Since Prime Minister Albin Kurti returned to power in Kosovo in 2021, ethnic tensions between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians have been rising. On the eve of August 1, 2022, the political climate in the region was on the verge of an escalation not seen in the Western Balkans since Kosovo Albanians unilaterally declared their independence from Serbia in 2008.
On the first day of August, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti was moments away from enforcing more control over the Serbian minority population in Kosovo by issuing a controversial order to ban Serbian IDs and license plates. Kosovo’s flare-up over Kurti’s order was so intense that Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg said that NATO-led peacekeeping mission KFOR “stands ready to intervene” if stability in the region became jeopardized.
“It’s really frightening that people don’t separate Kosovo from Kurti,” former Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations Richard Grenell told The Pavlovic Today in response to the Kosovo crisis threatening stability of the Western Balkans. “According to a reliable source in the room during the talks on the license plates,” Grenell revealed,”Kurti unilaterally rejected the mutual recognition of license plates.”
Under Kurti’s leadership, the talks between Belgrade and Prishtina inevitably ended in stalemate.
Biden’s White House made no statement, and the Kosovo crisis went largely unnoticed by Washington reporters.
Who is Albin Kurti?
When Albin Kurti was an opposition leader in 2015, he detonated a smoke bomb with tear gas during a heated argument in the parliament.
Kurti is not a stranger to the “Greater Albania” irredentist, monoethnic political project. Last year, he made his views public in an interview with Euronews, where he said that he “would vote to unify Albania and Kosovo,” a move which would effectively redraw borders in the Balkans. This proclamation became a subject of alarm in diplomatic circles. Such action, without any doubt, could lead to a violent conflict in the Balkans, and further, it would also result in the creation of a mono-ethnic community and the dissolution of multiculturalism, which is essential to a functioning democracy, in the area of the Western Balkans.
Richard Grenell: Thaci and Vucic agreed the Serbia-Kosovo Agreement
During the Trump presidency, before Albin Kurti lost the election and was replaced by PM Avdullah Hoti, Kurt initially resisted the efforts led by then Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations Richard Grenell to make an agreement with Serbia towards peace.
After Kurti left power, a historic breakthrough in brokering the peace agreement between the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians materialized in September 2020 through an Economic Normalization Agreement signed at the White House by Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
Speaking exclusively to The Pavlovic Today, Grenelll said that he believes that former President of Kosovo Hashim Thaci, who resigned as the President of Kosovo in 2020 after being indicted for war crimes and is currently in The Hague, awaiting trial, was “actually making a lot of progress” to normalize the relations between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians. “Now we have this radical Kurti guy,” said Grenell.
“I am confident that the people of Kosovo would be at peace if Thaci were still President. They would also have greater economic cooperation with their neighbors and more jobs for their children if Thaci were back.”
Revealing the inner workings of the historic Serbia-Kosovo Economic Normalization Agreement, Grenell told The Pavlovic Today that Thachi and Vucic are “really the ones” who agreed to the landmark economic normalization agreement. “That was negotiated all by Thachi, Hoti didn’t negotiate the majority of the agreement,” revealed Grenell.
“By any objective measure, the Kosovo and Serbia situation was improving during the Trump administration. Both sides spoke regularly to each other and the White House, making progress under Trump. They signed the Serbia-Kosovo economic normalization agreement. Now not only are the two sides not speaking, not making progress, they’ve actually gone back to a crisis mode,” Grenell shared his frustration.
Richard Grenell: There’s nobody at the White House watching Kosovo
Since Trump left office, Kosovo’s hot potato has been back in the hands of the European Union. “Joe Biden hasn’t been briefed on Kosovo-Serbia yet and Jake Sullivan doesn’t have time to fully engage on it,” Grenell shared, adding that “leaving it up to lower level staffers to handle” is “another mistake in their judgment.”
The US Ambassador in Kosovo, Jeffrey Hovenier, who once served as a member of a UN Team led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, the architect of the “Ahtisaari Plan” for Kosovo’s independence, made a statement announcing a 30-day postponement of the Albin Kurti’s decision.
“There is no envoy, there’s nobody at the White House watching this,” said Grenell. Former Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations believes that any career diplomat who “does not know Biden” can’t get the President’s needed attention to resolve the evolving crisis.
“You’ve got to have a White House person who knows everybody. And no one in the White House is watching what’s happening,” said Grenell.
“Biden would like to have the Europeans in charge. And look what happens when the Europeans are in charge,” Grenell shared his frustration watching how Albin Kurti has undone all the progress since Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Vucic signed the Serbia-Kosovo Economic Normalization Agreement in front of President Trump.
Grenell believes that the focus of Pristina’s leaders should be on “peace and job creation” but that instead, “Kurti is living in the past.” European businesses and American businesses largely have refused to go in and grow in the region because of the perceived conflict. The Serbia-Kosovo Economic Normalization Agreement’s goal was to change the climate and create industry, led by the American companies.
As the conflict has been placed on hold and the EU-facilitated dialog between Kurti and Vucic is set to take place in Brussels on August 18, 2022, the weeks ahead are crucial if there is any chance for a peaceful solution to be brokered. The question is, will Joe Biden take charge or wash his hands of the matter, and leave the situation to the EU to bungle?
“We gotta get through this crisis right now. It’s essential that Americans step back up into leadership and not let the Europeans stay in control,” concluded Grenell.
The Pavlovic Today reached out to the White House for comment but did not receive a response.
Richard Grenell’s insight into moving the Western Balkans forward and closer to the US is indispensable. Former Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and…