Vucic: Pristina’s nervous, West did right things verbally (Tanjug/B92)
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that he wants Pristina to abolish taxes and resume the talks. He added that, as long as there are no Belgrade-Pristina talks, there is a danger of violence against Serbs. Vucic told TV Pink regarding the possibility of Ramush Haradinaj abolishing the said taxes, that this Kosovo politician has long been thinking about it. “We’ll see what will happen. I mean, when it comes to verbal pressure, we can say that everything Western partners have done is alright, and our thanks to the Chinese and the Russians, who are always with us. Today there is a unified condemnation, on this issue, in the world,” he said. Vucic said that his assessment was, and it turned out that what others were saying was off the mark, although I’m was not sure this will happen right away – that in Pristina, “the vote will be 17-3, in order for Haradinaj to save face, to continue as prime minister, while the burden of revoking the taxes will be taken by the DPK and other parties. “They’ll make such a game, but it’s their business. It is important for to us that taxes are abolished, because the damage is 40 million euros, which we suffer as a state,” he stressed. Vucic announced that Serbia, when it is 90 days are over will launch other mechanisms with CEFTA and the EU. Vucic said there was nervousness in Pristina and that he is worried that after the introduction of the taxes, they could take some other steps. “The only thing that scares me in Kosovo and Metohija is them moving violently against the Serb population. It’s a thing that’s bothering me, haunts me and scares me,” he said. Vucic pointed out that he is working with international partners to strengthen our position and that he wants to the taxes to be revoked, because as long as there is no conversation, there is a possibility for conflicts. “When there is talking, it’s hard to expect conflicts, and when there is not, we go backwards and not through Serbia’s fault,” he stressed. Asked about relations between Pristina and the US, Vucic stressed that there was no doubt that they are strategic. Vucic also announced today that he will take part in the Munich Security Conference, where all the most important people from the world will be and, according to the agenda, he expect meetings with 15-20 officials. According to him, the main topics will be how to stop China, the Western world will talk about it, and the attitude towards Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will also be in Munich, whom Vucic says he will meet with. As he pointed out, in Munich there will also be representatives of the provisional Pristina institutions – Thaci, Haradinaj, and Hoxhaj.
Stoltenberg: Pristina’s moves disappoint some NATO members; NATO to re-examine support to Kosovo (Tanjug/B92)
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says some NATO members are disappointed with Pristina’s taxes on goods from Serbia. He added that there was also dissatisfaction about the untimely decision on the transformation of the Kosovo Security Force. They have made it clear that the security forces in Kosovo must respect international obligations, including the Brussels agreement, which supports means they will not move in the North of Kosovo without the consent of NATO and KFOR, Stoltenberg told a press conference in Brussels ahead of a two-day meeting of the organization’s defense ministers. Stoltenberg announced that NATO defense ministers will discuss the situation in Kosovo on Thursday in Brussels and the engagement with the Kosovo Security Force. “We have not made a decision yet, but we have said that we will assess the level of NATO engagement because several allies think that the decision to transform KSF into an army came at a wrong time, and several of them are disappointed with the taxes,” said Stoltenberg. NATO Secretary General says that regardless of the discussion about the level of engagement with the KSF, the basic mandate of KFOR in Kosovo will not change. “KFOR is an operation that has been ongoing for 20 years and its mandate is based on a UN Security Council Resolution (1244). It contributes to stability, protects all people and contributes to stability and the wider region. This will continue and remain unchanged,” Stoltenberg concluded.
Annual National Program removed from agenda for the 4th time (Srna)
The proposed Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) annual national program for the period 2018-2019, sponsored by the B&H Commission for NATO Integration, was removed from the agenda of the session of the B&H Council of Ministers in a caretaking capacity. This document was previously removed from the agenda of the Council of Ministers three times. At a session of the Council of Ministers in a caretaking capacity held on 22 January, this item was removed from the agenda at the proposal of Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak. Security Minister Dragan Mektic told reporters on the occasion that the document should be returned to the relevant commission. He earlier pointed out that formal and legal conditions have not been met for this item to be put on the agenda having in mind that the B&H Commission for NATO Integration has not finished its job. A session of the Commission for NATO Integration, which was scheduled for December 20, was not held for the lack of quorum after Republika Srpska (RS) officials held a meeting with RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic and called on RS representatives not to take part in its operations.
Petrovic: Waiting for Bosniak’s to agree (ATV)
The Secretary General of the SNSD, Luka Petrovic, said that last night Bosniaks were supposed to agree on who will take part in the government at the joint level, and that the Bosniak Corps are expected to announce whether they want to take power with the election winners from the Serbian and Croatian corps. “The Bosniak Corps has some fears of the corpus coming from the Serbian and Croatian parts and because of these fears they challenged the appointment of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers. Those who are now in power at the joint level, who operate in the technical mandate, should say – stop, we lost the elections and we are retreating” Petrovic told ATV. He stressed that Bosniak politicians must respect the electoral will of the other two peoples and seek for at least the smallest common ground for B&H to live, because B&H cannot be imagined without the electoral winners from the RS or without the winners from the ranks of Croat people. Petrovic believes that the EU and the High Representative will take some measures towards the Bosniak Corps, which does not want to delegate the authorities to the joint level. “The Bosniak Corps, or its governing structure, imposed a more national story. You saw this on the stadium (whistling at the B&H Presidency Chairman Milorad Dodik and the mentioning of the name RS), you saw that there is hatred. We want to work, if they don’t want, if they want to create conflicts, it’s their own problem. They will also stagnate, that’s catastrophic for their future,” Petrovic said.
New US Ambassador to B&H, Eric Nelson, sworn in (N1)
The new US Ambassador to B&H Eric Nelson took the oath on Wednesday, said the Advisory Council for B&H (ACBH), a non-governmental organization that promotes the interests of B&H Americans. “Congratulations to the newly sworn U.S. Ambassador to B&H, Eric Nelson! ACBH wishes Ambassador Nelson the best and looks forward to working with him and the wonderful US Department of State team on B&H’s Euro-Atlantic integration!” the ACBH stated. The ACBH also thanked former US Ambassador Maureen Cormack for “her strong leadership over the years, and for all she did to uphold democratic principles and strengthen B&H’s rule of law.” Nelson has been a US diplomat since 1980 and before he was named Ambassador to B&H, he was the Deputy Executive Secretary and Director of the Executive Office of the Executive Secretariat within the US State Department. He said during his Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in October 2018 that the US will firmly continue to support the territorial integrity of B&H and help the country progress. Nelson also served in numerous diplomatic missions to foreign countries.
Tajani’s explanation of controversial remarks does little to ease concerns (HRT)
Croatian and Slovenian leaders are accusing the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, of historical revisionism over remarks he made at a commemoration near Trieste this past weekend. European Parliament President Antonio Tajani ended his speech in at the event in Bassovizza on Sunday with the words: “Long live Italian Istria, long live Italian Dalmatia, long live Italian exiles.” His words suggested he was laying Italian claims to Slovenian and Croatian territory. Tajani told the European Parliament on Monday that his remarks had been misinterpreted and claimed his meaning when he said the words Italian Istria and Dalmatia, had not been in the “territorial sense”. He told Croatian reporters at the European Parliament that his message was about the three peoples living in peace. “My message was one of peace. I wanted to show that in the EU, Italians, Slovenians, and Croatians could live together in peace,” Tajani said, adding that he was sorry his words had been interpreted as vengeful and aggressive. “Everyone who knows me personally knows what my positions are. I have visited Slovenia and Croatia many times. The Italian minorities there have to work with Croatian authorities and respect their rules,” Tajani said. Croatian politicians condemned the remarks and expressed and surprise over them. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said he would lodge a complaint with Italian and European institutions. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic rebuked Tajani, describing his remarks as “historically revisionist” and “inappropriate”. He reiterated his response on Tuesday and said Tajani’s explanation missed the mark. “We still stand by my statement. We condemn and reject the remarks. They were inappropriate.” SDP leader Davor Bernardic is asking the HDZ to initiate Tajani’s recall by the EPP in the European Parliament. “The real question is, does he, as the President of the European Parliament, recognize the territorial integrity of the Republic of Croatia? This is the worst historical revisionism we’ve seen from an Italian politician and it is scandalous and shameful,” Bernardic said. Slovenian leaders have also sharply condemned Tajani’s remarks. President Borut Pahor has sent a letter to his Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella. In it, he expresses concern over remarks made by Italian officials that seem to equate the foibe massacres at the end of WWII as ethnic cleansing.
Stoltenberg: Montenegro’s NATO membership is encouraging (CDM)
NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said in Brussels, that it is encouraging the Alliance has members such as Montenegro, and emphasized that NATO enlargement within the Western Balkans has strengthened the Alliance. “NATO enlargement within the Western Balkans strengthened the Alliance and I’m glad to see that. In addition, NATO enlargement enabled stabilization of the Western Balkans and encouraged many countries to join the Alliance, like Montenegro did, as well as North Macedonia, which is to join NATO soon. There are numerous challenges and issues but it’s encouraging to have Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, Montenegro and soon North Macedonia as our member states.” Stoltenberg is looking forward of meeting NATO defense ministers, including Montenegro Defense Minister Predrag Boskovic.
Zaev and SDSM run away from early parliamentary elections! (Republika)
At the session of the Executive Board of SDSM, which began around 9 pm last night, the final decision was made: No early parliamentary elections, Civil Media has learned from party leadership sources. The session was dominated by the assessment that reforms and integration are more important and that early parliamentary elections would have negative effects on the dynamics of these important processes for the Euro-Atlantic future of our country.
The discussion continues on other topics such as presidential elections and nominations submitted in the party’s open call. It is expected to discuss the coalition with DUI and other government partners in the presidential election, although officially there is no confirmation whether this topic was opened last night. This decision could have been foreseen, especially after the strong recommendations coming from the international community and some of the domestic civil society organizations and experts, according to which the government must devote itself to reforms in the country. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said that they have made analyzes, researches and consultations with the international community, but he also he did not want to influence the decision of the Executive Board. The decision on the elections will be in the interest of the state. In terms of consensual candidate, the prime minister said his proposal is to make consultations with all parties not only in coalition but also in opposition, non-parliamentary and to try to succeed because the concept is one society for all.
Mickoski: As much as you are running away Zaev I will defeat you in parliamentary elections, the people will defeat you, Macedonia will win! (Republika)
VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickovski, after SDSM’s decision not to hold early parliamentary elections, sent a message to Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, saying that they can run away from elections, but they can’t run away from the will of the people. Mickoski also stated that SDSM will face the truth of their own failure very quickly. “Zoran Zaev and SDSM run away from elections, but they can’t run away from the will of the people! SDSM is in fear and chaos. Very soon they will face the truth of their own failure. As much as you are running away Zaev will defeat you in the parliamentary elections because the people will defeat you, we will return the honor of our country, Macedonia will win!
Slovenia ratified Macedonia’s NATO accession protocol (Meta)
At an extraordinary session, the Republic of Slovenia’s National Assembly ratified Macedonia’s accession protocol into NATO. With it, Slovenia became the second country member of the Alliance that ratified the NATO’s Accession Protocol. During the voting process during the session, the President of the Macedonian parliament, Talat Xhaferi addressed the attendees and expressed his gratitude in the name of the parliament and the citizens of Macedonia. He also stressed that this act confirmed the friendly and principled relationship towards the citizens of our country. According to Xhaferi, the signing of the Prespa Agreement and its adoption by the national parliaments is a so-called win-win situation, where all of us are at the same time winners and losers. He also expressed his hopes that by the end of this year, the Protocol will pass at the parliaments of all 29 countries members of NATO. Xhaferi expects that this year the country will be given a date for the start of the EU accession negotiations.
Meta: The Balkans’ future is not border change (AND/ALB UK TV)
European integration has been and still remains the most encouraging power to transform this region, says Albanian President Ilir Meta in his interview with the British journalist Ian Pelham Turner.
Pelham: I know you have great aspirations and I believe your philosophy is to create stability with other countries in the region. Can you explain how do you feel about this philosophy?
Meta: This is the philosophy on which the European Union is built; the principles of co-operation and coexistence to guarantee a safe and healthy environment for all, regardless of nationality, religious affiliation etc. And I believe that for the Balkans this has been and remains very vital. European integration has been and still remains the most encouraging power to transform this region, always based on coexistence and turning our back on sick and provocative nationalism, which has caused extraordinary drama not only for our region but also for the continent. In this regard, the main philosophy is that in the Balkans only coexistence can work, because every nation in the Balkans is the majority in one state, it is a minority in one or several other states. And the only solution is for all countries to respect European minority rights standards. The future of the Balkans is not in changing the borders, but in the removal of borders as in the European Union itself. This is the main philosophy that has motivated me to work very closely with all the neighbors and with the countries of our region, which in the past for known reasons we have been in a non-friendly relationship with.
Pelham: What do you wish to see for your country happen in 2019 and what do you want to see as the future of your country?
Meta: During this year I would very much like for Albania to open negotiations for membership in the European Union. It would be a positive achievement for Albania, and even more so, if we could achieve this along with our neighbor, Macedonia, who has struck a great success by solving the name issue with Greece, being ready to join NATO as well. Secondly, I would very much like to see a successful finalization of the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, as this would be crucial for strengthening peace, stability and coexistence in our region, but also to guarantee the European perspective of both countries, Serbia and Kosovo at the same time.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
China’s Influence in Balkans Poses Risks, Report Warns (BIRN, by Martin Dimitrov, 11 February 2019)
Munich Security Conference report says EU should be aware that Balkan countries risk becoming subjected to Beijing’s ‘debt-trap diplomacy’ as their indebtedness to China grows. China’s economic outreach in the Western Balkan region poses risks for the EU, notably in terms of increased reliance on Chinese loans, the 2019 Munich Security Conference report, published on Monday, warns. The report, which features all major security risks around the globe, contains a special chapter on the Balkans in which the focus falls on the increased influence of non-European powers, notably China and Russia, at a time when EU membership prospects for non-member ex-Yugoslav states are dimming. It underlines the indebtedness of four Balkan countries in particular to Beijing, with Montenegro leading in terms of the percentage of its external debt owed to China – 39 per cent of total external debt. A loan of 809 million euros to build the first stretch of a highway to Serbia has sent Montenegro’s debt level soaring to 80 per cent of its GDP, raising concerns about China subjecting Montenegro to what the report calls “debt-trap diplomacy”. Macedonia ranks second in relative indebtedness to China. A fifth of its external debt comes from loans from China. It is followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. They owe 14 and 12 per cent of their total foreign debt to Beijing respectively. “While Beijing supports EU accession of the region, its activities raised suspicion within the European Union that China may exploit its economic heft for political gains,” the report asserts. It adds that another problem is that Chinese projects do not necessarily conform with EU transparency and sustainability rules. The report cites other examples of Chinese influence in the region, such as the promotion of “positive” coverage of China in the Serbian media and the organisation of symposiums on “sound journalism”. It underlines the regular publication of op-eds by Xi Jinping in Serbian media outlets. It notes also the rise of the China – Central and Eastern European Think Tank Network, which popularizes Beijing’s core interests in all Balkan countries, most notably in Macedonia. The report also notes that while the EU remains the top donor and investor in the region by a significant margin, it has only recently awoken to the risk of an increased presence in the region of China and Russia, while at the same time “diminishing the inevitability of EU accession”. A survey conducted by the Regional Cooperation Council, RCC, in all six Western Balkan states notes, however, that faith in the prospect of EU membership is still present and prevalent. In the region, it showed that an average of 56 per cent of respondents believe EU accession will happen before 2030, compared to 27 per cent who believe it will never take place.
Almost 50 per cent of Balkan respondents also think joining the EU will bring positives to their countries; only 30 per cent think it will make matters worse. However, pro-EU responses from Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro create a pro-European skew in regional survey attitudes. The responses from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are more Eurosceptic.
Serbia-Kosovo relations: Confrontation or normalisation? (European Parliament Think Tank, 12 February 2019)
After fighting broke out between government forces and separatists, the formerly Serbian province of Kosovo was transferred to United Nations administration in 1999. In 2008, Kosovo declared independence. However, Belgrade continues to view its former province as Serbian territory. Over 100 countries, including 23 EU Member States, have recognised Kosovar independence, but full recognition and membership of most international organisations are still a long way off. Both Serbia and Kosovo aspire to EU membership – Serbia as a candidate country and Kosovo as a potential candidate. The EU insists that Serbia must normalise its relations with Kosovo before joining. Since 2011, with the help of EU mediation, the two neighbours have resolved some of the technical issues, but disagreements prevent normal day-to-day interaction between them in areas such as trade, energy supplies and cross-border travel. One of the main stumbling blocks is the situation of Kosovo’s Serb minority. Around one in 12 Kosovars is an ethnic Serb, and nearly half of these are concentrated in the north. Despite efforts to integrate Serb-majority northern Kosovo into the rest of the country, Pristina still struggles to control the region. In 2013 and 2015, it agreed to grant autonomy to Serb-majority areas of Kosovo, but progress on this is now deadlocked. In 2018, the Kosovar and Serbian presidents floated the idea of a ‘border correction’, possibly involving the exchange of northern Kosovo for Albanian-majority Serbian districts. However, the proposal has been criticised by Germany, which fears that any territorial exchange risks sparking instability by calling into question other Western Balkan borders. There is also strong domestic opposition to the move in both Kosovo and Serbia. Despite growing pressure on both sides to finally reach a deal that could unlock the door to EU membership, relations remain tense and progress towards normalisation is currently at a standstill.
Guaido Was Recruited by the US a Decade Ago – Venezuelan Envoy to Russia (Sputnik, 12 February)
Last month, US media reported that the Venezuelan opposition leader declared himself interim president immediately following a phone call with US Vice President Mike Pence. National Assembly leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido was recruited by the US a decade ago and is little more than Washington’s “puppet,” Carlos Rafael Faria Tortosa, Venezuela’s ambassador to Russia, has said. “Guaido was recruited, according to our information, some 10 years ago. He was sent to Serbia to study. You probably know about it. And it all started with this,” Tortosa said, addressing lawmakers at Russia’s Federation Council about the political crisis unravelling in his country. “The time came…they said he was prepared, but he is totally unprepared for this task. He is just a puppet, and is placed where he is so that the US could stand behind him and speak,” the diplomat added. Tortosa emphasised that the concept of an “interim president” does not exist in Venezuela’s constitution, and that claims by Guaido and his US allies to the contrary were just an attempt to “fool” the international community.
Tortosa noted that the economic war against Venezuela began immediately after the death of President Hugo Chavez, adding that this was the main cause of the current crisis. “Yes, of course, many mistakes were made by our state and by President Maduro. But these were not mistakes which put us in the situation we are in today. There has been a boycott of the production of crucial foodstuffs and medicines. This started after the death of Comandante Chavez. Immediately after his death, they started an economic war,” the envoy said. US actions against Venezuela go back two decades, to Chavez’s election and his domestic and foreign policies, including the search for alternative alliances, which bothered Washington, Tortosa said. Commenting on the US humanitarian aid piling up on Venezuela’s borders, Tortosa said that such assistance was just a “trap” which could be followed by a military invasion. The envoy added that the US decision to freeze Venezuela’s accounts abroad was aimed at exacerbating the country’s economic crisis to set Venezuelans against their government. The diplomat also warned that Washington may try to use other countries, including Colombia and Brazil, to assist in its aim of toppling the Maduro government. “They are prepared to do this as well, and this must be accounted for,” he warned. According to Tortosa, Washington is now actively searching for someone in Venezuela’s armed forces who is ready to “betray our president.” Tortosa’s remarks came during a Federation Council meeting of the working group of the committee on the protection of state sovereignty, charged with investigating examples of contemporary forms of meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign nations, on Tuesday.