Serbian Prez Vucic treads water in the face of envoys, pressures to normalize relations with Kosovo

Push looks like it may again come shove, with the Serb press calling this weekend’s visit of US and EU envoys an “ultimatum” to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to recognize Kosovo independence—but with even the EU’s envoy for dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, noting he difficulties posed by Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

In short, while Vucic appeared to take flak from all sides—and again suggest his own resignation–even as Lajcak himself noted, following a long meeting with Kurti, that he had expected “more understanding” from the Kosovo PM.

Yet “understanding” has long been in short supply—and this is hardly the first time that officials have noted Kurti’s hard line. This previously became evident during emergency Brussels meetings to defuse near-explosive tensions during the “barricade” crisis in North Kosovo that saw ethnic Serbs block roads in the wake of the arrest of ethic-Serb police officer Dejan Pantic.

And that crisis was in fact the result of a barely defused license-plate registration crisis arguably brought on by the Kurti government—and Brussels (with a bit of German prodding)–which had first set a November deadline for ethnic Serbs to re-register license plates to those issued by Kosovo, which had, in fact, been seen as the de facto recognition of Kosovo. Which meant it was a Serbian no-go issue well-known to all sides.

Flash forward to 2023 and—despite the fact that much violence has been avoided—no sides are happy. During the barricade crisis, Kurti claimed that Russian Wagner mercenaries were active among ethnic Serbs in Kosovo—a claim that was never proven—and shortly after two Serbs were shot by a reported Kosovo security force member.

While this appeared to justify claims of Kosovo Serbs that they are not only harassed by Kosovo security forces, but also under threat, it still remains clear that the EU and US are desperate to see normalization of relations between the two entities—although this also means de facto recognition of Kosovo as a state.

Thus envoys from Germany, France ad Italy arrived in Belgrade during the weekend, tougher with Escobar from the US. Media reports—including a statement from Serbian government officials—claimed that the envoys had played hardball on Serbia accepting a French-German plan, and this despite the fact that long-promised Community of Serbs in North Kosovo has to this day never been established.

To say that Vucic has been put in hot water is an understatement. While supported ostensibly by his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), which has formally backed Vucic his search for a peaceful solution, the reality is that immediate recognition of Kosovo is still essentially a non-starter. This seemed even more clear as of 11 a.m. Jan. 23, when Vucic was to attend a government session regarding dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. Almost ironically, opposition politicians have claimed Vucic is too ready to agree to the French-German normalization plan, and if polls are to be believed, the greater majority of Serbs are against recognition of Kosovo as an independent state.

That said, Vucic must also navigate the threat of losing any chance of joining the EU, anger that Serbia has not joined in on Russian sanctions, reports of US anger that Russian Wagner Group has recently recruited mercenaries in Serbia, the threat of recession, a potential loss of FDI and the fact that Serbia has traditionally been dependent on Russian energy.

Meanwhile, Escobar noted, according to media outlet B92, that the Community of Serbs must be formed, but that also normalization must occur even if it takes “two years.”

He also acknowledged that the tension between both countries was becoming more and more “dangerous.”

And so it is.

Photo of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic by the Serbian Army, CC BY 3.0 RS <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/rs/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons.

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