Turmoil in Northern Kosovo: Lessons for Moldova

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Anton SVET
In the logic and dynamics of ethno-territorial conflicts in Europe one can often notice recurrent patterns. Often even the actors are the same. This should encourage our government to keep a close eye on the world situation and draw useful lessons for more effective implementation of the country’s reintegration policy
In December the escalation of tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, triggered by the discontent of the predominantly Serbian population of the northern parts of the province with the restrictions of their rights allowed by the separatist republic's authorities, entered another circle. At the beginning of the month, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic stated that the situation in Kosovo and Metohija “has boiled over”, and Serbs are no longer going to tolerate the terror of Pristina and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti personally. On December 5, the Serbian leader held talks with the European Union Special Representative for the Western Balkans, Miroslav Lajčák. He called Pristina’s actions “unilateral and illegitimate”, calling for the implementation of the agreement on the community of Serbian municipalities and respect for citizens’ rights and will. The next day, Lajčák came to Kurti about normalizing relations with Serbia, discussing energy issues and the situation of Serb minorities in northern Kosovo. On the day of the Lajčák-Kurti negotiations, Kosovo riot police attempted to break into election commission buildings in Zubin Potok and Kosovska Mitrovica without the agreed permission of the heads of local municipalities. Several explosions were heard and an air raid alert went off, but the local Serbian population was able to drive the Kosovo police away. The Kosovo authorities called early municipal elections in the north for 18 December, with Pristina-controlled electoral commissioners. The new elections were necessitated by the withdrawal of Kosovo Serbs from the institutions of the partially recognized province in early November. This was a reaction to Pristina’s decision to impose fines for using license plates issued in Serbia. The decision was cancelled on November 23 under pressure from the American ambassador, and the next day it was agreed that Serbia would stop issuing license plates with the territorial codes of Kosovo’s localities. However, the controversy created by the July escalation over the issue of license plates persists. Energy, in particular, is a stumbling block, and the EU Special Representative is paying attention to it for a reason. The two coal-fired thermal power plants in the Kosovo town of Obilic are not capable of covering the province’s entire electricity needs. When Albania, where almost all the energy is generated by hydropower, does not help, Pristina is faced with grave humanitarian challenges. For example, in August, because of the abnormal drought in Albania, Kosovo was the first country in Europe to face a blackout and rolling power outages. Cryptocurrency mining was banned in the region, and energy savings were introduced for industrial enterprises and households. In northern Kosovo, in the area bordering Serbia, there is a relatively modern hydroelectric power plant, Gazivoda, on the Ibar River. The facility is located in the territories of both sides, but is part of and controlled by the unified Serbian energy system. It is used for drinking water and agricultural irrigation in Kosovo and for cooling TPPs A and B in Obilic, but it discharges almost no electricity itself into Kosovo. If the situation were reversed, Kosovo could cope with the deficit. In 2018, the parties were in a pre-war state when then-Kosovo President Hashim Thaci landed at the Gazivoda hydropower plant, accompanied by SWAT teams. Serbia’s armed forces and special forces units were put on alert. Détente began after the EU and U.S. stepped in. Belgrade and Pristina are in talks about delimitating territories in the area of the hydroelectric power plant. No decision has been made so far, and this often puts the Kosovo authorities in a situation of power shortages, especially during the dry months. Current developments and even the actors in Serbia-Kosovo relations echo the Transdniestrian settlement. The issue of gas and energy supply as part of Chisinau’s Transdniestrian dossier is constantly in the news, especially in recent weeks. The contract with the MGRES to supply electricity to the right bank with all the Gazprom gas was unexpected, as it ran counter to the autumn rhetoric and policies of the authorities. Coupled with the factor of Ukraine, Russia and connection to the EU energy system, the gas and energy issue in Moldova is no less complex and serious than in the Western Balkans. Miroslav Lajčák, once a prominent member of the 5+2, is also trying to manage the energy crisis in Kosovo. He was first the EU representative in this format, and then an OSCE Chairman-in-Office who in 2019 organized the last meeting of the 5+2 in Bratislava. Those talks never resulted in the signing of a final document, after which there was a “freeze” in the settlement process. The topics of negotiations between the banks of the Dniester clearly resonate with those of Serbia and Kosovo. Thus, in 2018, before the start of Slovakia’s OSCE chairmanship, Chisinau and Tiraspol, assisted by the organization, agreed on the so-called “neutral” numbers. However, as of today, registration offices opened for their issuance work in a limited mode, and new license plates are not issued. Transdniestrian authorities blame the central authorities for everything, because the police seized imported blanks for Transdniestrian license plates at the end of last year, and the case is still considered by the courts. Obviously, the government’s reintegration policy should critically assess international, including Serbian, experience in order to make strategically correct decisions. All the more so because our servicemen are involved in a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. However, it seems that instead of systematic work and analysis, the authorities constantly rely more on chance, either deliberately aggravating the situation on the left bank or abruptly changing positions and concluding non-transparent agreements on certain issues. As a result, no confidence is left between the two sides, the situation becomes tense, and all sides occasionally suffer damage. Not to mention the fact that there is absolutely no strategy for the real reintegration of the country in this turmoil.