Expert: Flirting with the Kosovo Topic Spells Trouble for Moldova

Home / Comments / Expert: Flirting with the Kosovo Topic Spells Trouble for Moldova
For more than fifteen years, official Chisinau has refrained from recognizing Kosovo’s independence, carefully avoiding the subject. But now, at the Western partners’ request, our authorities have to agree to issue visas for Kosovo passport holders to travel to Moldova, which will have its implications
Sergiu Ceban, RTA: Against the background of the deteriorating pan-European security, with little prospect for its near-term realignment, there is an unhealthy dynamic around old unresolved conflicts. In such conditions, when the geopolitical nerve is strained to the limit, there is hardly any room to bridge the gap between irreconcilable rivals. Nonetheless, there is encouraging news from the Balkans, or more precisely, from Northern Macedonia, which now holds the OSCE chairmanship. Serbia and Kosovo are reported to have reached some “principled agreement”. As EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell told the press, despite all the disagreements, the deal was reached after twelve hours of talks in Macedonia’s Ohrid under the auspices of the European Union to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Apparently, American and European diplomats found the right arguments to convince particularly Serbs to make concessions. Many experts call the document a de facto recognition of Kosovo’s independence and believe that, in case of its fulfillment, Serbia will have no serious hurdles on its way to the European Union. Yet, cautious fears are expressed that it is premature to call the signing of some paper a true breakthrough. Moreover, the two capitals continue to be at odds over the implications of the new agreement. Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti publicly announced that it means de facto recognition of Kosovo by Serbia. But Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic says that the accession of the region to the UN and other international organizations is impossible, as is its recognition, and that the paper seeks only to settle relations between Serbs and Albanians without claims and conflicts. The skepticism is also due to the numerous agreements between Serbia and Kosovo, about thirty to be exact, most of which remained on paper. One of the most recent examples is the “Trump deal” when in September 2020 Aleksandar Vucic and then-Kosovo Prime Minister Avdulah Hoti also signed agreements on “normalizing relations” in the presence of the American leader. Yet, the sides never implemented them, returning to the usual state of confrontation. This February marked the 15th anniversary of Kosovo’s self-declaration as an independent state. Since then, it has not gained full international recognition, being stuck in a state of limbo. This uncertainty weighs heavily on the U.S. administration, the principal author and sponsor of Kosovo’s independence. Perhaps that is why, given all the geopolitical tectonics, Western diplomacy wants to finally settle all long-standing issues like Kosovo, so that they do not steal precious time and energy anymore. As we can see, all foreign policy resources have been mobilized to ensure the next “breakthrough”. Moldova is not left out. Apparently, Washington and Brussels were so convincing in their requests that our authorities had no choice but to cooperate with our allies, despite all the risks of this uneasy topic for our country. I am talking about the bill drafted by a group of PAS deputies which suggests the possibility of issuing visas to Kosovo passport holders. The latter will be able to obtain electronic short-term visas to attend Moldova-arranged international forums. The reason for adopting such a law is on the surface: on June 1, Chisinau will host the summit of the European political community and Pristina, as part of it, will also send a delegation. Among other reasons mentioned by the people’s deputies are the changing reality at the international level and ensuring the right to free movement. Experts have mixed opinions on this initiative, which generates a lot of questions, with no clear answers in the draft law. For example, if there are plans to recognize Kosovo passports, then, most likely, other documents attached to the visa application package will also have to be accepted. In addition, the bill says nothing about diplomatic passports, which is almost a direct path to establishing interstate relations with the self-proclaimed region. Perhaps, Ukraine’s experience of 2019, when it decided to work with Kosovo’s passports to issue visas, can be of use to Moldova. All regulatory documents were adopted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs off the record so as not to generate undue excitement. However, later Ukrainian diplomats were forced to explain that such consular steps had nothing to do with recognizing Kosovo and only meant to optimize the travel regime for residents of the region to Ukraine. As we know, Kosovo is not recognized mainly by the countries that themselves have separatist regions or unresolved conflicts on that ground. It is logical that Chisinau has refrained from recognizing Pristina’s status over the past 15 years because of the Transdniestrian issue, and our diplomacy was as careful as possible in this matter so as not to give even the slightest reason for the Tiraspol administration and our international partners to question the principled nature of its position. Yet, if the bill does make its way through the parliament, its enforcement will inevitably weaken our negotiating position in the Transdniestrian settlement. And if Belgrade and Pristina do approach the denouement of their long-standing conflict this time, the story with the Kosovo documents and their recognition will hit us even harder. After all, such an extremely untimely involvement of Moldova in the international legitimization of Kosovo secession will certainly be used by Moscow and Tiraspol to remind of their “civilized divorce” idea. One more interesting point worth noting. The EU Special Representative for the Balkans, Miroslav Lajcak, after the meeting of the Serbia and Kosovo delegations in Ohrid said that, if adopted, the plan to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina would “narrow Russia’s chances of meddling in the region’s affairs”. And while our authorities are slowly dealing with the Transdniestrian settlement concept playing on someone else’s chessboard we should keep in mind another option: won’t Washington decide to “unleash” our situation as well and seize the initiative from Russia by offering Tiraspol a very lucrative conflict resolution formula? Which won’t be that easy to discard.