The damage done to American credibility and moral authority in Kosovo, everywhere in the Balkans, and in relations with Germany and France, has been massive.
All of this has been fueled by President Donald Trump’s special envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, Richard Grenell, who now holds three positions (also serving as US ambassador to Germany and acting director). for National Intelligence), while at the same time affecting the deepening of the gap between the US and the European Union, especially Germany.
The government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti was overthrown in an effort to facilitate an extremely unpopular agreement between President Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic, which would force Kosovo to hand over part of its territory. Serbia, in the hope that Serbia will recognize Kosovo’s independence.
The ruling coalition of Kosovo, formed between Vetëvendosje and the Democratic League of Kosovo, was dissolved on March 25, after only 51 days in office, by a vote of no confidence called under pressure from Grenelli.
The unrest will have a long political impact. But to make matters worse, the fall of the Government during the COVID-19 crisis will have unpredictable consequences for the public health of Kosovo’s citizens.
The split in the coalition began a week earlier after Thaci (former leader of the Democratic Opposition Party of Kosovo, PDK) called for a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus, which would shift control from the government to the president. .
The Minister of Interior, Agim Veliu, part of the LDK of the smallest coalition partner, openly leaned towards Thaçi.
Kurti responded by dismissing him from the post, urging the LDK to leave the government and initiate a no-confidence motion. But LDK leader Isa Mustafa said the real reason for his party’s withdrawal was Kurti’s refusal to comply with Grenelli’s request that Kosovo remove the tariff against Serbia, even though he would not receive anything in return. .
On the day before the no-confidence vote, the Quint states (a diplomatic formation made up of the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy) issued a joint statement calling for the preservation of the “integrity and functionality of The Government and institutions of Kosovo at this critical moment and the priority of the fight against COVID-19 before politics ”.
A joint letter from German and French foreign ministers also called on the LDK to withdraw its motion.
However, that same night, a unilateral action by the Trump administration shattered Western unity: Clearly instructed by Grenelli, US Ambassador to Kosovo Philip Kosnett expressed his support for the motion on Twitter.
This was a de facto coup: the LDK was voted in the Government with the joint VV-LDK card, after the campaign as a coalition. The overthrow of the government under the current circumstances is extremely undemocratic, as the only legitimate way to move forward – early elections – was considered impossible, due to the need to reduce contact between people.
Immediate secession from two-decade-old American policy in the Balkans
Experts on US government policy have previously tried – as much as they could – to maintain the continuity of long-standing US policies and to protect strategic and long-term relations from Trump’s chaotic, confrontational and nationalist style.
This can work if and until there are no reverse orders from above.
But US support for the Thaci-Vucic agreement in 2018 over “border correction”, “demarcation” or “exchange of territories” – all of which implies the partition of Kosovo – signaled the sudden break from more than two decades of US policy in the Balkans. opening an unprecedented transatlantic rift, in the sense of European security, since the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.
Vucic proposed – and Thaci eagerly accepted – “territorial exchange” in the summer of 2018, as part of the ongoing Kosovo-Serbia negotiations to reach a final, comprehensive agreement on the normalization of relations between the two countries of the Western Balkans.
The talks were led by the then head of EU Foreign Policy and Security, Federica Mogherini, without transparency for member states. But German-led resistance, including from Chancellor Angela Merkel herself, to further – and perhaps destructive – changes to the borders in the Balkans, has hampered efforts to divide.
Factions inside Kosovo and between the Kosovo and Serbian governments then escalated.
The Kosovo government, then led by Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, strongly opposed the concept of partition and insisted that the government, not the president, had the authority to do so. He accused Thaci of acting in his own interests – not the country’s.
Belgrade blocked Kosovo’s membership in Interpol and continued the campaign to encourage countries that have recognized Kosovo’s independence to withdraw recognition. Haradinaj, backed by all parliamentary parties, responded by imposing a 100 per cent tax on Serbian products in November 2018.
The move halted EU-mediated Kosovo-Serbia negotiations, after Vucic conditioned his return to the negotiating table with the abolition of the tariff. Washington has implemented a policy of strong pressure on Pristina to remove the tax and “reach an agreement” on a final settlement of the Kosovo-Serbia conflict over status, which would be signed at the White House. Meanwhile, in 2019, the Constitutional Court of Kosovo ruled in favor of the Government: negotiations with Serbia are the responsibility of the Government and the Prime Minister, not the President.
An “Internal Political Obligation” 2.0
Grenell, who until served as US ambassador to Germany in the fall of 2019 persuaded Trump to appoint him as envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia negotiations, then took advantage of Mogherini’s departure and the EU’s transition to a newly elected European Commission. to snatch the initiative from Brussels.
In doing so, Grenelli appeared to be carrying out his “domestic political obligation” to borrow the term used by National Security Council official Fiona Hill in her November 2019 testimony before Congress. during the hearings in the process for Trump’s dismissal. For months, Grenelli followed the path of unilateral action for Kosovo and Serbia. The first was a letter of intent signed at the US Embassy in Berlin between Serbian government officials, Kosovo’s transport minister and Lufthansa to establish a commercial air link between Pristina and Belgrade. Additional letters of intent were signed by Vucic and Thaci on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, to establish a railway line and build an interstate highway.
In none of these instances was the German government informed in advance, nor the rest of the EU. Within Kosovo, Thaci had also bypassed Kurti’s next government.
These omissions were clearly planned, to signal contempt and disrespect for regional partners and to demonstrate American unilateralism.
In late February 2020, Special Envoy Grenell received the presidents of Kosovo and Serbia at the White House, in the presence of National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The lack of clarity after the White House meeting fueled growing tensions across the Atlantic, as well as inside Kosovo. Grenelli insisted that the talks were only about the economy, not politics, and denied resuming talks on exchanging territories. But Thaci announced after his return from Washington that a major deal was being offered. He stated that the EU-led dialogue – initially supported by the US – is dead; talks will now shift to Washington, he said.
Moreover, although the Prime Minister of Kosovo had announced the partial suspension of tariffs against Serbia (an action applauded by the EU), Grenelli and Thaçi increased the pressure on the Government of Kosovo to completely abolish the tariff. The Prime Minister had reasonably conditioned the complete abolition of the tariff with the removal of non-tariff trade barriers by Serbia and the completion of its international campaign for the recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
Although Vucic signaled during a video call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he could give up non-tariff barriers, Grenelli withdrew from his earlier request that Belgrade stop the recognition campaign and even threatened to suspend economic support for Kosovo. In fact, the US government agency Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has announced that it will freeze its tens of millions of dollars worth of economic development programs in Kosovo until the country removes the tariff.
Trump’s allies in Congress also raised pressure.
Senator David Perdeu threatened in a Twitter post (reposted by Grenelli) that “if Kosovo is not fully committed to peace (which means lifting the tariff), then the US can reconsider its presence.” her there ”. This is a direct threat to the withdrawal of US troops from NATO. Senators Rand Paul and Donald Trump Jr. expressed their support on Twitter.
Destructive for Kosovo and the region
The impact of the requested agreement would be devastating for Kosovo, where two-thirds of the Serb minority of approximately 10 percent live in the north, which is supposed to join Serbia. The split is likely to lead to a mass exodus of southern Serbs and ethnic violence within Kosovo and between Kosovo and Serbia. This would also add to calls for other ethnic cleansing negotiations in the Balkans, such as in Bosnia, where Milorad Dodiku, the longtime leader of the Serbian Republic created by the Dayton Accords, had long called for independence.
But long-term thinking and consideration of the implications for the population on the ground, let alone allies, is far from being a hallmark of Trump administration policies, as seen by the nuclear talks with North Korea, the fiasco of hasty withdrawal. troops from Syria and many other instances. In the Kosovo-Serbia maneuver, massive damage has already been done, both to America’s reputation in Kosovo and to its relations with European allies.
Representative Eliot Engel, head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has strongly criticized the administration’s “tough punch” policy, calling it an “act of harassment” and condemning the Kurti’s government at a time when the whole focus should be on measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. His Republican colleagues in Congress did the same. So should Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who has a strong background in Kosovo and the Balkans in general.
The same should be done by the other Democratic presidential candidate and senator, Bernie Sanders, who also supported NATO’s intervention in 1999 to help Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, and who has since strongly supported it from critics, including those from the extreme left.
They should all underline that the US administration is abusing US foreign policy, jeopardizing transatlantic partnership and jeopardizing European security. This would alleviate to some extent the Kosovars’ legitimate sense of betrayal of the United States, but also of the fear everywhere in the Balkans that the United States would reverse the hard-won peace of mind for political games that would have no echo in the American electorate, but they can cause carnage elsewhere.
(Kurt Bassuener is a co-founder and senior aide to the Democratization Policy Council, a Berlin-based public opinion polling agency. German and European security, transatlantic relations and asylum and immigration policies. The review was published on the online forum “Just Security”. Koha.net republishes it with the permission of the authors and the medium. Original writing at: https: // www. justsecurity.org/69489/us-burns-credibility-in-grenell-quest-for-foreign-policy-win-as-kosovo-government-falls/ )