joint position on this issue in the UN Security Council), Kosovo will lose the possibility to join UNESCO and will eventually get an observer status at the UN as Palestine has done in 2012.

Among the states that have revoked the recognition are countries as Suriname, Burundi, Grenada, Dominica, Togo, Central African Republic, Ghana, Palau and some other countries using mostly the same argumentation- legal status of Kosovo has to be set upon the agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, precisely under the 1244 UNSC resolution from 1999. Ghana withdrew the recognition using this point.

It was obvious that Serbia will anger politicians in Kosovo. Such a “dirty campaign”, as Jetlir Zyberaj, advisor of Kosovo’s Foreign Ministry claims (Radio Free Europe 2019, 1), Belgrade will definitely not help to resolve the issue of Kosovo’s import ban on Serbian goods, which is a sensitive issue for Belgrade. For example, according to some sources (Radio Slobodna Evropa 2019), Serbia has daily 1,1 million Euros trade deficit with Kosovo. This has a tremendous impact on Serbian manufacturers that have lost the market and probably will not come back there anytime soon. Apparently, Serbian government has another plan for compensating this gap, for example increasing trade e.g. with Eurasian Union (Gazeta.ru 2019) or with countries like Suriname (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia 2019, 1), Grenada and Dominica (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia 2019, 2), or Burundi (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia 2019, 3) with which Serbia has recently abolished visa policies.

However, this diplomacy is not quite “clear”, as long as the decision to revoke premature recognitions were made in certain deals with Serbia. In other words, it was corruption. Serbia was found in several meetings with foreign diplomats in Belgrade and offered bribes in exchange for a diplomatic note of Kosovo’s recognition as well as of arms sales to African or Russian aid (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo 2019). Particularly, Central African Republic, which recently developed strong military ties with Russia, and particularly uses its special armed forces/private military entities of “Putin’s cook” – Evegniy Prigozhin – head of so-called Troll Factory (officially called Agency of Internet Researchers) in Saint Petersburg, had received 350 000 USD from Serbia for a note of a withdrawal of recognition of Kosovo (Insajderi 2019).

Open sources suggest, Serbia also bribed a member of the parliament of Maldives for a submission of a motion to derecognize Kosovo (RTK Live 2019), as well as Kosovo was accused of bribing Maldives for the recognition (Musliu 2009). Even Milos Zeman, president of the Czech Republic who is accused of pro-Russian attitudes and extravagant diplomacy of all azimuth style, has assumed that the government will consider recognition of Kosovo in September 2019 (Radio Free Europe 2019, 2).

In terms of political goals, it pays off for general discourse within the government in Belgrade, as well as it works for general Serbian demand for a strong country that makes zero compromises to Kosovo and the West. What Serbia was systematically doing was, and is strictly criticized by the USA which has dropped a hint that Serbia might face sanctions (Politiko 2019) over purchase of S-400 missile systems and AA complex Pantsir S-1, which have taken part in joint Serbian-Russian military drills, and according to Russian media, have already made a decision to spend 500 million USD on it (Litovkin 2019). However, their hope to bring Belgrade and Pristina to the negotiation table was expressed. (EWB 2019).

Apparently, there is not much of a practical benefit from the anti-Kosovo campaign. Politically, fewer states will recognize Kosovo on paper, but the practical decision will be based on the vote in the UN General Assembly, where it could theoretically get observer status.

On the contrary, these steps are complete opposites. By persuading other countries to withdraw Kosovo’srecognition, Belgrade comes to a dead end – with this campaign, Serbia risks relations with EU and USA, that do not welcome such political sabotage. If Belgrade is backed by Russia, which probably is, especially with the recent spy affair in Serbia, at some point Alexander Vucic will need to decide – whether to somehow accept conditions of the EU which probably offers far more than Russia, or stick to the traditional ally. This definitely will only postpone the day when Serbia will fulfil (or at least come closer) the European integration. In the same way possible, US sanctions will not be any help for Serbia. In reverse, it will push the country even closer to Russia and thus will limit the political manoeuvrability in terms of Kosovo’s settlement.

Furthermore, there is no 100% guarantee that other states which for example abstained to vote on Kosovo’sstatus in 2015 (Collaku 2015) will abstain to vote, as well as that the ones who withdrew the recognition would not abstain to vote. There is also no guarantee that the EU or the USA will not put pressure on Serbia. If so, Serbia will more likely move towards Russia, which will look very curious, again, with the spy affair, and thus move further away from Brussels. What if the sanctions will be imposed and Serbia will be forced to negotiate with Kosovo? Impossible to predict what will happen, but one thing is clear – current diplomacy on two fronts will not last forever, the government will need to make a decision. Another question is what will be the outcome of it for Serbia, its government, Serbian society and the security of the region itself.

Author: Igor Suvorov

Source Picture: The Sunday Times (2019). Kosovar fear of independence is slipping away. Football fan with a Kosovo flag on his face in England. Source: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/kosovans-fear-independence-is-slipping-away-ttz6q357g

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