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22 februarie 2019 - Special reports - Western Balkans

WESTERN BALKANS Special Report. February 2019 (I)

Monitorul Apărării şi Securităţii

Sursă foto: Mediafax
  1. Anticipated parliamentary elections in Serbia?
  2. Serbia’s major interference in planning the Russian project “Turkish Stream”
  3. Serbia, economic-financial stability and openness to attract foreign investments for internal projects
  4. The end of the “Macedonian file”?
  5. Croatia fails in acquiring 12 F-16 aircrafts from Israel
  6. Negative evolutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH) in 2019

 

  1. Anticipated parliamentary elections in Serbia?

Serbia’s anticipated parliamentary elections (Central Serbia and Vojvodina) topic came back in the spotlights after the anti-governmental protests and manifestations against Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, when blocking the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.

Started in November 2019, the protests against the actual policy makers from Belgrade got extended in many cities, in December 2018 and January 2019. On 20.01.2019, in Belgrade, it took place a reunion of the leadership of the actual government, the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), but no decision has been made regarding the possible organization of anticipated parliamentary elections. Given these circumstances, president Vucic himself stated that he will agree with such an option if the Serbian national interests will ask for it.

To that end, the Serbian media started to speculate on possible dates for the organization of anticipated parliamentary elections: 31 of March or 14th of April, and some mass communication channels are thinking also of May 2019.  When speculating on the dates of these elections, some are also talking about the name of a possible new prime-minister, the actual minister of finances (and ex-mayor of Belgrade), Siniša Mali.

Legally or „mathematically”, no one asks for the organization of anticipated parliamentary elections. The mandate of the current republican deputies expires at the end of June 2019, and the normal parliamentary elections should be organized not sooner than the beginning of May 2020 (30 days before the mandate of the actual legislation of the Serbian parliament will expire).

The analysts think that, given the current complex political context from Republic of Serbia and the region as well, president A. Vucic could organize anticipated parliamentary elections mainly in two situations: as an emotional reaction to anti-governmental protests from many cities in the country and if a clear blockage will happen for the „Pristina-Belgrade dialogue”.

For the first option there are no logic arguments. The emotion generated by protests[1]could be consolidated by the comments of some people close to SNS, as everyone knows that SNS leaders want the anticipated parliamentary elections. In such a context, president A. Vucic could give up against the pressures and start the measures to organize the anticipated parliamentary elections.

The second scenario is related to the blockage emerged after 21.11.2018 in “Belgrade-Pristina dialogue”, after the Kosovar authorities have established some “overtaxes” (100% taxes) for the products imported by Central Serbia in Kosovo (and Vojvodina) and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The “overtaxes” are starting to have significant economic effects, as the products from Kosovo’s market have been easily replaced with foreign ones (Macedonia, Albania, Croatia, Bulgaria etc.).

On 29.01.2019, Ramush Haradinaj has stated that he is ready to give up the taxes if US and EU will start and organize (in a decent term) an international conference to be ended with a “complex agreement” between Belgrade and Pristina and the mutual recognition of Republic of Serbia and Republic of Kosovo.

If Kosovo (prime-minister R. Haradinaj) will not give up against US’s increasing pressures to back out the taxes, president A. Vucic and SNS may decide to “verify” the popular support in the “Kosovo file”, by organizing anticipated parliamentary elections, and if Pristina gives up the “overtaxes”, the dialogue could start again. In such circumstances, Belgrade’s leadership would not organize anticipated parliamentary elections anymore, until a solution in the “Kosovo file” will emerge, for the electoral process to work as a validation of the solution Belgrade’s policy makers have chosen.

 

  1. Serbia’s major interference in planning the Russian projects “Turkish Stream”

According to “Srbijagas’s” statements (state capital company), Dusan Bajatovic, from 21.01.2019, Serbia aims to end, sooner than 15.12.2019, the construction of its part in the “Turkish Stream” projects, the works to be started in the second part of March 2019. The project was launched by the Russian company “Gazprom”, being dedicated to natural Russian gases transit to Turkey and then to Europe, through Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary. This gas pipeline will have 930 km length, will pass through the Black Sea and will have two parallel branches with an annual transfer capacity of 15, 75 billion of gas cubic meters for each. A branch will be dedicated to Turkey’s consumers, meanwhile another one to natural gases transport to Europe’s consumers.

“Srbijagas” is negotiating with the financial institutions to ensure project’s necessary finances, as the 300-million-euro amount for implementing the project on Serbia’s territory was already allocated by the Serbian-Russian company, “Gastrans”.

The “Turkish Stream” gas pipeline will enter Serbia from Bulgaria through Zaječar and will pass through the Serbian territory to Hungary, its construction to be made on the initial route of the old projects “South Stream”. This part of the gas pipeline will have a 421 km length and two branches, for Croatia of 52 km length and for Republic of Srpska, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, of 105 km length.

In these circumstances, Serbia thinks of connecting the gas pipelines with Romania, Kosovo and Republic of Macedonia, as well as with Bulgaria which, independently, is negotiating the construction of a branch to Republic of Macedonia.

Serbia signed, along with Bulgaria, a “smart bill” with “Gazprom”, to build some transport capacities for the natural gases transport on their territory. The document was signed by the Serbian part on 27.06.2017, in the presence of the Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic, by the Serbian minister of mines and energy, Aleksandar Antic.

The Serbian-Russian mixed company “Gastrans” is actually the old company “South Stream Serbia”, which was reenlisted with this new name. The decision was adopted in January 2018, and they have modified including the date of the actual founder- 30.04.2012 with the new one enlisted in documents- 26.01.2018. “Gastrans” directors remained the same- Dušan Bajatović, for Serbia, and Alexander Syromyatin, from Russia.

The Russian part has a 51% participation at “Gastrans” capital, meanwhile the Serbian part, represented by “Srbijagas”, has the rest of 49%.

In December 2018, the Russian government revealed that he agreed on an amendment with the Serbian government to allow Serbia to re-export Russian natural gases to other states.

Moreover, “Srbijagas” and “Gazprom” have signed an agreement memorandum to increase the underground deposit capacity of the natural gases, “Banatski Dvor” (Serbia), from 450 to 750 million cubic meters and to double the maximum capacity drawing to 10 million cubic meters per day.

This drawing increase capacity of natural gases has more and more importance as the “Turkish Stream” gas pipeline construction will make Serbia not only a transit country, but also the second regional “hub” after Turkey. Such an evolution could be, on one hand favorable for Serbia but, on the other hand, it will consolidate the energetic dependency of the Serbian state and the entire Western Balkans region, which is already overwhelming, to the Russian gas. At the moment, the Serbian state ensures, from its own sources, only 18% from the necessary amount, the rest of 82% coming from Russia through a pipeline which passes through Ukraine and Hungary.

 

  1. Serbia, economic-financial stability and openness to attract foreign investments for the internal projects

On 10.01.2019, the Executive Committee of Serbia’s National Bank (BNS) voted for upkeeping the base rate to 3, 00%, established in April 2018. The decision was determined by the decreased value of inflation (1,9 % in November 2018) and its maintenance in the inferior side of the target value slot (1, 5%- 4,5%). In these circumstances, we can state that Serbia’ economic perspective remains strong thanks to a labor’s force consolidated market, the fiscal stimulation measures taken by the government and the increase of direct foreign investments.

However, the Serbian officials have stated that BNS should carefully track the foreign factors, like the policies of US’s Central Bank and European Central Bank as well, but also the global oil price.   

In all this favorable environment, Belgrade is opened to attract foreign investments in order to create different internal projects, like:

  • The Greek constructions company “GEK Terna” signed a 262-million-euro contract with “Vinci Airport”, from France, for the construction and renovation works of the international airport “Nikola Tesla” from Belgrade.

 

The project includes the development and modernization of airport’s work conditions to allow air companies to offer new flight routes and increase passenger and products’ number, accordingly with Serbia’s economic evolution.

In agreement’s terms, “GEK Terna” will be responsible, among others, of building a new passenger terminal, rehabilitating the current terminals’ installation, modernizing the landing/take off airstrip, building new parking lots and new airstrip routes and a draining system for pluvial waters. The construction works will take 5 years.

  • During the recent visit of Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to Belgrade, from 17.01.2019, the state company in charge with Serbia’s railway infrastructure, “Infrastruktura Železnice Srbije” has signed with the Russian company „RJD International” an agreement worth of 230 million euro to extend and modernize the Serbian railway system. According to Serbian minister of infrastructure, Zorana Mihajlović, the agreement foresees the planning and implementation of three projects – Stara Pazona – Novi Sad railway sector’s electrification, as well as the continuation of Valjevo to Uzice railway sector’s revision, a part of the railway which connects Belgrade to Montenegrin port Bar.

Given these circumstances, Serbian president, A. Vucic, has underlined across the common press conference organized for the Russian president visit in Serbia that “if everything goes as planned, the contract could reach 660 million euros”.

  • “Tasyapi” company from Turley has signed a contract worth of 24 million euro for creating the project and materializing the reparation works of Novi Pazar-Tutin highway, south of Serbia, on a 20,5 km length.
  •  In a statement about the 30-month program of Policies Coordination Instrument of International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Serbian government has highlighted that it intends to end the "Komercijalna banka a.d. Beograd" sale sooner than the end of September 2019. The authorities will adopt an initiation decision of this bank’s privatization by the end of February 2019, the auction to be launched at the end of June 2019.

From November 2019, Serbia’s government has adopted the budget project for 2019, and in the document were envisaged incomes worth of 1, 246 trillion dinars (10,5 billion euro) and costs of 1, 269 trillion dinars (10, 7 billion euro). The new budget is planned based on GDB increase of 3, 5% and a 2,3% inflation, meanwhile the estimated deficit is 0,4 % from GDP.

The Serbian authorities have called the budget as realistic and balanced, aiming to improve citizens’ lives, encouraging the investments in projects and stimulating the forthcoming economic increase. Moreover, Belgrade highlighted the economic increase rate (4,5 % in the first nine months of the 2018), placing Serbian state’s economy among the first five economies in Europe with the quickest growth.

According to minister of finances statements, Sinisa Mali, the Serbian economy is becoming more and more stable, the unemployment rate being decreased to 25% (2013) to less than 12%, and the public debts have decreased accordingly with the GDP.

On Serbian state’s projects and the foreign companies which are exploiting the opportunities offered by Serbia’s economic and financial stability and want to invest, it is important to mention the following aspects:

  • “Vinci Airport” has officially taken “Nikola Tesla” Airport, in December 2018, after signing a concession agreement for a 25 years period, with Serbia’s government. Across the agreement, the French company will pay the Serbian government 417 million euros, and shareholders 84 million euro, along with an annual tax between 4, 4 million euro and 15,1 million euro. Globally, “Vinci Airports” is developing, financing and executing construction works and ensures the daily functioning for 46 airports from France and the entire world.

Besides the airport from Belgrade, the Greek company “GEK Terna” thinks of renovating and setting off other airports from the Balkans as well. The argument to that end is the participation at the auction for the Airport from Sofia in cooperation with the Indian group “GMR Infrastructure Limited”. The projects that “GEK Terna” has committed to, including the contracts which are or are about to be signed, are reaching around 2, 2 billion euro.

  • The agreement between Infrastruktura "Železnice Srbije" and „RJD International” was just one of the more than 20 agreements and cooperation memorandums signed in different areas during Vladimir Putin’s official visit to Belgrade. These include also an agreement between the Serbian energetic company „EPS” and the Russian company „Power Machines” for the renovation of the „Djerdap 2” hydroelectric station, a memorandum regarding the Russian-Serbian cooperation in electric energy domain and an agreement about the use of nuclear energy for peaceful reasons with „Rosatom”.
  • In May 2018, in Istanbul (Turkey), Serbia’s government has signed an agreement Memorandum with the Turkish company “Tasyapi”, for the cooperation in highway infrastructure projects. According to the signed agreement, “Tasyapi” will make a technical and financial analysis of the revision projects for Novi Pazar-Tutin and Aljinovici-Sjenica-Novi Pazar highways, as well as for the construction of the Belgrade-Sarajevo highway on Serbian territory.
  • According to the information the CEO of "Komercijalna banka" has shared, the estimations on the consolidated profit for 2018 was around 8, 35 billion dinars (70, 6 million euro). The estimated profit for 2018 was the biggest profit in the last 10 years, getting to change the last 4 years’ tendency, when bank’s market share decreased. The Serbian government has 41,74% from the capital from "Komercijalna banka", meanwhile the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has 24, 43% of the stocks. In October 2018, the Serbian minister of finances has invited the international companies to submit intention letters for the provision of financial consultancy services in "Komercijalna banka" privatization process. The government from Belgrade was intending to sell its entire stocks package it had in this bank.

 

  1. The end of the “Macedonian file”?

25.01.2019 seems to have brought the end of the “Macedonian file”, as the Parliament of Greece has finally approved, in extremis, with 153 votes from a total of 300 deputies, the “Prespa Treaty” (signed by the Hellenic and the Macedonian governments on 17.06.2018).

This vote lead to another one, equally dramatic, related to the motion of censure against the cabinet led by Alexis Tsipras, who survived thanks to a vote against the motion of 151 deputies. According to Hellenic mass-media, the saviors were the deputies from Panos Kammenos’s party, who proved to be more “independent” than their chief of party.

The drama related to “Prespa’s Treaty” approval across the Hellenic parliament was preceded by another one, the similar vote in the Macedonian parliament. Initially planned for 09.01.2019, the vote was successively postponed to 11.01.2019, when, also in extremis, the conditions for ensuring two thirds of the votes for the “Treaty” were agreed on (81 of the votes “for”, of a total of 120 deputies).

Signing the “Prespa Treaty” and its ratification across the parliaments from Skopje and Atene would not be possible without US and EU’s “special interference”. Moscow called this “interference” as a brutal break of the international right, doubled by unacceptable internal actions, like blackmail and legislation breaches[2].

Basically, the “Prespa Treaty” was implemented through four amendments in Macedonia’s Constitution. The first amendment envisages the change of Macedonian state’s official name in Republic of North Macedonia. The second, adds the framework-Treaty from Ohrid (2001) to the previous provisions related to Macedonian state’s fundaments (the decision of the Anti-fascists Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia/ ASNOM), from 1944. The third one, mentions that the Macedonian state respects the sovereignty, territorial integrity and the political independency of neighbor states. Through the fourth amendment, the Macedonian state mentions, guarantees and cultivates the cultural inheritance of the Macedonian state and diaspora. Furthermore, the “treaty” allows the use of the term “Macedonian”, strictly related to citizenship (without involving the ethnical identity of the citizen of North Macedonia Republic’s state).

Ratified in both states with a fragile majority, the “Prespa Treaty” has numerous enemies in each of the two states. Furthermore, some analysts are afraid (hoping?) that the Russian Federation will have a word in “Treaty’s” cancellation when its effects will be subjected to UN’s Security Council approval (changing the name of the Macedonian state, as UN member).

Regardless of how they got to this agreement and how it was ratifies in both parliaments, the “Prespa Treaty” has a historical significance and it is already producing some effects, which are positive in the eyes of the Euro-Atlantic community. NATO’s officials and some Skopje leaders are saying that the accession of the Macedonian state to NATO is a matter of a few months. Therewith, there are some clues from EU regarding state’s progress in the European integration, and officials from Skopje are hoping to get the date of negotiations’ start in the first trimester of this year.

The Macedonian opposition, except for the ex-leader (Nikola Gruevski), who run to Hungary whereat he asked for political asylum, will have less and less methods to cancel the “Prespa Treaty”. Additionally, any attempt will be firmly criticized by the Euro-Atlantic community. We expect the presidential elections to be won by the candidate proposed/ supported by the main governmental party, the Social Democratic Union from Macedonia (SDSM), due to the current “wave of feelings”, this way excluding the last unofficial leverage for the opposition[3]. A similar situation is expected in Greece too. “Prespa Treaty’s” opponents will confront some pressures from many of Greece’s allies (US and EU’s member states), for anything that could block “Treaty’s” implementation not to happen.

 

  1. Croatia fails in acquiring 12 F-16 aircrafts from Israel

 

On 10.02.2019, Israel has officially announced the Zagreb authorities that they cannot deliver the 12 F-16 multirole fight aircrafts in the agreed configuration at the 2017 international auction (F-16 C/D Barak/ Brakeet).

On 14th of January, Croatia’s Defence Council has gathered in Zagreb. The council was informed about the evolution in the acquisition process of the F-16 fight aircrafts from Israel and recommended the government the annulation of the decision by which the Israeli offer was the winner. At the same date, the Government from Croatia cancelled its previous decision (from 20.03.2018) regarding the acquisition of F-17 multirole aircrafts from Israel.

In Croatia’s case, the acquisition of fight aircrafts is a necessity (to ensure its air space protection), but also an ambition (to ensure its air space protection with their own forces, especially given that Serbia is doing the same). Given these circumstances, Zagreb appealed to extending the MiG-21 aircrafts flight resources two times already, first time in Romania, in 2003. In 2011, experts from Russia (from RK MiG and Rosoboronexport) have checked the MiG-21 aircrafts from Croatian Air Forces endowment and have appreciated that only few devices need to be repaired. After evaluating some offers from Romania and Ukraine, Zagreb has chosen to make the reparations in Ukraine, between 2014-2015. However, each time, Croatia complaint about the magnitude and the quality of the maintenance and modernization works[4].

In these circumstances, in 2017, Croatia has organized an international auction, whereat it received four valid offers (two with second hand F-16 aircrafts, from Greece and Israel, one with new F-16, Block- 70 aircrafts from the US, and one with new Gripen aircrafts from Sweden). On 20.03/2018 the Israeli offer was declared to be the winner, with 12 F-16 C/D (Barak/Brakeet), Block- 30 aircrafts, for $500 million.

By the end of 2018, across Croatian mass-media the articles about Israel’s failure in getting US’s approval to third party transfer (TPT) of the offered aircrafts were increasing.

At the beginning of January 2019, an Israeli military delegation went to Zagreb to present the situation to the Croatian authorities: the “American part” approved the sell of the F-16 aircrafts in their original configuration, “standard”, and not the configuration offered by Israel (F16 Barak/Brakeet).

After the public announcement of acquisition’s failure, Zagreb government’s critics have started a new negative campaign, underlining that the authorities in Washington have clearly warned, many times, the interest structures in Croatia (the Presidency, the Government, Ministry of Defence) on the procedure to be followed in order to get the final approval for TPT, but the Croatian part has ignored all these warnings, probably thinking that Israel committed to get this agreement from the US State Department (and the Lockheed Martin company).

At the moment, the Croatian press speculates that the failure is a great result for Croatia, because the aircrafts offered by Israel were “overworked” in the training and fight activities they have participated at, and now Zagreb can look for new aircrafts (probably, six new F-16 aircrafts).

For the moment, in the Croatian government and ministry of defence a detailed analysis of the failure (process) of the F-15 Barak/Brakeet aircrafts is being made, and before completing it, there will be no other auction for the multirole aircrafts acquisition.

  1. Negative evolutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH) in 2019

In Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH), 2019 has begun with a transfer and even an intensification of previous year’s issues . The main problems manifested in BIH since the beginning of 2019 were: the disputes between the “Serbian part” and the “Bosnian part” regarding the celebration of Republic of Srpska’s Day (RS), the blockage regarding the creation of executive power’s groups  for the BiH Federation and BIH, the Croatian community starting against the processes to modify the electoral law, the lack of consensus for the integration in NATO and the contradictory statements regarding the border agreements with Croatia and Serbia.

The celebration activities of RS’s Day were developed due to the different perspectives of the new law adopted by Banja Luka’s authorities. The population and BIH’s Serbians parties think that by eliminating the religious element from the celebration and eliminating celebration’s enforcement they are accomplishing the speculated demands of BIH’s Constitutional Court (according to law, on 9th of January it is celebrated only RS’s Proclamation Day, from 1992). BIH’s Croatians main party, the Croatian Democratic Union from BIH (HDZ BIH) is supporting the position of BIH’s Serbians, but the “Bosnian part” thinks that BIH’s Constitutional Court’s sentence refers to 9th of January as being discriminatory for the Bosnian and Croatian nations from RS.

The scandal of RS’s Day, in 2019, is completed by the participation of many Belgrade officials (ahead with prime-minster Ana Brnabic and the patriarch Irinej Gavrilovic), but also by the participation of HDZ BIH president, Dragan Covic, and Croatia’s ambassador to BIH, Ivan del Vechio. The participation of the “Croatian part” was harshly criticized not only by the “Bosnian part”, but also by Zagreb’s authorities. Shortly after that, the Croatian ambassador to Sarajevo, I. Del Vechio was fired.

Given these circumstances, it is important to highlight that RS’s president has decorated, on 09.01.2019, Serbia’s prime-minister, A. Brnabic, and the Russian ambassador to BIH, Piotr Ivantov, which means that they will be the pillars the Serbian entity will rely on.

HDZ BIH continues to condition groups’ formation for FBiH on the modification of the electoral legislation, and the creation of BIH’s Ministries Council[5] is conditioned by the Croatian and Bosnian members of BIH’s Presidency on the “Serbian part” support for the activation of the MAP to NATO, through the validation of the annual national program (FANP).

The presented complex and conflictual situation is the proper context for other issues to be manifested as well. The “Bosnian part” is accusing the “Serbian part” from BIH and Belgrade for breaking the independency and the territorial integrity of the Bosnian state and has asked for the immediate end and ratification of the border agreements of BIH with Croatia and Serbia.

A drop which has filled the glass is Turkey’s president statement, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after the Ankara meeting (16.01.2019) with Croatia’s president, Kolinda Grabar- Kitarovic, regarding the necessity to review the peace treaties from Dayton and Paris (November-December 1995). Shortly after that, the leader of the “Bosnian part” from BIH, Bakir Izetbegović, president of the main Bosnian party from BIH, the Democratic Action Party (SDA) and ally of the Turkish president, has discussed about the necessity to change the name of the Serbian entity (RD) from BIH. The initiative of the Bosnian leaders was followed by an unexampled unification of the Serbian parties from RS, which have blamed the initiative and have underlined that the Serbian entity is a basic element in the Dayton Peace Treaty (DPA)[6], which cannot be subjected to any review.



[1] In fact, the only common requisition of protests is the collapse of the regime leaded or (“supported”/” perpetuated”) by A. Vucic, as they frequently asked not just for the organization of anticipated parliamentary elections, but also Serbia’s president resignation. In each city, the protestants have concrete demands, related to the local situation.

[2] Moscow says that the “independent” deputies from the biggest opposition Macedonian party, VMRO-DPMNE, were forced to vote “for” the “Treaty”, with promises and blackmail related to the cancellation of some investigations/ penal processes or resignation promises.  A law which allows the amnesty of some people accused for the violence from April 2017 from the Macedonian parliament was came into forces in the first half of 2019.

[3] Country’s actual president, Gheorghe Ivanov, proposed and supported by VMRO-DPMNE, has firmly criticized the “Prespa Treaty” as well as the method the current governmental coalition was formed, considered as being at odds with the national Macedonian interests. Actually, the law regarding the use of the Albanian language as the second official’s language in the Macedonian state (in certain conditions) was published in the official Macedonian monitor (on 14.01.2019) only with the signature of the president of Macedonian parliament (Talat Xhaferi, Albanian ethnic), without being countersigned by the president of Republic of Macedonia.

[4] In both cases, there were recorder delays regarding the repaired devices delivery, as well as technical incidents after taking the devices and being used by the Croatian Air Forces, being critically mediatized in Croatia. All in all, the reparations made in Romania were more criticized than the ones made in Ukraine.

[5] To be led by a Serbian ethnic, proposed by the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats/SNSD, whose president is Milorad Dodik, R. Srpska’s representative in BIH’s Presidency.

[6] An element described in Annex 4 of DPA, which is, basically, BIH’s Constitution.