MAS Special ReportWestern Balkans

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30 noiembrie 2018 - Special reports - Western Balkans

WEST BALKANS - Special Report - November 2018 (II)

Stelian Teodorescu

Sursă foto: Mediafax
  1. The tensions between Belgrade and Pristina are increasing. Involutions and new approaches in solving Kosovo’s statute issue
  2. Echoes of the tactical exercise with fight shootings “Winners century 1918-2018”
  3. The chiefs of the military intelligence structures from South-East Europe debating about the cyber security challenges in Western Europe
  4. Workshop for the development of rehabilitation and reintegration strategies for returning foreign terrorists’ fighters back to local communities


  1. The tensions between Belgrade and Pristina are increasing. Involutions and new approaches in solving Kosovo’s statute issue

Given the increased tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, firstly because of Pristina’s leaders’ intention to create their own army, Hashim Thaci had, on November 18,2018, in Brussels, a tense meeting with his Serbian homologue, Aleksandar Vucic, under EU’s mediation; the discussions between the two leaders lasted for less than an hour. This tense situation was caused because the Kosovar leaders introduced, at the beginning of November, some taxes for the products exported from Central Serbia (and Bosnia and Herzegovina) to Kosovo, but also because Pristina did not accomplish its obligations on founding the Association of Serbian Municipalities from Kosovo (ZSO), resulted from the “Brussels Treaty” (April 19, 2013). In their attempt to unlock the negotiations between the two parts, it was underlined that, without a bilateral agreement, none of the two entities can reach its objective to access to EU.

Furthermore, the tensions were intensified also due to the Serbian president’s complaint,       A. Vucic, about the way he was treated during the celebration of a centenary since the end of the World War I, an event organized by France, on November 11, 2018, wherein leaders from many countries reunited and wherein the Kosovar president, Hashim Thaci, was put behind the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and US, meanwhile Vucic in a separated stand, on the opposite side. As for Serbian president’s frustrations, we have to say that the French ambassador to Belgrade, Frederic Mondoloni, apologized in front of Serbia, on November 12, 2018, underlining that ceremony’s arrangement from Paris was an “unfortunate mistake”.

During the event in Paris, Hashim Thaci met with the US president, Donald Trump. The Kosovar official agreed with the American president on the necessity of a final and complex peace treaty between Kosovo and Serbia, the two presidents also agreeing over “the necessity to extend peace and reconciliation” in the Western Balkans.

The Kosovar leader underlined that, in the same circumstances, they discussed about standardizing Pristina’s relations with Belgrade and with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. On this subject, president Thaci underlined that Vladimir Putin offered his support for the establishment of a peace treaty between Serbia and Kosovo. Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitri Peskov, stated for the public eye that “President Putin underlined that Pristina must get to a consensus with Belgrade and that he (Putin) said to president Thaci that Russia will support a common decision of both Belgrade and Pristina”. In the same circumstances we can remark Russian Foreign Affair Ministry’s spokesperson’s comment, Maria Zakharova, from November 15, 2018, about Kosovo president’s statement, Hashim Thaci, according to which “Russia’s position regarding Pristina should change”. Maria Zakharova underlined that “it’s all about the international right” and that “today the CS Resolution of UN (1244) is effective, it was not annulled and it determines Russia position about a solution for the Kosovo issue”. Furthermore, Zakharova underscored that “Russia understands that there are negotiations happening between the two entities and that it said it will make a stand based on the international right, as well as, of course, the fact that the decision which could be adopted should satisfy Serbia’s interests”.

Despite the Brussels’ officials optimism from the beginning of the year, on the quick settlement of the” Kosovo file” across the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and on contouring an “mandatory agreement” between the two parts, the analysts think that they actually made a step back. 

The presidents of Serbia and Kosovo came up with two new unknowns (A. Vucic-separation, demarcation in Kosovo; H. Thaci- borders’ adjustment, the municipalities from South of Serbia, with a majoritarian Albanian population, to adhere to Kosovo), without presenting details, which obviously created confusion in Belgrade, but also in Pristina. This is why Washington changed its stance regarding the disapproval of any discussion about the borders between the Republic of Serbia and Kosovo, being opened to accept parts’ possible agreement, after analyzing it carefully.

The statements, but also the emergence and the consolidation, at some point, at a regional and international level, of the idea that solving the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia could happen through an exchange of territories, approved by the international actors with the aim to stabilize the Western Balkans region and to consolidate a real European perspective for this region, led many European leaders, including the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to stand at attention. The majority of these leaders showed, many times, their concerns about the thing that materializing such decisions could bring back the hostilities between the two entities.

The proposals about the borders surprised Moscow too, which responded confusedly. It seems that, at the moment, Kremlin could offer Belgrade some maneuver space, in order to get to an agreement with Pristina, but considering Serbians interests, which raises a lot of interpretations. A series of clarifications about Russia’s position could be made during the visit to Belgrade of the president Vladimir Putin, in the second half of January 2019. Moscow prepared a “special package for Serbia, with at least 20 strategic agreements” for this event, worth a few hundred million euro, which will include infrastructure investments, energy, agriculture, defence, education and tourism. The most important parts of this package will be the contracts for building the rail freight corridors, connecting Serbia to the gas pipe Turkish Stream, delivering T-72 tanks and antiair missiles, as well as the food export to Russia. Additionally, there are information according to which, during Putin’s visit in Serbia, president Vucic will offer him the Saint Alexander Nevski Order, a high Russian order.

 Considering the induced concerns which emerged at an international level, probably as consequence of the inefficient strategy used until now, the Kosovo President is showing a new approach in the dispute with Serbia and is denying that a possible peace treaty with Belgrade could involve borders’ adjustment on ethnical criteria. Hence, we are witnessing some significant changes regarding the Kosovar authorities’ approach in the settlement process of the dispute with Serbia and Kosovo’s statute issue, President Hashim Thaci insisting that, despite both entities’ concerns, “Kosovo will not be divided and there will be no borders based on ethical criteria, and Kosovo and Serbia will remain multiethnic in spirit and reality”. Pristina’s new approach is featured also in the recent statements of the Kosovar president, who underlined the necessity of a “fair and durable peace” in the Balkans, and that a peace treaty is possible only if Serbia and Russia will recognize Kosovo as sovereign state.

We should remark that the Kosovo President is asking the European leaders to support the completion of a treaty between Kosovo and Serbia before the elections for the European Parliament, from May 23-26, 2019, calling on the fact that this electoral process will consolidate more the anti-migration parties, which are opposing the EU extension. Moreover, Hashim Thaci underlined that Europe will lose a “historical opportunity” and warned that without a peace treaty, the Islamists could become stronger in a Kosovo which is majoritarian Muslim. The Kosovar official underscored that “if there will be no treaty, then there will be an emptiness to be used by non-western ideologies”. 

With their actions, Serbia and Kosovo are aiming to standardize the bilateral relations, but accordingly with their own interests, hoping to continue their European course. While Belgrade and the Kosovar Serbians are seeing the Brussels dialogue as a “technique” one, dedicated to ease Kosovo’s citizens like, Pristina presented it always as some peace negotiations, dedicated to end a “mandatory agreement”, in order to recognize Kosovo’s independency.

We should notice Kosovar president’s availability, from the last period (November 09, 2018) to “work with the authorities from Belgrade for borders adjustment, like they did with Macedonia and Montenegro”. In order to get the support of the main international actors to consolidate Kosovo, Hashim Thaci is showing, in world’s big capitals, a certain type of diplomacy, based on exploiting any opportunity to promote his interests throughout some ad-hoc meeting with world’s main leaders.

Consequently, Belgrade is truly unhappy with Kosovar leaders’ actions and attitude, accusing Pristina that, instead of focusing on the dialogue, they are focusing on getting the member statute in the international organization, hoping to consolidate Kosovo’s independency. In these circumstances, Serbian president’s position is very important as he underlined that the “dialogue with Kosovo” will continue when Pristina will “accept to act civilized, accordingly with the preestablished rules”. Belgrade warned that it will not join the dialogue until Pristina will no cancel the decision regarding the supplementary taxes for the Central Serbia commodities.

Postponing the “dialogue” affects EU’s image, which is a mediator and guarantor for implementing the agreed treaties, the current group from EU’s leadership hoping for a judicial agreement between Belgrade and Pristina until the end of the mandate (half of 2019). In such circumstances, according to mass-media, Serbia is asked to return to the “dialogue table” receiving, in exchange, some new negotiation chapters in December (Belgrade thinks it can open, without any conditions, at last three chapters, from the five they are preparing). In the same context, the Kosovar authorities are unhappy with Brussels’ postpone in abolishing the visa circulation regime for the “Kosovar citizens”, despite the fact that Pristina would have accomplished EUs’ previously imposed “technical conditions” to give up on the visa regime.

Given the current circumstances, the international actors (US, EU, Russia) need to identify new formulas to unlock the “dialogue” and to materialize the already complete agreement. If not, the tension could increase and could also generate local violence, even if in Kosovo there is an international military presence (KFOR).

Conclusively, Kosovar authorities’ new approach in solving the dispute with Serbia shows their cautious optimism, meanwhile the authorities from Belgrade are dealing with some significative concerns, especially considering the last actions from the Pristina Parliament, whose aim was to define the judicial framework to create their own army and, implicitly, to consolidate Kosovo’s independence statute. All these issues in the “Kosovo file” are revealing an involution in 2018, and will definitely be transferred in 2019 as major challenges for the Euroatlantic structures in managing the Serbia-Kosovo dispute and, not least, Western Balkans’ future.

  1. Echoes of the tactical exercise with fight shootings “Winners century 1918-2018”

To celebrate 100 years from the victory in World War I, between November 08-10, 2018, in Republic of Serbia (Central Serbia and Vojvodina) it was held the assembled tactical military exercise with fight shootings “Winner’s century 1918-2018”[1]. From the official available dates, the exercise was deployed with no incidents and got the maximum points from the military and state’s leadership from Belgrade.

The general theme of the exercise was “Preparing and using Serbia’s Army reaction forces” (Vojska Srbije, VS). At the exercise have participated VS’s both forces categories (Army Forces and Air Forces) and all types of guns and specialties (including the Fluvial Fleet).

In each of the 10 regions from Serbia, wherein the exercise took place (from Titel, to Vojvodina, in north of the country, at the Pester plateau, close to the administrative border between Central Serbia and Kosovo) it was deployed a specific scenario. The main phases were executed in “Titel’s” provisional polygons (on the Tisa river, close to Titel) and “Pester” (on the Pester plateau), but also in the assembled polygon “Pasuljanske livade” (close to Cuprija).

At the exercise have participated almost 8000 militaries, over 600 fight vehicles (armored, artillery systems and missiles etic.), fluvial ships and over 20 aircrafts.

The assembled tactical exercise with fight shootings, “Winner’s century 1918-2018” aimed to verify the training level of VS’s reaction forces, as well as VS’s capacity to fight simultaneously in 10 different regions, to gain some time for the main defence forces mobilization and, afterwards, if needed, for the territorial forces[2].  Not least, they wanted to present VS’s fight capacity, by showing the operativity condition of the main military techniques (hunting planes, assault planes, fight helicopters, transport helicopters, tanks, armored vehicles, terrestrial artillery systems and multiple surface-to-surface missiles launchers, artillery systems and antiair defence missiles, different categories of ships from Fluvial Fleet’s endowment). In this context, among the impressive elements, Belgrade thinks that it should be used, simultaneously, eight MiG-29 planes, along with other fight and transport planes and helicopters, as well as using, during the entire exercise, not less than 100 tanks and other 100 fight armored vehicles and 100 different artillery systems (which would mark, on the other hand, the significance of the 100th celebration of the victory from the World War I) and, not least, the barrage executed by a missile launcher battery with many “Oganj” type gun barrels (at the exercise from the Pester plateau).

A secondary aim was to promote the methods, techniques and the acquired equipment for VS’s reaction forces across the “1.500” and “1.500+” projects. On long-term, it could stimulate the production of such systems for export.

Belgrade’s leadership, along with president A. Vucic, have participated at many segments of the exercise, including at two of the most important phases, in “Pester” polygon and “Pasuljanske livade” polygon (10.11). We must notice the presence of some personalities from Republic of Srpska’s leadership (Bosnia and Herzegovina), president Milorad Dodik and the prime-minister Zeljka Cvijanovic, at the “Pester” polygon.

As for the military-political plan, the “Winner’s century 1918-2018” exercise led to a mass-media dispute between the minister of defence, Aleksandar Vulin, and some Croatians analysts, who saw the “Winner’s century” exercise as an answer at the similar exercise deployed in Croatia, in the middle of October 2018 (“Velebit 18”).

Some of the statements made by Serbia’s president during the exercise raised analysts’ curiosity, but also their imagination. A. Vucic promised that VS will be stronger in stronger and it will receive something he cannot talk about right now, and the analysts are speculating that he did not talk only about the promised donations (30 T-72 tanks and 30 BRDM-2 armored research vehicles) and the already known acquisitions from Russia (Mi-35 and Mi-17 helicopters) and China (some armed UAVs systems), but about the acquisition of a antiair defence missile system (“Pantir S-1” from Russia or the chinses equivalent of the Russian S-300 antiair defence missile system).

  1. The chiefs of the military intelligence structures from South-East Europe debating about the cyber security challenges in Western Europe

South-East Europe military intelligence chiefs (SEEMIC) adopted the “OSINT Report”, an evaluation dedicated to “Challenges for the critical infrastructures security in South East Europe”, throughout the 10th conference, held in Tirana, on November 07, 2018. The event was organized commonly by the Regional Cooperation Council and by the Defence Intelligence and Security Agency (DISA) from Albania’s Defence Ministry. The event reunited professionals from the military fields in the region, NATO and USEUCOM.

The OSINT report approaches the cyber attacks issue at the critical infrastructure, the public-private partnership in informatic infrastructure, the regional and international character of the cyber security and, even more important, the challenges regarding the cyber security for the military infrastructure, as well as the human factor in informatic security.

Hence, considering the nature of the hybrid modern warfare, and also the current and the future challenges against security, it was underlined that, very likely, the cyber security will dominate the security agenda in the next years, as it has become the new hot point and, implicitly, a serious challenge at a local, regional and global level.

SEEMIC is a regional initiative whereat are participating the chiefs of the intelligence military structures from South-East Europe and it is led and co-chaired by RCC, with an annual rotation of the host state. Albania was the host of this event in 2018, Slovenia will be the next host, in 2019, and Turkey in 2020.

Throughout the event it was underscored that we are witnessing different cyber-attacks, at a global level, Western Balkans region facing around 400 cyber security attacks reported in 2017, but, as there is no coherent surveillance and reporting mechanism for cyber incidents, it might have been more undeclared attacks. Furthermore, it was established the necessity to develop a strategic approach of the regional cooperation and to elaborate a regional cyber-strategy, identifying and establishing the regional critical infrastructure, together with the minimal common standards. As consequence, the adopted OSINT Report from 2018 is seen as the element which will help to define the future actions in cyber security domain.

The preliminary ascertainments of a study demanded by RCC, about cyber security and online radicalization, shows that the radicalization process through internet networks are obvious in the entire region. All the countries from the Western Balkans have national countering and combat strategies of violent extremism (P-CVE/Prevention and Countering of Violent Extremism), but their operations have made no progress. The most important deficiencies associated with their materialization are related to personnel’s reduced resources, the proper participation of the civil society, the lack of some important public-private partnerships, as well as the inexistence of educational policies and programs.

  1. Workshop for the development of rehabilitation and reintegration strategies for returning foreign terrorists’ fighters back to local communities

On November 13, 2018, in Tirana, has started the workshop for “the development of rehabilitation and reintegration strategies of foreign terrorists’ fighters”. The event is organized by the Regional Arms Control Verification and Implementation Assistance Centre/R[3]ACVIAC, from Zagreb, in cooperation with the OSCE Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH) and Albania’s Defence Ministry.

The purpose of organizing and developing this event is to increase the awareness and to share the best practices regarding this contemporary security threats, by discussing the challenges, priorities, learned lessons in the reintegration process of the foreign terrorists’ fighters and their relatives in the community they are part of, during and after the judicial procedures, and how to ease civil society’s organizations’ involvement in this process.

This workshop is the fourth event from a series of activities previously organized by RACVIAC, about applying the 2178 Resolution of UN’s CS and the related resolutions, given the recommendations of the annual Conference for the fight against terrorism, held in Rome, in May 2018, an event wherein an important subject was foreign terrorists’ fighters return.

Across the workshop, are evaluated the policies, programs and the existent actors, at a national, regional and international level, and there are also discussed the challenges related to the role of civil society’s organizations, religious communities, young people and the educational system in the rehabilitation and reintegration of returned foreign terrorists fighters and their families, especially the children who followed them in war areas and returned in the communities they were part of.

Furthermore, the participants are discussing about the international, regional and sub-regional cooperation level, they are analyzing the specific needs of the South East Europe countries in elaborating a national program for civil society’s organizations involvement in the rehabilitation and reintegration process of foreign terrorists’ fighters’ member families, in discussing the perspective for radicalization prevention and the commitment in violent extremism, and in ensuring the efficient rehabilitation and reintegration of foreign terrorists’ fighters, the evaluation of the UN system implementation level regarding borders’ security and the exchange of dates. Finally, they are discussing the proposals for the elaboration of a plan of action with concrete ideas and activities to be implemented in the future.

At the workshop are participating over 30 people governmental representatives, as well as representatives of UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime/ UNODC[4], of the EU delegation in BIH, OSCE’s Mission in BIH, the Regional Cooperation Council, the civil society and the academic environment.

[1] ”Vek pobednika 1918-2018”.

[2] At wartime there are eight territorial brigades, four of these (“Banat”, “Belgrade”, “Rasina” and “Timok”) having at peacetime “development commissions”, and the other four (“Backa”, “Branicevska”, “Drinska”, “Jablanicka”) being created based on some instruction centers, existent in peacetimes.

[3] The Regional Arms Control Verification and Implementation Assistance Centre/ RACVIAC is a new international organization, independent and regional, having the mission to promote the dialogue and cooperation in security matters in South East Europe, through a partnership between the countries in the region and their international partners. The annual activities program of RACVIAC includes up to 30 activities: seminaries, educational courses, workshops, conferences, meetings and a series of other extracurricular activities.

[4] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime- is a global leader in the fights against illicit drugs and international criminality. Founded in 1997, through a fusion between the United Nations Programs for Drugs Control and the Center for International Criminality Prevention, UNODC is operating in all world’s regions through an extended group of offices. UNODC is based on voluntary contributions, mainly from the governments, for 90% of its budget.