Vucic: I asked the Russian Ambassador – why? (RTS/Tanjug/B92)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced last night that Russian intelligence officer Georgy Kleban is no longer on the territory of Serbia. He said he was certain that President Vladimir Putin had not been informed of this action, and that Serbia has friendly relations with the Russian Federation. He reiterated that Serbia does not forget what Putin did for Serbia in international organizations, nor his support in equipping Serbian military. He also reminded that Serbia was the only one that did not impose sanctions on the Russian Federation, did not vote against Russian Federation’s interests, it was the only one to maintain military exercises with the Russian army and that it did not jeopardize friendship with Russia in any way. ‘That’s why I ask Russian friends, and today I asked Russian Ambassador Botsan Kharchenko: Why? I didn’t see any logic in all this,” Vucic said. Finally, he reiterated Serbia’s firm commitment to military neutrality and said: “Serbia will not join NATO.”
Botsan-Kharchenko: Despite provocations, we move on (RTS)
Russian Ambassador to Serbia Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko has told Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) on the occasion of the investigation into the video with a Russian intelligence officer and a Serbian agent, that no scandalous story and alleged recruiting by a Russian soldier, Serbian soldier, can inflict any damage to relations between Russia and Serbia. He says that is common for some provocations and something scandalous to appear on the eve of important high-level meetings. “Something is rebutted after that and we are used to this, so despite these provocations, we move on,” said Botsan-Kharchenko.
Vucic: Relations with Skopje very good, we have no demands (Tanjug)
Belgrade and Skopje maintain very good relations, with more trust than in the past and with no open issues other than Kosovo, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Friday, adding that bilateral economic ties were improving and that Serbia was demanding nothing from North Macedonia and its people. “In political relations, with the exception of the differing stances on Kosovo’s independence, we have no open issues. We want to build the closest friendly relations,” he told a press conference after a meeting with North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski, who is on an official visit to Serbia. Vucic added the sincere and open conversation with Pendarovski had addressed all key matters in bilateral relations as well as regional initiatives and crucial regional affairs. He said Serbia was the only country that was not demanding anything from North Macedonia. “That is my message to Skopje, North Macedonia and the people living in North Macedonia,” he said.
Nauru withdraws recognition of Kosovo (RTS/Blic)
The Republic of Nauru is the 17th state to withdraw recognition of unilaterally declared independence of so-called Kosovo, the Serbian Foreign Ministry announced. It is stated that Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has been given a note from Deputy Foreign Minister of Nauru a copy of the note that was sent to the Serbian Embassy in Australia. The note states that the Republic of Nauru has re-examined its decision on recognition of so-called Kosovo, that it had decided to withdraw recognition of Kosovo as an independent state and that it will break off all diplomatic contacts they have had with Kosovo so far. “They have concluded that the decision was premature and violated the principles of UNSC Resolution 1244. This is of great significance for us because this is one more, 17th country that withdrew recognition out of a total of 193 United Nations members,” stated the Ministry.
Djuric: Ugljanin got everything from Serbia, now he is approaching Kurti (Tanjug)
I am sure that our Bosniak fellow citizens are ashamed of Ugljanin’s rapprochement to Ugljanin and do not wish him to drag them into any kind of combinations within the project of the creation of so-called Greater Albania, the Head of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric has reacted to statements during the meeting of Ugljanin and Kurti in Pristina. Djuric notes that Bosniaks in Raska are loyal Serbian citizens. “Bosniaks in Raska see Serbia as their fatherland, so that Sulejman Ugljanin did not confer today with Albin Kurti on their behalf,” said Djuric. He assesses that Ugljanin’s courtship to Kurti is an act of the deepest human and moral falter of a man who got everything from Serbia, including a ministerial post at one point, so that he is the last person who has the right to speak about alleged disenfranchisement of Bosniaks in our country.” “True, Ugljanin was discriminated by Serbia, but positively, because he held a ministerial post and jobs in connection with regional development quite undeservedly, and he didn’t demonstrate anything at this post except from incapability and incompetence,” concluded Djuric. The President of the Party of Democratic Action of Sandjak Sulejman Ugljanin talked with the leader of the Self-Determination Movement Albin Kurti about the demand for a special status of Sandjak.
Serbia re-elected to UNESCO Executive Board membership (Tanjug/Politika)
The Serbian Foreign Ministry announced that on the Thursday, at the 40th session of the UNESCO General Conference in Paris, Serbia was re-elected to membership of the Executive Council of the organization for the next four years . The statement said that, as a member of the Executive Council so far, Serbia has made a significant contribution to UNESCO’s overall work through its active approach and constructive action. By striving for the basic principles and values of this organization and for strategic and programmatic priorities, our country, in close coordination with other Member States, Serbia will continue to support the successful implementation of UNESCO’s mandate in key areas of education, culture, science and communication and information, the statement said.
Formal reception on occasion of B&H Statehood Day takes place at B&H Presidency building (FTV)
The reception organized on the occasion of the Statehood Day of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) (November 25) was held in premises of the Presidency of B&H on Thursday. Hosts of this reception were members of the Presidency from the rank of Bosniak and Croat peoples. Reporter noted that just as his predecessors, a member of the B&H Presidency from the rank of Serb people did not attend this ceremony. The Statehood Day is being marked only in the Federation of B&H and the Brcko District. However, Thursday was holiday in Republika Srpska (RS), where this day is being marked as the day of anniversary of initialing of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA).
24th anniversary of initialing of DPA marked (ATV)
The 24th anniversary of initialing of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in B&H was marked on Thursday. On this occasion, RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic was quoted as saying that the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA) did not only put an end to the war but it also established the constitutional structure based on which the country, which previously had a difficult experience and many victims, has been functioning in peace for 24 years now. Due to interventions by “foreign factors” and the fact that local structures were sometimes naïve, the original Dayton structure went through a number of changes, Cvijanovic said. She assessed that B&H can only survive as a decentralized country with high autonomy of the entities, with balance and protective mechanisms. “It is up to us to strengthen the RS, to enjoy our rights, not to allow transfer of competences anymore and not to allow erosion of the RS, which I think we have been doing persistently all these years,” Cvijanovic said. RS Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic stated that the RS leadership advocates respect towards the DPA the most, given that this document brought peace and recognition of the RS as an entity with all of its competences in B&H. He stressed that institutions of the RS will do everything in the upcoming period in order to preserve what the DPA stipulates for the RS. SP RS leader Petar Djokic said that this anniversary of the DPA signing should also be used as a lesson that everybody should give up on what was not signed in Dayton, and commit themselves to what was actually signed. DNS leader Marko Pavic said that the DPA is not perfect, but the time has shown that original solutions from the DPA are better than those which altered the original document, regardless of whether those solutions were adopted in the Parliament of B&H or imposed by the High Representative.
NDP leader Dragan Cavic said that the RS as an administrative, territorial and political unit is the only new thing in Europe after the World War II, which speaks a lot about how important the DPA is for the Serb people in B&H. Prime Minister of Serbia Ana Brnabic said that Serbia is one of guarantors of the DPA, and will remain that until three constituent peoples in B&H decide to initiate discussion about this issue. “Everything we do is in line with the spirit of the (Dayton) Agreement”, said Brnabic.
Tegeltija addresses press conference (RTRS)
B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Chairman-Designate Zoran Tegeltija said in his first address to the public after he was appointed on Tuesday that his work will be focused on economy and economic development, adding that he will present his agenda before B&H House of Representatives (HoR) at the beginning of December, when he expects verification of his mandate. “I am sure that accelerated and sustainable economic development, whose results will reflect on B&H citizens’ living standard, can resolve a number of problems in B&H that currently seem to be without solution. Therefore, new B&H CoM will be focused primarily on economy,” Tegeltija stated at the press conference on Thursday. He announced that the commission for preparation of B&H CoM’s formation will hold a session on Tuesday – 26 November. Tegeltija stressed that he will do his best to establish full cooperation and coordination with the Federation of B&H and the RS Prime Ministers, for the sake of B&H’s progress and development. He added that the most important thing now is to unblock the work of B&H CoM and B&H parliament in order to verify agreements signed with international financial institutions, noting that the key thing is also to pass the 2020 budget. Commenting on the amendments to B&H HoR’s rules of procedure, Tegeltija said that this does not change anything because there is an agreement between political parties from the RS and the Federation of B&H, but he stressed that there is a risk that possible lack of consent might lead to a situation in which those who did not win the elections decide on behalf of the RS. Although B&H CoM’s ministries that belong to the RS, including B&H Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations, B&H Ministry of Communications and Transport, B&H Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees and three posts of deputy ministers, were agreed in August this year, Tegeltija did not confirm any of the concrete names of future ministers, but he said that a large number of candidates is in option.
SDS wants to see Program of Reforms of B&H before sending it to Brussels (Hayat)
SDS stated on Thursday that they want to see the Program of Reforms of B&H before sending of the document to Brussels. SDS demanded an explanation of a claim that the NATO integration was unblocked. SDS MP Aleksandra Pandurevic asked is it fair that institutions and citizens do not know what is going on, while foreign ambassadors already know.
Pendes on adoption of Program of Reforms of B&H: Positive step forward (Glas Srpske)
B&H Minister of Defense Marina Pendes welcomed the fact members of the Presidency of B&H have reached an agreement of formation of state-level authorities, as well as the agreement on the Program of Reforms of B&H which should be sent to the NATO Headquarters in Brussels. “I welcome every positive step forward aimed at fulfilling foreign policy goals of B&H and implementing results of the 2018 elections,” said Pendes. However, when asked to clarify if the Program of Reforms is basically the same as the Annual National Program (ANP), or a long-term kind of document which foresees only cooperation with NATO and does not speak about membership in the Alliance, Pendes briefly said: “I have said everything”. The daily reminded that Pendes and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of B&H Denis Zvizdic have tried to have the ANP included in the agenda of the B&H CoM session several times, but the document was always taken off the agenda upon request of the RS ministers.
Radoncic welcomes agreement on authority formation, says SBB B&H is going to reconsider being part of authority (Dnevni avaz)
SBB B&H leader Fahrudin Radoncic said “I believe it is very important that the members of the Presidency of B&H have found that democratic capacity within them to lead the country out of the months-long blockade. I believe that the Euro-Atlantic integration and NATO road do not have an alternative,” said Radoncic commenting the agreement on authority formation. Talking about the reactions to the adoption of the Program of Reforms, he said that the people who have been deceiving B&H public have made the biggest noise. “I am talking about gentlemen from SDS. They are creating a sort of chaos claiming treason of Serb interests or the entity interests, saying that SNSD leader Milorad Dodik has betrayed RS,” said Radoncic and stressed that SDS leader Mirko Sarovic and Minister of Security of B&H Dragan Mektic, “who is colorful person, but not a political factor”, have shown their true face and the fact that they are more radical than Dodik and SNSD. Radoncic did not comment a possibility of him being appointed Minister of Security of B&H again, but he did say that Mektic has failed to achieve anything of importance during his mandate. Radoncic went on to say that SBB B&H is going to consider whether they are willing to enter the authority at all, underlining that the goal is to clear up their relationship with SDA first. “I do not want mathematical coalition… I should be the Security Minister, but we first need to reach an agreement with SDA on their opinion and plans about the migrants.” He explained that since HDZ B&H refuses to work with DF, SBB B&H would act as a buffer for both parties, and everyone would benefit from that. Radoncic noted that during his talks with SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic, he told him SDA wants to see SBB B&H in the authority.
Covic: Tusk is B&H’s great friend, Merkel knows a lot about our problems (Vecernji list)
Speaker of the B&H House of Peoples (HoP) and HDZ B&H leader Dragan Covic met with newly elected President of the European People’s Party (EPP) Donad Tusk in Zagreb. Covic posted a photography of his meeting with Tusk on Twitter, congratulating him on the election and saying that Tusk is B&H’s great friend. According to the daily, Covic also met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel with whom he spoke about formation of authorities in B&H, the European path and reform to the electoral legislation. Covic is carried as saying that the Chancellor insisted on talking about the situation in B&H, especially about the agreement on unblocking the formation of authorities, and what the adopted document (Program of Reforms) with regards to NATO. “Of course, we opened a separate story regarding the Law on Elections because two of us talked about this issue three of four times already, and it is obvious that Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic prepared the ground for it. We stressed it as the key issue, how to make sure we have legitimate representatives of constituent peoples, which is impossible without changes to the Law on Elections,” said Covic. The HDZ B&H leader added that during the meeting with Merkel, he underlined the need to end the story regarding the reform to the electoral legislation in the next month or two. “The meeting was very pleasant. She was interested in detail because, obviously, she knows a lot about the situation and problems in B&H,” said Covic.
Merkel supports Croatia’s efforts in protecting EU external borders (Hina)
The perspective of a country safeguarding the European Union’s external borders differs from the perspective of member-states in the heart of the Schengen Area, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday in Zagreb, where she arrived for a European People’s Party (EPP) congress. During a news conference, Merkel defended Croatia against accusations that it was violating the rights of migrants. Asked if Croatia should take over the presidency of the EU now that it was being accused of disrespect for the human rights of migrants at its border with B&H, the German chancellor said that “the European Union lives off having different perspectives”.
Things appear differently from the perspective of a country that is supposed to protect the external borders and from the perspective of a country in the centre of the European region, Merkel said after her bilateral meeting with Croatian Prime Minister and HDZ leader Andrej Plenkovic on the margins of the EPP congress in Zagreb’s Arena sports hall. Croatia, as a young country, can bring its experiences because its memory of the accession negotiations is still fresh, unlike Germany’s memory, since its accession to the EU happened long ago, Merkel explained. Croatia has done a lot to create the preconditions for its accession to the Schengen area and the European Commission has positively assessed those efforts, she recalled. Germany has not yet discussed Croatia’s Schengen membership bid. However, Merkel said that she would draw attention to all that has been done. During Germany’s chairmanship (in the second half of 2020), this will be on the agenda, said Merkel. In the first half of 2020 Croatia will chair the EU and after that Germany will assume the rotating presidency. In October, the European Commission confirmed that Croatia met the technical conditions to join Schengen and it is now on the European Council to make the final decision on Croatia’s admission to this passport-free area.
Plenkovic told the news conference that it was not realistic to expect Croatia’s admission to Schengen during Zagreb’s presidency over the EU. This, however, does not mean that at the operational level of working groups the Commission’s report will not be discussed, Plenkovic explained. He also recalled that Bulgaria and Romania have been waiting for the green light for years. Upon its presidency, Croatia will do its best to assure its European partners that it deserves to be part of the Schengen area, he added. During its presidency over the EU, Croatia will also address the Union’s enlargement to southeast Europe. Plenkovic reiterated that the negotiating framework for the accession talks with Serbia and Montenegro includes mechanisms for a suspension of the negotiations. Merkel said that it was regrettable that Albania and North Macedonia had not opened accession negotiations recently. In this context, she supported the Croatian government’s plans. Plenkovic said Germany has always been a friend of Croatia which supported Zagreb in its efforts to accomplish strategic international goals. Both Merkel and Plenkovic agreed that topics high on the agenda of the Croatian presidency would be the next stage of negotiations on Brexit, the EU’s multi-annual budget for the 2021-2027 period, including the cohesion policy, the common agricultural policy and allocations for security, climate change, investment, education and development policies.
Von der Leyen confident nationalists, populists won’t destroy European way of life (Hina)
The European Commission’s new President Ursula Von der Leyen said in Zagreb on Wednesday that nationalists and populists would not destroy the European way of life, which is also the name of one of the portfolios in the new Commission. That name has elicited criticisms, notably from European Liberals and Greens. They believe it has too many associations with the protection of Europe from illegal migrants. There is no doubt as to what the European way of life is. We will never let those nationalists and populists, which want to cause divisions and destroy the EU, hijack our European way of life, von der Leyen said at a European People’s Party congress. Our Union is based on respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy and equality. We will always defend our European way of life, she added. The European Parliament is expected to confirm the new Commission next week and Europe’s new government is expected to step into office on December 1. Von der Leyen supported Croatia’s accession to the Schengen Area, following a positive recommendation from the outgoing Juncker Commission. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hope that the European Council adopts a positive decision because I strongly believe that Croatia belongs in Schengen, there is no doubt about that, she said. To the Western Balkan countries recently blocked on their European journey by France, von der Leyen said she stood by them. We share the same continent, history, culture, and we are in the same political family. I assure you that we stand by you, independently of all processes. We stand by you and want you to be as close to us as possible, she said. Talking about Brexit, she announced that, if it happened, the EU would respect Britons, notably in trade relations. But we let them know that a country that is not in the EU can’t enjoy the same rights as the member states, she said. The EPP will have eight European commissioners, including Croatian MEP Dubravka Suica, who will be the vice president for democracy and demography. You will help us tackle one of the biggest challenges, how to ensure the prosperity of citizens at a time when we have an increasingly old population. You will put people at the very heart of Europe, Von der Leyen told Suica.
Djenero: “Mini-Schengen” is a trap set by Serbia (CDM)
The “Mini-Schengen” story, accentuated by Serbia, is still in the focus of attention. Montenegro clearly showed skepticism about this project. Minister of Economy, Dragica Sekulic, said that the initiative launched by Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania already existed in Montenegro. In other words, Montenegro has already taken that path. Political analyst from Zagreb, Davor Djenero, agrees that Montenegro doesn’t need “Mini-Schengen”. He says that this project is a deceit. “Although this project has wide European support, Montenegro’s skepticism about it is very rational. There are several traps in this project. First and foremost, this project is designed to secure Serbia’s dominant position and limit the maneuvering space of member states in the autonomous control of illegal migration. Serbia, functioning as refugees’ hot spot, in fact wants to shift the burden of accommodation of migrants, leading Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina into a very unfavorable position towards the Union,” says Djenero. Djenero touched on the new model of the EU enlargement policy, presented by the French president, Emmanuel Macron. “Incurable optimist will see something good in this situation. Blocking negotiation process led to speaking out on something that should have been said loud and clear long time ago – Montenegro is the leader in the pre-accession process. Another good thing is that Montenegro’s authorities have maintained patience” says Djenero. He says that media in Belgrade, under President Aleksandar Vucic’s control, gladly accepted non-paper, being aware that Serbia lacks capacity for full membership. “Montenegro really should remain consistent and insist on fulfilling its duties,” concluded Djenero.
Ahmeti: Coalition with SDSM is working, Zekiri is not important (Republika)
The coalition with the SDSM operates normally. My relations with SDSM leader Zoran Zaev and other party structures are stable and good, DUI President Ali Ahmeti said on Thursday.
Commenting on Muhamet Zekiri’s statement, Ahmeti said the MP was not a legitimate representative of SDSM’s policies. There may be differences on different issues in principle. But, in essence, things are going the right way, said the DUI leader. He says there are no negotiations with any party in the Macedonian bloc before the election. In the future we will see, we will build our strategy on how we organize ourselves for the 12 April elections. The coalition with SDSM has not been discussed. But in principle I have stated my position, which represents the opinion of the party, that it is not best for DUI or SDSM to enter a pre-election coalition, as we are in specific circumstances, not in the circumstances we have been through before in the local elections, Ahmeti said. Ahmeti has said his party is ready for early elections. He said that he sees the elections as the best solution, after failing to get a date for the start of negotiations.
Outgoing PM Zaev to be awarded in Sarajevo (Republika)
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev is this year’s recipient of the Isa Beg Ishakovic International Award, which will be presented to him at a ceremony held at the National Theater in Sarajevo on 27 November. “Mr. Zoran Zaev has not only significantly improved relations in the Western Balkans region, but has also shown strong political leadership in the context of a more determined rapprochement with the European Union and NATO. The committee may not what Zoran Zaev’s political biography will look like next year, as it was not possible for the previous laureates, but the efforts, initiatives and results of Mr. Zaev in 2019 will undoubtedly be noted as positive and historically valued” reads the International Award Committee’s statement.
Amendola: Italy will reopen the issue of Albania’s accession to the European Union and North Macedonia (Radio Tirana)
Italy will reopen the issue of Albania’s accession to the European Union and North Macedonia after the proposal was refused due to France’s opposition. That was the statement issued in Tirana by Vincenzo Amendola, Minister for European Affairs, who reiterated Rome’s intention to recover what it called “a mistake”. “A serious and historical political mistake, because many of the countries seeking to participate in the accession process, and in particular Albania and North Macedonia have done much in terms of reforming their institutional architectures,” said Amendola. However, according to Minister Amendola, we will soon face a new scenario. “There is a new Commission coming into play in December, so we will have to wait until March when, together with the new Commission, we will work on this important point for our decision.”
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
‘I am breaking inside’: Balkan leader fears conflict after EU snub (The New York Times, by Marc Santora, 19 November 2019)
Only two months ago, the leader of the small Balkan nation of North Macedonia was riding high, feted by world leaders, praised by the head of United Nations for offering a rare bright spot in an otherwise troubled global landscape and on the shortlist for a Nobel Peace Prize. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev had staked his political career and his country’s future on resolving a three-decade-old dispute with neighboring Greece over his nation’s name. And through often tortuous diplomacy and against great odds, he had succeeded. But as he sat outside his office in the capital city, Skopje, that all seemed far away. “I am breaking inside” he said. The name change was expected to clear the way for talks on North Macedonia joining the European Union, but last month, France vetoed those discussions, arguing that the process of enlarging the bloc needs to be rethought. That threw the government here into turmoil, and more ominously, it is shaking up the status quo in a region where an uneasy peace has existed since the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the wars that followed. “That destroyed me personally, psychologically,” Mr. Zaev, who is stepping down as a consequence of the decision, said during a recent interview. And he was concerned not just about himself and his country, but for the stability of the entire western Balkans. “Nationalism and radicalism can rise again,” he said. “There is a risk to open conflicts inside of the countries again. Also to open conflicts between countries again.” Since the end of the Balkan wars in 2001, the deadliest conflict in Europe since World War II, integrating the former combatants into the European Union has been a central part of fulfilling the longstanding vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace. But it has been an uneven path. Slovenia and Croatia are already in the union. Montenegro and Serbia are working on reforms required before membership. Albania and North Macedonia are just trying to start along the long path to accession. The other two countries in the region — Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina — are not that far along, verging on failed states. The goal of the enlargement process, its supporters say, is to provide the guideposts for better governance. “We are led by the lights given to us by Europe” Mr. Zaev said. “Now they turned out the lights and we are in the dark. Who knows where we go from here.” European Union expansion into eastern Europe ties former Communist countries to the West, reducing Russian influence, but there are already signs that the undermining of North Macedonia is causing leaders in the region to reconsider their own positions. President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia signed a free-trade agreement with a Russia-led economic bloc despite warnings from Brussels that the deal could jeopardize its membership bid. “We need to take care of ourselves,” he told the Financial Times. “That’s the only way. That’s the only approach.” Western diplomats expressed concern after Serbia conducted joint military exercises with Russia that featured the Russian S-400 and Pantsir-S anti-aircraft missile systems. “We are talking about fantastic systems,” Mr. Vucic said after attending a computer-simulated drill near Belgrade. “If we had S-400, no one would dare overfly Serbia.” He announced plans to buy the weapons, telling state television that he won’t allow Serbia to “be as weak as it was in the 1990s.” Matthew Palmer, an American envoy for the Balkans, warned that Serbia could risk sanctions over the arms deals with Russia, with punishments ranging from visa bans to the denial of export licenses. The competition with Russia has not stopped President Emmanuel Macron of France from delaying European Union expansion. His position no doubt has much to do with domestic politics, and his desire to keep anti-immigrant nationalists on the far right at bay. But there is also recognition that some of the eastern European nations that are the bloc’s more recent members have been plagued by corruption, and have undermined competitive elections and independent media and judiciaries. Even so, North Macedonia’s boosters are pressing Mr. Macron to reconsider. American diplomats, in particular, view the resolution of dispute between North Macedonia and Greece as a signature triumph of diplomacy. At the Warsaw Security Forum this fall, Daniel Fried, a former United States ambassador to Poland and a member of the Atlantic Council, said that the name deal was “the best thing in the region in many years.”
“That is a big deal,” he said. “The Greeks stared down their own nationalist constituency and so did the Macedonia government.” Speaking just days before Mr. Macron’s “non” on moving forward, Mr. Fried said that accession talks were now a “moral imperative.” “The E.U. accession process provides a certain amount of leverage,” he explained. “I want to use that leverage. To not use it, to demonstrate that it was all some kind of moving of the goal posts, would be devastating.” Though American and European diplomats are now scrambling to contain the fallout, it will prove difficult. Bratislav Grubacic, the publisher of VIP news services in Belgrade, said that great damage had already been done. It was no coincidence, he said, that Mr. Vucic will go to Moscow on Dec. 4 to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin. “Russians used to say to Serbia, ‘You decide Kosovo, in whatever way you want, and we will support it,’ ” he said. “But it is clear now that Russia has other ideas. It seems these Russian arms are part of this bigger game.” Even before the decision by France, there was growing concern about Russia taking a more aggressive posture in the region. Those worries were heightened after an attempted coup in Montenegro in 2016 that Western intelligence officials say was directed by Russia to deter the country from joining NATO. During an interview this summer, Srdjan Darmanovic, the foreign minister of Montenegro, said that stopping the expansion of NATO was not Russia’s only goal. “I’ve often said that NATO is not Russia’s primary target, but the E.U., as a softer entity,” he said. Unable to rely on the European Union, Mr. Vucic and other Balkan leaders have recently talked about building greater regional cooperation. Mr. Grubacic was dismissive of the idea. “Drug smuggling, criminals and corruption” all are endemic, he said. “If you make regional cooperation agreements, it will be a regional cooperation of gangsters.” Albert Musliu, the head of the Association of Democratic Initiatives in Macedonia, said he cannot recall a moment this fraught since the end of the war. “In the 20th century, we have gone through a lot of hell,” he said. “But it was a hell with a vision.” Even when that vision was wrong and misguided, leaders could tell the people they were taking them somewhere. For the past two decades, that vision has been joining NATO and the European Union. “Now we are without a vision,” Mr. Musliu said. “And when there is no vision, other options start to appear.” And they can be dangerous. Mr. Musliu worries that outside actors could easily stir up divisions in North Macedonia, where roughly a quarter of the people are ethnic Albanians. Prime Minister Zaev expressed similar concerns, saying it was “dangerous for everybody.” The regions history proves the point, he said — “Recent history, not centuries ago.” Following the postponement of accession talks, he announced that his government would step down in January, to be replaced by a technocratic government until elections in April. When asked why he decided to take such a dramatic step, he said he had no choice. “If we don’t call for elections, nationalism will rise” he said. “I am terrified.”
Russia’s EU ambassador: The fall of the Berlin Wall was ‘a victory of common sense’ (EurActiv, by Georgi Gotev, 18 November 2019)
In a wide-ranging interview, Russia’s Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov spoke about gas transit talks with Ukraine, NATO and EU enlargement, nuclear arms control, Russia’s sales of the S-400 anti-aircraft system, the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and Brexit.
Vladimir Chizhov is a career diplomat. Before being appointed Ambassador to the EU in 2005, he was Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. He spoke to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor Georgi Gotev on 14 November 2019.
Is there going to be a gas crisis? The long-term contract for gas transit via Ukraine expires at the end of December, and there is no new contract…
[Smiles] I thought you would first of all ask me about the brain death of NATO.
We will come to that, I was planning to ask.
It’s good that there are people for whom Russian gas is more important than NATO. All right, let’s take gas first. Actually we are in constant contact on bilateral level with Ukraine, and the Commission. Actually this negotiation consists of three elements. When we talk about a package, this means we want to see three issues resolved together, in a package.
One is the Stockholm arbitrage.
Stockholm is only one element. There are also some really crazy decisions by the Ukrainian anti-monopoly authority, piling another 6.5 billion dollars for Gazprom allegedly having a dominating position in gas transit. But Gazprom doesn’t own the transit system. It buys services from Ukraine. It doesn’t offer services to have a dominating position. This is pure absurd.
And then, as I understand, Naftogaz of Ukraine is contemplating another lawsuit of 11 billion dollars. These are figures taken from the clouds. We want to see this resolved in an agreed manner, and we hope that will happen…
Hopefully before the end of the year?
Well, this issue is obviously not up for Naftogaz or the newly created MGU (Trans-pipelines of Ukraine), the result of unbundling. Neither is it for the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine to resolve. There will have to be a political decision higher up. The second element relates to direct supplies from Russia to Ukraine. And the third element is securing the transit. Transit meaning both volumes and tariffs. Why are they linked? Because from a technological point of view, say in a warm winter, the EU consumers may order a smaller volume of gas. But in order to pump the gas, there is a minimum level…
The so-called technical gas.
Yes. What Gazprom is offering is this package deal, including certain discounts on gas supplied to Ukraine, in comparison to what Ukraine is paying for Russian gas they are getting through reverse flows from EU countries.
Meaning that the gas they will get directly from Russia will be cheaper than the gas they get via the reverse flows…
Nevertheless, there is no agreement.
Not at this point. But we are hopefully inching towards that. Of course, one element hindering the process is the pace at which Ukraine is implementing European legislation. Because, as was confirmed just yesterday (14 November) in Brazil by President Putin, we are prepared to work either on the basis of European legislation, or on the basis of Ukrainian legislation. We would be happy with either, provided that the whole system is implemented and certified by the European Commission. We still have 5-6 weeks to go before Christmas. I think this is enough time, with the necessary political will, to resolve all these outstanding issues. But hypothetically, we cannot exclude that there may be some hiccups.
Do you think that the process requires decision-making at the top level – like Presidents Putin and Zelenskiy? Would a summit help, there has been a lot of talk about a Normandy-type summit? Of course, it’s about the crisis in Eastern Ukraine, but still the leaders can meet and talk about other issues as well.
It’s up to the Ukrainian side to decide at which level they take decisions. For us, any level will be good, provided they deliver on the issue. If they need the level of President – perfect, if they need the level of Prime Minister – great. If they would need a discussion in Parliament, then I would be a little worried, looking at how the Ukrainian Parliament works.
To sum up, we can hope that there will be no disruptions on the EU .
There will be no disruptions due to any decisions taken by the Russian side. We are ready for cooperation.
Now about the ‘brain death’ of NATO…
I was speaking recently to a colleague of yours, I was asked this question, and my answer was fairly short: in order to suffer brain death, you need to have a brain in the first place. [Laughs]
I still hope I will get a better answer. I wrote NATO is dead a long time before President Macron said it. It was on the occasion of the July 2018 NATO summit. It was clear to me that Article 5 probably no longer applies…
Well, I would say NATO has been on life support since 1991, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. It has been artificially maintained, during several years, by outreach to Afghanistan, and when that was finished, NATO started looking around for a raison d’être.
The very fact that the possibility of having local wars is discussed, shows that there is no fear of a nuclear holocaust…
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t say that the threat of nuclear holocaust has totally disappeared. Because what we see is the dismantling of the arms-control systems created in the previous decades. First, the Americans abrogated the ABM treaty, then the INF treaty, now they are poking at the Open Skies treaty. Different options are being floated.
For the INF treaty, Russia was blamed.
Well, they always blame others, most often the Russians. The fact is that there is practically one big element left: the START-3 treaty, which expires in February 2021. We have been signaling to the US that in the absence of a new treaty – because they are not negotiating a new treaty – we should work on prolongation of the existing one, for a certain period, during which we could sit down at the negotiating table and negotiate something better. But leaving a void in the area of nuclear arms control would be inexcusable.
But in the meantime Russia is building hypersonic missiles that didn’t exist before.
Well, we may address concerns of all parties in the future treaty, yes. But one of the motives of the current US administration is not Russia, it’s China. They want to expand the existing legal basis of nuclear arms control to China. But when the Chinese are asked, their reply is quite unambiguous. They don’t want to be part of it. If at some point China is included, then of course the logical question would arise: what about the United Kingdom and France – other nuclear powers? You would say they are potentially much smaller than the US or Russia, but so is China.
And you have India, Pakistan, Israel…
Right. If we are talking about a multilateral agreement, perhaps we may live until that day when this will become possible. But let’s face the acute problem of today. I’m not even talking of resurrecting the INF treaty. Evidently the US doesn’t want to hear about it. But preserving the START-3 treaty is an immediate issue that needs to be faced.
The former President of Kazakhstan suggested a summit between the US, Russia, China and the EU – he didn’t say UK and France. But the topic was precisely world security. What is Russia’s take on that?
Well, we pay tribute to President Nazarbayev’s efforts on a number of issues. His most recent initiative was to mediate in organising a bilateral summit between Putin and Zelenskiy. The situation may come to a point when a 4-party meeting may be feasible, but it looks like not at this point.
How does this complex situation reflect on the Balkans? What does Russia fear from NATO enlarging on the Balkans?
Russia fears nothing from anyone.
But if the US move their nuclear bombs from Incirlik (in Turkey) to Camp Bondsteel (in Kosovo)?
To Camp Bondsteel? Ha! They would be in gross violation of existing international obligations on (nuclear) non-proliferation.
Why is Camp Bondsteel such a huge base?
Moreover, Trump dislikes overspending abroad, but Bondsteel seems to be an exception.
Well, he had withdrawn troops from Syria, and then he has reconsidered. Now they are ostensibly needed in North-Eastern Syria to guard oilfields. Whose oilfields?
Let’s stay in the Balkans. Why is Russia so determined to stay anchored in the Balkans?
Russia has never left the Balkans. Since the 19th and even the 18th century. We all know the history of the many Balkan wars, including the history of Greek independence the 200 years of which the country will celebrate in 2021. [the “Greek Uprising” of 1821 was the start of a successful war of independence waged by Greek revolutionaries against the Ottoman Empire between 1821 and 1830.] The Greek liberation movement started in the Russian Empire, in the beautiful city of Odessa.
What is the Russian reaction to the disappointing news for North Macedonia and Albania from the last EU summit, which couldn’t decide opening of accession negotiations?
It’s between the EU and those two countries. It’s up to the EU to judge if those two aspiring countries are ready or not. With the benefit of hindsight, you could ask whether Bulgaria and Romania were ready when they joined.
The historic momentum was different.
Yes, indeed, the environment has changed. We are speaking of an EU which is now shrinking, not expanding.
You mean Brexit. But precisely the departure of the UK allows the French President to push for another type of EU, one element being changing the rules of enlargement. Is this what you mean?
I wasn’t very surprised when that decision [not to start accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania] was made public. Judging by many circumstances, to say that they have fulfilled all conditions would have been an obvious exaggeration. It’s up to them, and also the other non-EU countries in the Balkans, to take their sovereign decisions, whether they still want to join the EU, or maybe they will choose other paths in their history. It’s up to them as it’s up to the EU whom to accept or not. I would like at this point to remind you that we view EU enlargement as an objective process, as a regional dimension of globalization. Which makes it very different from NATO enlargement. NATO enlargement is an attempt to address security challenges of the 21st century with means and mechanisms of the mid-20th century, created for a different purpose.
North Macedonia is well on its way to joining NATO…
Will it make NATO stronger?
I doubt. And I don’t think North Macedonia is encountering immediate threats to its national security.
But maybe it does. You have been there, as Special Representative of Russia to the Balkans at the time of the Ohrid agreement, when this country was in a very precarious situation…
Yes, but that was mostly because of internal problems, rather than external. The Greeks or anybody else never wanted to invade North Macedonia, let’s face it. But the problem they had domestically with the Albanian minority, yes, they were there. And I’m afraid still are.
Why is Turkey buying Russian anti-aircraft weapons, the S-400?
Because they are very good [smiles]. They are much better than the American ones. See what happened in Saudi Arabia.
Isn’t it because S-400 will allow Turkey to wage a war with another NATO country, which is not possible with US equipment?
You mean Greece?
Well, Greece already has Russian anti-aircraft systems.
Of an older model.
Just smaller, S-300.
So they can wage a war.
No, the S-400 and S-300 are both defensive, anti-aircraft systems. You cannot launch an attack with them.
But during a war such a system is effective against airplanes from a NATO country.
It is very effective, much more effective than the American ‘Patriot’ and others. And so what?
NATO aircraft and Patriot anti-aircraft missiles have a friend-and-foe system which prevents hitting an allied plane. Russian equipment bought by NATO allies makes a war possible between them.
You are suggesting the perfect solution. Let both Turkey and Greece buy Russian military airplanes [laughs].
But this makes war more possible.
No, come on, be serious.
So many issues we can discuss… I will skip Syria, but I have Brexit…
Ask me about the Berlin wall.
What do you want to say?
Actually, I was very disappointed with those so-called celebrations.
Why? Was there a difference between the 20th and the 30th anniversary?
It’s the context. Somebody said these days, that without the European Union the Berlin wall would never have gone down. That’s what I mean when I say some people are re-writing history.
For me it’s clear that without Gorbachev, the wall would not have fallen, at least not in 1989 and not in a peaceful way.
But did anybody, including Chancellor Merkel and other EU leaders, mention the role of the Soviet Union then, and of its leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, in the events linked to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany? Not a word. There were messages of thanks to the US, to the UK and France. But people of our age remember well what was the position both of Margaret Thatcher and François Mitterrand on German reunification. They were dead against. Had it not been for Gorbachev it would not have happened then.
So Russia feels offended.
We are concerned that history is being re-written.
Maybe because the victors write history. Let’s face it: the fall of the Berlin Wall was a victory of the West.
I see it differently. I would say it was a victory of common sense. And so it was our common victory.
Sounds good. But let me ask you about MH17. There have been new revelations, phone intercepts.
Oh, really? New revelations, seriously? Maybe, at first they should better consider the large volume of evidence produced by the Russian side and offered to this Joint Investigative team. I believe that the current attempt to resuscitate this half-cold case, with all due respect to the victims and their families, looks very much like an artificial attempt to revive it for current political purposes.
And stop what can be seen as a momentum initiated by President Macron to improve relations with Russia?
And possibly progress in the Normandy format. As well as some progress, hopefully, in Russian-Ukrainian relations.
Under the new president Zelenskiy. You seem to like him.
It’s not a matter whether I like him or not. But I have sympathy for him, because he got into this mess totally unprepared. The only background that he had was from those TV series that brought him to the presidency, let’s face it. On the other hand, as somebody said, that many countries in the world are led by comedians… At least this one is a professional [laughs].
So you are optimistic on Ukraine?
Moderately. I think Zelenskiy’s problems are around him. When a few of weeks ago he went to Donbas, the government-controlled part of it, and started speaking as commander-in-chief to the military guys, including the so-called voluntary battalions, they told him – Who are you, go to hell. No respect.
It was not the case for Poroshenko.
Poroshenko commanded more respect?
Maybe he looked more impressive, particularly in military fatigues. But for those paramilitaries appearance doesn’t make much difference, I think. It is clear however, that if Zelenskiy doesn’t manage to change the overall political environment in the next few months, then his moment will slip away.
Can Zelenskiy be destabilised by the Trump impeachment affair?
I think Trump faces a greater risk of being destabilised than Zelenskiy.
Even if hard evidence is found that Zelenskiy ordered research on Biden Junior?
I don’t think this would have huge significance for the Ukrainian electorate. Meanwhile, I don’t know what will happen to my neighbour [US Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s Brussels office is close to Chizhov’s]. It looks like he has become more popular than he would ever wish.
At least everybody knows his name. But let me ask you about the Eurasian economic union (EAEU).
Well, against the background of a shrinking EU, the Eurasian union is growing.
Is there a momentum for another type of relations between the EU and Russia, via the Eurasian economic union? The President of the Hungarian Central Bank said the euro was a mistake and went as far as imagining a common currency between the EU and EAEU…
Now, that’s a long shot [laughs].
But the Hungarians seem to like the idea of rapprochement between EU and EAEU…
Well, yes. As I see, the idea that closer cooperation between the two unions and between the two executives, the two Commissions, is gradually seeping into the minds of more and more people in this part of Europe. You know, I’ve seen a certain evolution of the EU approach. From total ignorance to a stage of apprehension combined with curiosity, and then to genuine interest. We have managed to launch regular expert-level consultations between the two Commissions, though not at the political level yet – that would require certain change in EU policy. And also the business communities on both sides have shown great interest in closer cooperation. I was in the beautiful city of Verona a couple of weeks ago for the already 12th annual Eurasian forum. There were people from member states, many from Italy of course, from both Commissions, and from the business community. Last March we organised a reach-out session of this forum in Brussels, and we plan another one next March. You are invited.
Thank you. Let me ask you about Brexit: the UK leaving the EU would require re-working trade agreements with third countries such as Russia, is this correct?
Brexit is a process in three stages. We are still at stage one: the divorce deal. Stage two is the future trade deal between the EU and the UK. And negotiating that may be more difficult and more controversial. The EU has managed to show impressive unity at stage one, but I’m not at all sure that this unity will be maintained through stage 2. And then stage 3 will come: re-negotiating agreements with third countries.
Not only Russia.
But for Russia, what does it mean?
I will give you an example. We have certain quotas for exporting, say, metals, fertilisers, to the EU, which have been calculated on the basis of EU 28. They will have to be re-calculated for 27.
Is it a lot of work?
Not an unsurmountable amount for Russia, but looking around the globe… India, for example, due to understandable historical reasons, has the UK as entry point for its exports to the EU. That will be a lot of problems…
I got your message that the worst of Brexit is yet to come. Are you one of those who believe the conspiracy theory that Brexit was designed to destroy the EU?
No. It looks more like a plan of self-destruction of the United Kingdom.
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