19 September 2018

WEST BALKANS (Important events seen from BUCHAREST – 05 September- 18 September 2018

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Image source: Mediafax

The Kosovo File

The American senator, Ron Johnson, who also leads the national security and governmental affairs Committee, made a visit in Serbia, on 10.09.2018, showing, among his statements, US’s position regarding the solution for Kosovo’s issue, before the visit (in an interview for “America’s Voice”), but also during and after the meeting with Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic.

The American official underlined that US wants to offer Belgrade and Pristina space to find such a solution under EU’s aegis, throughout the negotiations in Brussels, being necessary the participation of both parts involved at this process.

In these circumstances, it is important to underline that the American mass-media remarks that the actual negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia are developed in a context which is marked by demarcation ideas, change of territories and modification of borders. Additionally, it was brought out that the debates from the last period, on the Kosovo file subject, raised different reactions in Serbia and Kosovo, but also contributed to generate some different point of views on the international scene, which led to creating a group of states which could agree with such a solution, if the parts agree too, but also another group of states which could oppose to such ideas, due to the possible consequences which could be produced at West Balkans level, but also at an international level.

During the interview, the American senator draw attention to the fact that these concerns are lawful, and, not least, the American official referred to Russia’s influence in West Balkans and the referendum that is about to take place, regarding the new name of the mecedonian state.

We must remark Serbia’s president position, Aleksandar Vucic, adopted during the meeting with the American official, in Belgrade, who featured Johnson’s activity saying that he “always wanted to hear what the serbians have to say first, he supported Balkan’s peace and tries to take part at finding compromising solutions between the serbians and the Albanese, between Belgrade and Pristina through his authority, acknowledgement and presence”. In the same context, the Serbian president underlined that he spoke with the American senator about improving the bilateral cooperation between Serbia and the US and informed him about the situation in Kosovo.

Aleksandar Vucic remarked that there is no solution for the Kosovo issue without the US, Germany or Russia. In the same context, the Serbian official underlined that it will be difficult to get to an agreement, if not impossible, but that it should be done everything possible, being very important for any chance to be supported by all the big powers which, subsequently, push up the discussions. 

Moreover, the Serbian president draw attention to Russia having always Serbia’s back, from the perspective of the international right, just like the US and Germany believed they were harmoniously with the international right when talking about Kosovo’s recognition.

Throughout the meeting with the American senator, Ron Johnson, Serbia’s prime-minister, Ana Brnabic, underlined that a frozen conflict is not a good solution and that such an evolution would create an unfavorable environment for businesses development and Serbian population’s survival on Kosovo’s territory. Additionally, Ana Brnabic underscored that Serbian president’s message transmitted during his visit in Kosovo, on 09.09.2018, is a very clear one: serbians objectives are peace, stability and cooperation, as well as the preliminary conditions for Serbia’s and the entire region economic well-being.

In the same circumstances, Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci, underscored that a final agreement with Belgrade would also include mutual recognition and Kosovo’s accession to EU, NATO and UN. Furthermore, the Kosovar official underlined that Washington fully supports the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo and that the US and EU offered enough space for creating the conditions and possibilities to get to a final agreement between Pristine and Belgrade. 

In an attempt to explain the term “border’s correction”, that he publicly alleges, Thaci reiterated that there will be no division or correction and neither would allow the creation of a Serbian republic in Kosovo. Nonetheless, the Kosovar official mentioned that he “hardly tries to make border’s correction across the demarcation process for the 430 km line between Kosovo and Serbia, including Presevo’s Valley accession to Kosovo, which means honoring citizens’’ will from Presevo, Medveda and Bujanovac districts, expressed on 1st and 2nd of March, 1992.” We must remark that the Kosovar official promised that these things will be presented and supported in Brussels, in the most institutional way possible.

As a consequence, it is interesting to remark that the US, together with Eu, seem to be very motivated and involved in solving the Kosovo file issue, also the issue regarding Macedonia’s future name, these being essential elements for stabilizing the West Balkans, implementing the new strategy for this region, producing new real perspectives about the euro-atlantic integration of all the entities from this area, but also for fighting against the more and more accentuated increase of the influence of some international actors, like Russia, China and Turkey. In this circumstance, it is important to underscore American senator’s position, Ron Johnson, who stated for the mass-media that the US president, Donald Trump, as well as the American vice-president, Mike Pompeo, want the Kosovo issue to be solved and that there is the possibility for the American president to visit Serbia.

As a result of the adopted position, especially in the last period, of Belgrade and Pristina’s leaders, but also of the prominent adopted positions by certain international actors, we can appreciate that it is more and more possible to solve the Kosovo issue with a compromising solution mutually accepted by the Kosovar and Serbian leaders, and which could involve the remake of some borders on ethnical criteria, which will definitely contribute at ending some tensions and conflicts that are still lurking.

Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, visit in Kosovo

Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, made a visit in Kosovo on 8 and 9 of September. This visit is quite special comparing it to the other ones, because had a lot of controversies and issues, considering the context, but also its organization and development. In this context, we must remark some precursory elements of Serbian president’s visit in Kosovo:

-the cancellation (05.09) of the visit of Bureau’s Director for Kosovo and Metohija/KiM (from Serbia’s Government), Marko Duric in the ex-serbian province, but also of the high-level meeting (planned for 07.09, in Brussels) between the delegations led by Serbia’s president, A. Vucic, and respectively Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci;

- Kosovo’s parliament president statement, Kadri Veseli (06/09), who underscored that it is possible to forbid Serbia’s president visit in Kosovo, and if he would try to enter without permission, he would have the same faith as M. Duric (who entered without permission in North of Kosovo, on 26.03.2018, after being intimidated by KP in Kosovska Mitrovica, arrested and then deported in Serbia);

- the position adopted by president A. Vucic, in the morning of 07.09, who asked Serbia’s Army and other executive’s institutions and organs to stop any dialogue with Pristina’s authorities and the international presence from KiM, the decision regarding the meeting being taken on the night of 07.09;

On the first day of the visit (08.09), the serbian president visited the Zubin Potok municipalities (Sports Development and Ecology Center and the Red Cross head office from Zubin Potok district and  “Gazivode” hydroelectric and dam station), Leposavic ( he visited a serbian family from Ibarsko Postenje district, the Agricultural School from Lesak and he participated at a business forum in Leposavic) and Zvecan (he visited the housing estate for evacuee persons “the Bright Valley” and had a meeting with the citizens).

On the second day of the visit (09.09), president’s A. Vucic delegation was blocked from visiting the Banje village from Srbica/Skenderaj municipality, as a consequence of stopping the traffic communication from Kosovska Mitrovica to Banje, by the veterans of Kosovo’s Liberation Army.  Facing with these conditions, the Kosovar government decided, urgently, to cancel the visit. Although there were KP and KFOR, they did not interfere for unblocking the communication. The serbian president gave up the visit in Banje and headed to Kosovska Mitrovica (precisely to “Mitrovica Mord”).

Frequently, around some meetings seen as important across the “Brussels dialogue”, mediated by EU, in Kosovo took place some events which are creating a tense atmosphere, unfavorable for the dialogue.

EU, through the voice of the High Representative F. Mogherini, tried to calm down the failure of the meeting from 07.09 and immediately announced a new high-level meeting, with the occasion of UN’s General Assembly from New York. But this meeting, is less probable, as there are bigger chances that at UN’s General Assembly Serbia to be represented by the prime-minister Ana Brnabic, and a special trip of the serbian president in New York for the meeting with H. Thaci is less probable.

Analysts say that after the events from 08-09.09.2018, Pristina got “creased”, its image being afflicted by the confusions about the partial approval of serbian president’s visit, which made necessary the direct intervention of the west allies, for the visit in “Gazivode” to happen. On the other hand, the visit in “Gazivode” raised a lot of frustration among the Albanese radicalists and the UCK veterans, who reacted by blocking serbian delegation’s trip to Banje.

If EULEX image among the serbians is not anyway a good one, Banje’s visit failure afflicted KFOR image as security and free circulation guarantor in “Kosovo”. This is the reason why the politic-military analysts question themselves if KFOR can or want to interfere if some violent acts as the ones in March 2014 would start. KFOR’s incapacity to manage in an appropriate way such a scenario introduces the possibility of Begrade’s limited military-police intervention, at least in North of KiM.

Besides KiM’s actual statute, which cannot be solved overnight, other major problems in the Kosovar file are the statue and competences of Serbian Municipalities Association from Kosovo, founding the Kosovo army (mainly, by transforming Kosovo’s Security Forces), the acceptance and implementation of an agreement regarding the energy and assurance of freedom of movement and citizens security and citizens of other ethny than Albanese properties. By default, of some strong guarantees for the security of Serbian ethnics and Serbian properties from KiM (including the cultural and religious heritage), it is improbable for Belgrade to sign any agreement with Pristina, which would block Kosovo’s accession process to UN.

At EU and US’s pressure we expect the dialogue from Brussels to continue, but the chances to actually succeed are minimum, even if there will be no pressure on both parts, for concessions. In the actual format, the dialogue from Brussels seem to have waisted its beneficial effects, except for both parts’ commitment that it will not appeal to unilateral measures.


Interesting evolutions in Macedonia Republic

On the inside, the main opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, led by Hristian Mitkoski, decided (12.09) not to ask the members and sympathizers to boycott the referendum, leaving the vote to their latitude.

NATO’s General Secretary, Jens Stoltenberg, made a visit in Skopje, on 5th and 6th of September, his main aim being the support of the actual governors in the campaign for the referendum. Practically, the official of the North-Atlantic Alliance had only one message: Macedonia’ Republic accession to NATO is possible only after ending the validation procedure of the agreement with Greece, any other option being excluded.

The same message for Macedonia’s Republic citizens, regarding the accession to NATO and EU, had in Skopje (07.09) the austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz (his visit will remain memorable because the Macedonian protocol welcomed him with the Latvian flag, not the austrian one).

Yet, one of the strongest support messages is the visit in Skopje of the german chancellor, Angela Merkel (08.09).  The Macedonian press underscored that it is the first visit of the german chancellor in Skopje, after many years (after a short visit of the chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, in 1999), and the prime-minister Zoran Zaev draw attention to the fact that the meaning of the visit, on Macedonia’s International Day, and the fact that this is a strong message just before the referendum for choosing country’s future, respectively an encouragement that the big powers are supporting the consequent implementation of the agreement with Greece and a confirmation that the treaty guarantees the macedonian future and Macedonia’s place in EU and NATO.

At the common press conference, EU transmitted a similar message, through the visit in Skopje (13.09) of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, Federica Mogherini. To accentuate the European support for the actual government, F. Mogherini went (from the reunion of the European Parliament, Strasbourg) to Skopje together with the Macedonian prime-minister, Zoran Zaev. In Skopje, the high representative used the occasion to meet also with the president of the country Gheorghe Ivanov, who is an opposer not only of the actual government but also of the treaty with Greece.

He reiterated his position against the agreement with Greece and underlined that he supports reaching country’s strategic objective, to access EU and NATO, but this should not be an alibi for a bad treaty, which creates more issues, than the ones it solves. Significant is that the high representative met also with the leader of the main party which opposes the treaty with Greece, H. Mitkoski. At the press conference, the European official underlined that she cannot tell the voter to vote “Yes” or “No”, but EU’s door is opened for the Macedonian statute, and country’s future stays in the hands of the citizens, which should not miss this “historical opportunity”.

More than symbolic, in the same day as F. Mogherini, in Skopje was also an important American official, Wess Mitchell, deputy of the American state secretary for Europe and Eurasia. He met with the prime-minister Z. Zaev, but also with the VMRO-DPMNE leader, H. Mitkoski. The American official appealed to Macedonia’s Republic citizens to participate at the referendum and vote favoring the agreement with Greece. In the discussion with W. Mitchell, H. Mitkoski reiterated that VMRO-DPMNE Macedonian’s statute strategic objective are country’s accession to NATO and EU, but he still refused the treaty with Greece.

The dutch Foreign Affairs Minister (12.09), the kosovar president, Hashim Thaci (12.09), the Albanese Foreign Minister (13.09) and the german minister for European Affairs (14.09) offered also support for Macedonian authorities’ position regarding the referendum and the treaty with Greece, through statements and visits in Skopje. We expect such support methods to continue.

The decision of the VMRO-DPMNE leadership not to ask their voters to boycott the referendum can be a historical one, and the treaty with Greece has a chance. On the contrary, despite the massive vote favoring the treaty, the referendum was risking to be invalidated because of the reduced participation at the vote. The VMRO-DPMNE leader asked the voters to save their dignity on 13.09 and not to answer prime-minister’s challenges to vote with “their heart and discernment”.

Between the “internal” allies of the actual government for the validation of the treaty with Greece there is a majority of Macedonian academics (from the Sciences and Arts Macedonian Academy) and the Macedonian Orthodox Church- the Archiepiscopate from Ohrid (still canonical un-recognized by the other orthodox local churches and in a fight with the actual “mother church”, the Serbian Orthodox Church).

A significant support for the actual governing and the campaign favoring the referendum and the treaty with Greece represents, undoubtful, the visit and the statements of the west partners of Macedonia Republic.

With the new conditions, we expect a participation at the referendum of over 60% from the citizens with franchise, and over two thirds to vote favoring the treaty from Prespa, which would mean validating the referendum and approving the treaty, so, implicitly, would open the procedural way to modify Macedonia’s Republic Constitution.

The Albanese population from the Macedonia Republic is less tied with the Macedonian national identity and more opened to approve the treaty with Greece (this position being expressed for many years by the leaders of the main parties, but, pretty diffused regarding the treaty, big part of them still refusing to accept the change about country’s name).

Refusing the treaty would mean continuing the (auto)isolation of the Macedonian statute and blocking its access to EU and NATO.

After the potential favorable vote and validation of the referendum, the accent in the Macedonian-Hellenic file will move the Athens, because in Greece there are also important forces which are opposing the treaty from Prespa.

After the pretty firm intervention coming from the west community (US, EU), in Macedonia, favoring the referendum and the treaty with Greece, the conditions for its contestation in the streets are reduced. Probably, the new leaders of VMRO-PDMNE decided to save their chances to come back to governing after some elections, in some years, so they are not appealing anymore to boycotting the referendum or to protest demonstrations.

The increase of European’s Bank investments for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in Macedonia and Greece after solving the dispute regarding Macedonian state’s name.

The EBRD vice-president, Pierre Heilbronn underlined that solving the issue of Macedonian state’s name could unblock a lot of projects and that both parts involved are trying to translate the potential politic success in really concrete investments. Additionally, the EBRD official draw attention to the fact that solving this issue would increase other investors interest for the region, EBRD being expected to invest in border projects between the two states, like the gases and the transport domains.

EBRD invested last year around 630 million euros in Greece and 50 million euros in Macedonia, and next it will invest around 900 million euros in the whole region of the West Balkans. Most of the investments will be dedicated to infrastructure, which is not enough developed, as a modern infrastructure would bring benefits for the economies of all the entities in the region.

New appointments in Serbia’s Army

On 14.09.2018, the president of Republic Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, announced a series of appointments, reserves and rank positions in Serbia’s Army. The president informed that he accepted the retirement demand of the Chief of General Stuff of Serbia’s Army, general Ljubisa Dikovic, who was replaced with a younger general, with three stars (general-lieutenant), Milan Mojsilovic. He previously had the position of deputy of the Defence Ministry for defence policy, after he was the chief of Military Representative from Serbia’s Mission to NATO, Brussels.

As important is also the appointment of the chief of SMG (general-mayor Petar Cvetkovic) as surrogate, after the position was available more than a year (once with gl.lt. Jovica Draganic’s retirement, in march 2017), and also the leadership changes of the information and security military services. As executive of he Military Security Agency, from the Serbian defence ministry, was named a young officer, colonel Duro Jovanic, and as director of the Military Information Agency (VOA), from the serbian defence ministry, was promoted director’s surrogate, Zoran Stojkovic, once with his appointment as brigade general rank.

There were named new chiefs and were made new promotions to general rank, in the ministry but also in SMG (the rector of the Defence University, the director of the Defence Inspectorate, the chief of the Direction for Defence Technologies, the chief of J-6 etc.), but also to chiefs and commanders at forces categories.

SMG’s chief retirement from the Serbian Army, gl. Lj. Dikovic, it was something “expected”, as he was accomplishing the retirement conditions. Additionally, the military representative union (Military Union from Serbia/ VSS) considers that from May he was actually illegally occupying the position of SMG chief, as he was supposed to be retired when turning 58 years old. VSS initiated even a media campaign for this issue, but the serbian defence minister counteracted the accusations, using a legal provision, according to which the active service of a general stops when a presidential decree is issued, and the president did not issue such a decree.

Once with gl. Lj. Dikovic’s retirement, the accusations of a part of Serbia’s civil society remains outside the topic (especially the ONG Fund for Humanitarian Right in Belgrade/FHP), regarding the tolerance of a serbian army leader suspected for war crimes in Kosovo and Metohija/ KiM, in 1998 and 1999 (based on the command responsibility, as commander of the 37 Motorized Brigade from Raska/37. mtbr VJ, during the temporary dislocation of some of its complements in Drenica area, from KiM).

To reiterate his support for gl. Lj. Dikovic, president A. Vucic decorated him (14.09.2018) with the Order “Karadorde’s Star, class I. More than that, the president acclaimed him, underlining that he was for 10 years the leader of SMG, and previously, he bravely opposed NATO’s aggression in 1999.

The moment chosen by Serbia’s president to make these significant changes is unusual. Usually, such changes (appointments, retirements and rank promotions) happen at the end of the year, with the occasion of Serbia’s Army Day (23th of April). On the other hand, it is normal to promote the colonels who were for at least one-year generals to the brigade general rank.

The new chief of SMG, gl.lt. Mojsilovic, was not in friendly relations with the ex SMG chief, gl. Lj. Dikovic, so there could be some conflicts between the new SMG chief and some SMG officers named by the ex SMG chief, as a consequence of the loyalty relation or their evolution in their career, not based on performances.

VSS criticized many times the ex SMG chief, accusing him for repeatedly breaking the legislation and bad work conditions in Serbia’s Army, which had as consequences the leaving of a big number of militaries (soldiers, sub-officers and officers), with serious effects on country’s defence system. For this reason, the VSS acclaimed the appointment of the new SGM chief and expressed its hope that it will produce good changes in the serbian army and Serbia’s defence system.

M. Mojsilovic was an appreciated “counsellor” by the defence minister from January 2017, when he temporary led the Defence Policy Department, and he accompanied or represented the defence minister at the meeting with the military officials from East and West.

What is surprising is the retirement of the force brigade commander for special operations, from Pancevo, gl.lt. Zoran Velickovic, a great specialist, who comes from that detachment and with great results in the instruction process (complements from his unity participating regularly at exercises with the special forces from Russia and Belarus, with the name cod “Slav Brotherhood”).

The appointment of gl.bg. Z. Stojkovic as director of VOA it is welcomed for the serbian defence system, as he is coming from the serbian/Yugoslav military information system (he had, among others, the position of military attaché in Moscow).

Completing the available position from SMG leadership and other central structures from the defence minister and unities consolidated the serbian defence minister, especially in the complex conditions caused by the security situation from KiM province.