• Macron's Belgrade Pivot

    French President Emmanuel Macron visited Serbia on July 15, the first such visit of a sitting French head of state since former President Jacques Chirac in 2001, only months after the fall of the regime of former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević. While the international landscape has seen dramatic shifts in the two decades since, including a return of great power politics, the European Union’s attitude toward the Balkans has changed less than many might think. While Serbia and Montenegro have opened EU accession talks with Brussels, the region seems as distant from the EU as ever.

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  • Vajdich Quoted in Washington Post on peace effort between Serbia and Kosovo

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  • Kosovo's President Pushes For Peace Deal With Serbia

    Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaçi, reaffirmed his commitment to a peace agreement with Serbia at the Atlantic Council on November 30 saying a successful deal would have “transformative power” for his country and the region.

    “Our institutions will finally have to focus on internal reforms: the fight against corruption and crime, jobs and the economy,” Thaçi said.

    “Finally, a chance for new leadership will emerge. A leadership that will only work for the future,” he added.

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  • Vajdich in Washington Post: Let Serbia and Kosovo Define Their Own Peace

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  • Kosovo’s Prime Minister Says Plan to Swap Territory with Serbia Puts His Country’s Transatlantic Aspirations at Risk

    Kosovo’s prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, says a land-swap plan floated by the presidents of his own country and Serbia is a dangerous idea that undermines Kosovo’s aspirations of NATO and European Union (EU) membership.

    Haradinaj also anticipates Russia will meddle in this sensitive issue—just as was the case in 2016, when Russia reportedly attempted to assassinate the prime minister of Montenegro and overthrow the government.

    Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and President Hashim Thaçi of Kosovo are considering a plan that supporters say will ease ethnic tensions and contribute to stability in the Western Balkans. If the plan brings about a lasting settlement between Belgrade and Pristina, it could lead to EU membership for both in the longer term.

    In an interview with the New Atlanticist in Washington on September 28, Haradinaj insisted that the land-swap proposal does not advance Kosovo’s prospects of EU membership. “The formula of swaps of territories or moving borders is not a ticket to [EU membership]. It is only a delay,” Haradinaj said.

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  • Here’s Why US Commitment to the Western Balkans Matters

    The United States and the European Union (EU) must deepen their engagement with the Western Balkans, a region where Russia, Turkey, and wealthy Arab Gulf states have extended their influence and that is considered integral to realizing the idea of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace, speakers and panelists said at the Atlantic Council on November 29.

    One European official described the United States as an invaluable partner in realizing the vision of a whole and free Europe, while a US official affirmed the commitment of US President Donald J. Trump’s administration to the Western Balkans.

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  • What Can Ukraine Learn from the Balkans?

    Ukraine wants to join the European Union, but the level of support among many EU member states is low or nonexistent. Many are afraid of Russia’s reaction and lack a clear understanding of both the climate in post-Euromaidan Ukraine and the country’s strong commitment to Western integration.

    The situation is challenging in all aspects. War still raging along the demarcation line in the Donbas, US policy toward the EU and Ukraine is unclear, Russia is strongly opposed to Ukraine’s entrance into the EU, and Ukraine itself faces the twin challenges of war and reform. Only EU and NATO accession can provide a lasting framework that allows Ukraine to master all of the challenges at the same time. The model has been proven through the accession of central European and southeastern European countries and will most likely be similarly successful in the third wave occurring in Eastern Europe.

    If the EU does not allow the country to have realistic European hopes, post-Maidan Ukraine could fail, just as the Orange Revolution did, with all of the related tragic consequences. But how can one ensure a credible EU perspective and increase progress toward EU accession in all sectors simultaneously? To achieve this, Ukraine requires a new strategic approach and an alliance of friends, partners, and allies composed of countries with similar interests.

    In the nearby neighborhood are eight countries—Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Serbia—that had similar traumatic experiences with war and destruction in the 1990s, and that now have seventeen years of reconstruction and pre-accession behind them. They have shared a similar strategic objective of joining the EU and NATO, and some have achieved it: Croatia joined NATO in 2009 and the EU in 2013, for example. Those that are already inside can help the others that are still on their way and facing similar challenges with domestic reform and the EU’s enlargement fatigue.

    The reform and transition experience of the Balkans matters for Ukraine.

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  • Is Russia Winning in Serbia? Maybe, But Not for the Reasons You Think

    One year ago, in April 2016 when Serbia held snap polls, the BBC ran the headline “Pro-EU Prime Minister Vučić Claims Victory.” One year later, after Aleksandar Vučić’s resounding win in the presidential election on April 2, the international media has styled him “Putin’s Serb ally.” Who’s right and where is Serbian foreign policy heading?

    It is not difficult to answer the first question; Vučić is neither pro-EU nor is he Putin’s associate. If being pro-EU is defined as a commitment to reform, the rule of law, and accountable government, Vučić fails the test by a mile. At the same time, Vučić won’t align with Moscow but will juggle ties with the East and West to get the best deal from both. Serbia will push forward with its EU membership negotiations and security cooperation with NATO (the Individual Partnership Action Plan signed in 2015 is being implemented), while refusing to join in on Western sanctions on Russia and courting Moscow for economic benefits and military hardware. Belgrade is doing what many EU nations—Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, and Italy, to name a few—wish they were able to do.

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  • The West Needs to Call Russia’s Bluff in the Balkans

    For all the uncertainties about the Balkans, one thing stays the same. Every few years, the headline “We Are Heading for War Again” crops up in the Western media. The last time this happened, the 2014 centennial of the First World War inspired pundits to ask whether the world is on the cusp of another European conflict. Now the cause is the isolationist turn in US foreign policy and the election of Donald Trump as president, coupled with Russia’s efforts to stir trouble in the former Yugoslavia.

    In fact, the Balkans is in no danger of breaking into war anytime soon. Nonetheless, the West’s growing disengagement in the area, coupled by the region’s stagnation and democratic backsliding, provides an ideal avenue for Russia to subtly gain influence among leaders and the public across the Balkans.

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  • Beware of the Russian Bear in the Balkans

    On October 16, just hours before Montenegrins were due to head to the polls, the government made an alarming announcement. It claimed security services had foiled a Russian nationalist attempt to seize control of the parliament and assassinate Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic (who has since resigned).

    The Kremlin undoubtedly has an axe to grind with the Montenegrin leader. Djukanovic’s support for economic sanctions on Russia over the annexation of Crimea, and his determination to take his country into NATO, have not won him any friends in Moscow. But politics in the Balkans is rarely a straightforward affair.

    As critics were quick to point out, the alleged assassination plot came at a convenient moment for Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists, who had been under pressure from anti-government demonstrators in the build-up to the election. Or as the Democratic Front, Montenegro’s main pro-Russian opposition party, put it, the incident was “a cheap, staged and performed vaudeville coup” aimed at scaring voters into maintaining the status quo.

    While the claim that a prime minister staged a coup to win an election may seem outlandish, investigative journalists and opposition parties have long accused him of corruption, including vote-rigging, and having ties to organized crime. Djukanovic, who has ruled the country for most of the last two and half decades, was awarded the dubious title of ‘2015 Man of the Year in Organized Crime’ by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

    Nearly two months on, details of the alleged coup plot remain murky.

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