Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

How Russia protects Serbia’s integrity

New format of Moscow’s “hybrid” intervention into Balkan affairs
5 October, 2017 - 11:29
Photo from the website YOUTUBE.COM

Recent events have prompted professional analysts and regular news bulletin viewers to mention Kosovo increasingly often. With reason. Europe has known no other such graphic example of the formation of a new state. In fact, the process is still underway, causing debates between the supporters and opponents of “united Serbia,” and the Kosovars’ right to have an independent state. A total of 111 countries, along with the European Union, have recognized the Republic of Kosovo, yet five EU countries insist that Kosovo means Serbia. Among them are two countries, Cyprus and Spain, that have their own ethnic separatist problems. Also, two UN Security Council members, Russia and China, refuse to recognize Kosovo’s independence. In other words, Kosovo remains hanging in the balance as a republic, even though it has made bigger progress than Abkhazia at the time.

The big question is: What will happen to Kosovo? Will it become part of the internationally recognized Balkan States? Will it be forced to return to Serbia?

KOSOVO IS – WHAT?

While reasserting that Kosovo and Metohija is its province, Serbia appears to have begun to seriously consider its relations with this rebellious region this year, for the first time since the proclamation of its independence in 2008. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic launched a nationwide Kosovo discussion last summer.

That discussion was a breakthrough, a revolutionary change to the official approach, as witnessed by its response to such recent demonstratively provocative campaigns as a train painted in Serbian colors and the words “Kosovo is Serbia” that was prevented from crossing the Kosovan border. Serbia’s leading politicians went even further, calling into question the fundamental Kosovo-is-Serbia principle that had seemed unquestionable. It’s not that they want to recognize Kosovo’s independence. It’s just an attempt to digest the fact that Kosovo is not exactly part of Serbia, and that Serbia must decide what Kosovo is all about.

Serbia’s rhetoric changed after Aleksandar Vucic became president last spring. Mr. Vucic is known as a considerate pro-European politician whose stand made that of Belgrade less radical in all directions, Kosovo included.

European analysts believe that Belgrade is prepared to recognize the independence of Kosovo and Metohija, in a manner that will not allow the recognition of the Republic of Kosovo, but by recognizing the fact without recognizing its existence as a state. No one is prepared to determine the format. Theoretically, this question will be answered by the results of a nationwide discussion.

Belgrade’s intent to soften its stand with regard to Kosovo is explained by the former’s determination to make a European integration breakthrough. The main condition for Serbia’s EU membership is a comprehensive solution to the Kosovo problem. Therefore, today’s Serbian pro-European administration is doing its best to show Brussels its good will concerning Kosovo and Metohija.

KOSOVO WANTS TO MAKE FRIENDS

Kosovo is also being pressured by the European Union. Unlike Ukraine, this republic is formally a candidate EU member, although this candidacy will become a reality only after Kosovo meets all EU requirements – by first settling its differences with Serbia and securing adequate living conditions for the ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, in the first place. The local authorities are reportedly making every effort in that direction.

Mr. Ramush Haradinaj became Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo in early September. Despite his past as an officer and leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the man set course for closer cooperation with Serbia. Addressing the electorate, Mr. Haradinaj made several symbolic gestures, delivering part of his speech in Serbian and stressing the need to establish relations with Serbia, saying that “Serbia has been and will remain Kosovo’s neighbor.” Most importantly, members of the Serbian party were now part of the new Kosovo administration.

This party remains part of the ruling coalition. It is interesting to note that the Kosovo Serbs joined the Haradinaj administration after consultations in Belgrade where, apparently, they were told it was OK.

Needless to say, there is still a very long way to go to achieve interethnic fraternity. As it is, Pristina and Belgrade want Brussels to believe that every effort is being made in that direction, lest monkey wrenches be thrown into the plans both have for European integration.

ACTING BETTER THAN SERBS

Washington and Brussels rejoiced in the warming of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Moscow got scared. There was no way pragmatic relationships between Serbia and Kosovo could satisfy the Kremlin. First, the Eastern Balkans could no longer be a source of constant instability, denying Russia its big-brother-always-here-to-help-you role for the “fraternal Serbian people.” The role Russia has played for centuries. Second, resolving the Kosovo issue would allow Serbia to get a real go at EU integration, thus obviating the need for rapprochement with the Russian Federation.

Russia’s response to the new challenge came in the “hybrid” format. Nothing new. Below are several examples.

In late September, Russia’s NGO “Russian Humanitarian Mission” signed a humanitarian relief memorandum with the Serbian Government Chancellery for Kosovo and Metohija. The document provided for cooperation “in the fields of education, health, and social protection.” In other words, such humanitarian aid would be provided in the Serbian areas regardless of Kosovo central authorities, in a pro-Serbian context, using investment obtained from sources other than those of the European Union. If implemented, this project would strengthen the Serbian ethnic community in Kosovo, allow a stronger influence on Belgrade, and once again make Russia an active player in the Kosovo inner game.

Providing legal aid to Serbian activists in filing damage claims against 19 NATO countries, after the air raids during the Kosovo War, is another focus of Russia’s current endeavor. Russia plans to have its lawyers take part in the drawing up of claims meant for the International Court, and then in the court hearings (if and when). A Serbian delegation will attend a convention of the International Bar Association of Russia (October 19) to discuss further cooperation.

The most thrilling aspect of Russia’s activities in the Balkans was the formation of the so-called Balkan Cossack Army, a paramilitary organization with units in Serbia and other neighboring countries (Kosovo included). This organization is led by the former commanding officer of one of the Russian volunteer units that fought in Bosnia, back in the 1990s. The man in charge of this “Cossack” project is Aleksandr Borodai, a Russian and former “Prime Minister” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” who currently heads the “Donbas Volunteers Union.”

The above examples suffice to say that Russia will not twiddle its thumbs watching Serbia and Kosovo look for any opportunity to coexist. Russia will keep looking for various strategies to participate in what is happening within and outside Kosovo. In other words, every international effort aimed at finally settling the Kosovo issue – particularly by making peace between the Kosovars and local Serbs – will meet with resistance from Moscow.

Now and then Russian politicians debate the possibility of acting better than Serbs. The topic is still there. Belgrade could discard its Kosovo-Is-Serbia thesis, but there seems no way Moscow could follow suit.

By Natalia ISHCHENKO

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