Serbia and Kosovo are close to a historic settlement agreement that will end the long-standing conflict. Meanwhile, Moscow has the opportunity to have the final say
Last week’s reports said that Donald Trump had invited Serbia and Kosovo leaders to the White House for talks to resolve the conflict. Information about the meeting scheduled for June 27 was confirmed by the acting US National Intelligence Director, Special Envoy of the President for the Balkans Richard Grenell. He added that if either side is unsatisfied with the negotiations, they will go back to the status quo.
Ramping up the Serbian-Kosovo settlement, according to experts, leads to a gradual evolution of Russia’s position on Kosovo issue. A telephone conversation between Vladimir Putin and his Serbian counterpart, Alexander Vučić, on June 15, is indicative of that. During their talk, the Russian leader spoke out in favor of working out a compromise solution in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. It should be recalled that the Kremlin had previously held a principled position on the need to follow 1244 Resolution, which provided only an autonomous status for Kosovars within Serbia.
A few days later, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov paid an “exploratory” visit to the Serbian capital. During the negotiations, the republic’s leadership voiced several warning statements that Belgrade was preparing for a tough time, including massive pressure to implement certain plans that the Serbian side had received neither officially nor unofficially. In addition, Foreign Ministers Ivica Dacic and Sergey Lavrov published a joint article on the Kosovo issue particularly emphasizing that the United States and the European Union are striving to make themselves an indispensable part of the Kosovo settlement, disregarding the views of other stakeholders.
On June 23, Alexander Vucic arrived in Moscow to participate in the Victory Parade. However, it is obvious that the visit was more connected with the final preparations for the trip to Washington, where, in addition to the tough negotiations, the Serbian president, apparently, will also have to voice certain considerations of the Russian leadership regarding the “Kosovo deal”.
The political situation in Serbia is also favorable to reaching an agreement with Pristina. Landslide victory of the pro-presidential party in the parliamentary elections and other loyal political forces getting into the National Assembly make it possible not only to form a coalition of more than 230 deputies (there are 250 deputies in the parliament), but also to ratify any international agreement.
Without going into details of the possible solution to be proposed by Washington one thing is clear: to sign the final document, the parties have to make very painful compromises, including territorial exchange. There are no guarantees that the plan will be smoothly implemented “on the ground”, where there are many opponents from both Serbia and Kosovo. In addition, the horizon of the diplomatic deal for the American administration at the current stage is the presidential election in the United States, which the head of the White House should enter with tangible results.
Yet, without prejudice to all the inherent features of the Serbia-Kosovo conflict, the developing situation paradoxically resembles the one with the so-called “Kozak plan”, which was almost implemented in Moldova in 2003. It was the period when Moscow was determined to resolve the Transdniestrian conflict without looking at other international involved parties, relying on the undeniable leadership of Vladimir Voronin, who achieved a constitutional majority in the Moldovan parliament. As a result, the Transdniestrian deal was neutralized by the efforts of Washington and Brussels, and the conflict is still unresolved. In this respect, Moscow has a good reason to return the “old debt” to Western partners and prevent the Belgrade-Pristina conflict settlement without regard for its interests.
The Kremlin still has some opportunities to prevent the peace process in the Balkans to be implemented under the exclusive auspices of the White House, which will help strengthen Washington’s authority and emphasize US regional leadership. Russian authorities are apparently not entirely satisfied with the role of a full-time observer coupled with a nominal vote in the UN Security Council, and are unlikely seeking to simply save their face, realizing the inevitable loss of Russian position on the Balkan track.
It seems that in the current circumstances Moscow finds it important to convince its Western colleagues that the final formula for Kosovo can hardly be developed without account for the Russian stance. In this sense, the possibility for a package approach to be proposed by Kremlin to jointly settle other frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space should not be excluded, since Russia has meaningful interest in their resolution.
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