US senators visit the region in Kosovo-Serbia „normalization” push

The push for Kosovo-Serbia normalization is back in full swing with US Senators Chris Murphy (D) and Gary Peters (D) beginning a trip to the Balkans in Tirana May 23 as part of a voyage that includes the key regional capitals of Pristina, Belgrade, Skopje and Podgorica.

The visit has been described by political pundits as part of an effort to increase pressure on all sides in order to get both Serbia and Kosovo to come to terms. Kosovo and Serbia have been at odds since the war in Kosovo erupted in 1998, and despite years of discussion, a semi-cooperative agreement was only signed in 2013.

That agreement, however, included the creation of a Community of Serbs (CSM) for ethnic Serbs in North Kosovo, as those Serbs felt not only unrepresented, but also under threat. This was never implemented, and it has been a hangup in negotiations ever since.

Some progress appeared to have been made in February of this year, when US and EU pressure helped avert real violence, following moves by Kosovo to force the de facto recognition of Kosovo as a state by Serbia. An “agreement” was drawn up, with some calling this a gentleman’s agreement to normalize, although Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic only appears to have ever appeared to commit to further dialogue while calling true recognition a red line that he shall not cross.

That said, the EU has held talks attempting to pressure both sides to sign off on points of recognition—but, somewhat predictably, little progress has been made.

Yet the  EU and US pressure can be described as unrelenting—in part as there is clearly the joint goal of preventing further Russian influence in the region. On the EU side France and Germany have gone from low-level threats of killing Serbia’s accession track to the EU to offering backing and eventual accession by 2030 should Serbia fall in line with EU values. These values appear to also be sanctions on Russia due to the war in Ukraine—although Serbia and Vucic have pledged to neutrality.

On the other hand, US negotiators have at times appeared less blunt and have even noted the difficulty of negotiating with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti. That said, NATO accession also appears off the table without a normalization agreement.

Photo of US Sen. Gary Peters by US Senate Photography, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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