Could Russia Recognise Kosovo?

Adelina Marini

In two consecutive days this week one of the most popular newspapers in Serbia – Blic – runs on its title page the headline that Putin is prepared to recognise Kosovo as a favour to Trump. The newspaper cites Mary Dejevsky – a former correspondent to Moscow and Washington and currently author for The Guardian and member of the British think-tank Chatham House – who claims that the recognition of Kosovo might be a part of a package deal, which would provide closure for several problematic issues from the time of the Cold war, which have been placing strain on the American-Russian relations. The analyst has met Putin himself on several occasions through the influential Valdai club, reminds BalkanInsight. The issue has been tackled by Blic for three days in a row now.

How probable is such a turn of events?

Moscow’s position so far has been that the cases of Kosovo and Crimea are different. This, however, is not exactly true. Kosovo was a part of former Yugoslavia and had a special status. During the bloody process of the federation’s disintegration Kosovo requested independence, but Belgrade refused. This led to the armed conflict, which provoked the NATO intervention in 1999, which made the pact’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg express regret about the innocent victims it led to. The country has been recognised by a little over a half of the UN members and by less than all of EU members. Besides, the EU is committed to mediating the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo – the so called Belgrade-Priština dialogue. It is a part of Serbia’s process of negotiation for EU membership, which has an entire chapter dedicated to it – number 35.

Crimea was an integral part of the territory of the Ukraine. In 2014 Russia occupied the Ukrainian peninsula under the pretext that it had to protect Russian citizens there, thus violating all international rules and agreements. A ludicrous referendum was organised, which was supposed to legitimise the occupation, but it was held against all democratic standards. The illegal aggression was supported by 8 countries worldwide, amongst which North Korea and Syria.

Similar lines about the protection of the Serbian minority in Kosovo (and not just there) are being heard more and more often from the mouths of highest ranking Serbian officials. President Tomislav Nikolić, for example, who is running for a second term at this year’s presidential elections, has recently stated straight up that if need be he would even send Serbian armed forces to protect the Serbian minority in Kosovo.

As a result to the annexation of Crimea, the international community, led by the USA, imposed sanctions on Russia. The change in power at the White House has changed the international environment in an instant. President Donald Trump has been promising to lift the sanctions from all the way back during the campaign. This will however have a price. Should the USA lift the sanctions, it would practically mean a step towards legitimising the unlawful annexation of Crimea by Russia. Trump has many times now demonstrated his disrespect towards international law and international organisations. At the background of ever growing in number voices within the EU for restoring relations with Russia, such move by Trump would be a serious present for Mr Putin. In exchange, he could recognise Kosovo, betraying Serbia’s friendship and pushing it towards the European sphere of influence.

This might be too high a price for Moscow, so there exists the possibility that the hypothetical package includes portioning out of Syria and redistribution of influences in the Middle East in general. Certainly, data on such a scenario is extremely scarce, so it is entirely hypothetical and rather less probable.

Russia has sprung into activity quite seriously in the Balkans in recent months, being most active in the parliamentary elections in Montenegro, where an attempt at a coup and sabotaging the elections was made through a proxy. Part of the opposition in the small Balkan republic, which is expecting the ratification of its treaty of accession to NATO, is keeping close relations with Russia and enjoys Russian support. The long arm of Moscow was also felt in the Serbian entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina – Republika Srpska – whose leader Milorad Dodik often visits Moscow and had its support for holding an unconstitutional referendum, which legitimised the republic’s national holiday – January 9th, and this is a step towards the breaking away of the Serbian entity from BiH, as Dodik himself announced recently.

It is unknown at this stage and will probably never become clear what the truth is about the prevented assassination attempt against the Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić. Whether this was a threat and where it came from – forces within Serbia, or from Russia, for it came immediately after Vučić backed Montenegro in preventing the coup attempt in the country – is not very clear. Russia is lending serious support to Serbia on the military side and has considerable economic interests in the Balkans, which it would be unlikely to just casually lose.

Having in mind its centuries-long presence and strategic interest in this part of the world, it would be difficult to accept that the Kremlin will part with this region in exchange for something else. Moreover, to the USA the Balkans have for a long time now been rather a stone in the shoe, than a strategic interest. Even if new conflicts should explode in the region, it would hardly force the new administration in particular to return to the region and against Russia at that. So the possibility of a Russian recognition of Kosovo sounds rather less probable, which could be good news to Serbia, but not to the region.

Such theories, especially having in mind the commentaries in Blic are rather aimed to ease tensions in Serbia, where in the race for the presidential elections and possible new parliamentary elections rhetoric has escalated dramatically. But still, one thing is certain, though – uncertainty. Donald Trump’s inauguration strengthens uncertainty and ad hoc politics. Unlike Trump, Putin is far more predictable.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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