Serbia-Kosovo Conflict Will Be Settled This Year. Are Donbass and Transdniestria Next?

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Dmitry Astakhov The United States and the EU have come to grips with the Kosovo settlement driven by a transparent intention to resolve it this year. But the final conflict resolution is impossible without Russia, which has an excellent opportunity to bargain for other disputed territories. At the end of 2018, Serbia and Kosovo suspended almost all bilateral contacts. Moreover, Pristina introduced a one hundred percent protective duty on all Serbian goods in revenge for Belgrade’s attempts to stimulate the withdrawal of Kosovo’s independence recognition. Thus, the resumption of negotiations is currently preconditioned by two key factors. As can be easily understood, this is the removal of duties and stopping the campaign to reduce the number of recognitions. At the end of last week, Belgrade and Pristina were visited by the new head of the European diplomacy Josep Borrell. The protocol goal of the visit was to restart the dialogue between the conflicting parties and give new impetus to the process of Kosovo settlement. Meanwhile, experts believe that the main purpose of the European emissary was to accelerate the recovery from Kosovo’s protracted domestic political crisis. As a result, on February 4, the local parliament approved the new government, formed by the former opposition parties “Self-Determination” and the Democratic League of Kosovo. Albin Kurti was appointed the new cabinet’s Prime Minister. Interestingly, Josep Borrell arrived in the Balkans almost immediately after US special envoy for peace talks between Serbia and Kosovo Richard Grenell visited the region. The trip, despite the heat around the Serbian-Kosovo relations, was productive: through US diplomat’s mediation, Belgrade and Pristina agreed to resume the air link between the two capitals that was broken 21 years ago. The head of the European diplomacy admitted a high level of attention to the situation in the Balkans and unveiled Brussels’ firm intention to step up the settlement, as well as to appoint a new EU special representative. Moreover, it was in Belgrade that Josep Borrell announced the European Union’s official position: “It is not for us to determine the final results of your dialogue; however, we should be more involved in the process.” Along with this, the European politician admitted that the EU has not performed its job well until now, as there is strong discontent in the Balkans in that regard. According to sources in diplomatic circles, Western emissaries are encouraging Belgrade strongly than ever to close the issue of Kosovo’s recognition on mutually acceptable conditions as soon as possible. As you know, the main argument of Washington and Brussels is the prospect for Serbia to join the European Union. Back in February 2018, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel stated that “Serbia will not be able to become part of the EU without recognizing Kosovo’s independence.” However, enforcing the Serbian leadership to negotiate is complicated by inability of the Western emissaries to formulate clear parameters for the Serbian Euro-integration perspective. According to Serbian president Alexander Vučić, “nobody from the EU or the US can confirm that we (Serbia) will be part of the EU.” In his opinion, mega-stringent EU requirements make the European integration perspective pendant. Nevertheless, this problem can be overcome, especially when the US and the EU are obviously returning the Kosovo settlement process to their top agenda, enhancing efforts in this direction. At the same time, Washington and Brussels seem to strengthen mutual coordination of specific practical actions. There is reason to believe that a key factor for such active efforts is this year’s upcoming US presidential elections. Most likely, American diplomats were tasked to bring the parties to the specific parameters of the final settlement formula by midyear. And the failure of Donald Trump’s plan for the Middle East only redoubles the importance of the Kosovo direction, which seems the most promising option in terms of achieving a ringing success. Of course, in case of such a scenario, the American administration will be the main beneficiary. However, according to several experts, the “pushing” of the final settlement through the UN Security Council will be no less difficult for Washington. In this context, a logical question arises of what exactly the United States will be ready to offer Russia to complete the procedural part. As an option, Moscow will require some concessions in other areas of territorial conflicts, primarily in Donbass and Transdniestria. For example, the Kremlin, in exchange for its assistance in Kosovo, may ask Washington to use its unconditional influence on Kiev to persuade the Ukrainian authorities to remove “unfeasible” demands about elections and borders and move in line with the Minsk agreements, or, if we are talking about the Transdniestrian settlement, to force Chisinau to apply less conflict forms of interaction with Tiraspol. In general, Washington, Brussels and Moscow have a fairly wide negotiation field, in which, one way or another, various options for compromise agreements are possible. In any case, we can state with confidence that the upcoming settlement in Kosovo will inevitably increase the chances for a more speedy resolution of other similar cases in the European space.