September 4, in Washington, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti agreed on economic cooperation through the mediation of US President Donald Trump and Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell. Vučić still refuses to recognize the independence of the province of Kosovo, which seceded from Serbia as a result of the armed conflict in 1998-1999 and the US and NATO intervention. Therefore, the parties did not sign any bilateral agreements but concluded separate deals with the United States. If these agreements are implemented, their consequences may lead to a reduction in the influence of Russia and China in the Balkans and have an extremely ambiguous impact on the settlement of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The essence of the deal
Kosovo lifts bans on the supply of Serbian goods, restrictions on the supply of Serbian communities, guarantees the safety of the Serbian Orthodox Church, refrains from joining international organizations for a year, and renounces claims for the Gazivode reservoir and the hydroelectric power plant in the territory adjacent to Serbia.
Serbia agrees to Kosovo joining its visa-free agreement with Albania and North Macedonia. Belgrade and Pristina resume transport links and, in exchange for Washington's mediation, move their embassies in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognize the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and refuse to use Chinese equipment for 5G mobile networks. In response, Israel will recognize the independence of Kosovo.
The United States is investing $ 13 billion in infrastructure in Serbia and Kosovo, including the repair of the Belgrade-Pristina highway. According to Hoti's estimates, the Americans are ready to spend $ 1.18 billion on material aid to the Kosovars. The States acted as a connecting link and guarantor of the agreements between Serbia and Kosovo, made the two opponents equally dependent on their patronage, which neither the EU could achieve, whose peacekeeping missions are present on the territory of the rebellious region, nor Russia and China.
Driving out the influence of Russia and China from Serbia
The Americans managed to interest Vučić, as they offered him the opportunity to strengthen Serbia's influence in Kosovo, and forced the Kosovar authorities to make concessions through pressure. In June, a special tribunal in The Hague to investigate war crimes brought charges against Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi, who was one of the leaders of the Albanian separatists and is suspected of ethnic cleansing and trafficking in human organs. Its dependence on the United States for security has contributed to Pristina's pliability. The American military base Camp Bondsteel is located in Kosovo.
Prior to this, the Kosovo authorities did not make concessions to Serbia. In 2018, they tried to seize the Gazivode reservoir. Pristina expressed claims to the southern regions of Serbia, where ethnic Albanians live compactly. Last year, the Kosovo authorities initiated the creation of their own army, which caused discontent not only in Serbia but in the EU and NATO. However, on the eve of the US presidential election, Trump needs quick and demonstrative victories in the foreign policy arena after unsuccessful attempts to convince North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons, Iran from ballistic missiles, and Palestine to accept the "Kushner plan." Pristina has become a bargaining chip in the American president's political game.
The White House moved away from the approaches of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush towards Serbia and, instead of unilateral support for Kosovo, acted as a peacemaker and an independent arbiter who poses no threat. In this way, the US wants to squeeze the influence of Russia and China in Serbia. Vučić is developing relations with Russia and China, as he sees them as a counterbalance to the influence of the United States and NATO in Kosovo and the republics of the former Yugoslavia. Serbia is the only country in the Balkans that does not regard the United States as a guarantor of its security and does not seek NATO membership.
Russia benefits from the confrontation between Orthodox Serbia and Muslim Kosovo in order to strengthen its influence along the southern borders of NATO under the pretext of guaranteeing the security of fellow Slavs. Moscow and Belgrade coordinate positions in international relations, refrain from recognizing the independence of Kosovo and conduct joint military exercises. Serbia did not support the West's anti-Russian sanctions. The possibility of joining the Eurasian Economic Union and the CSTO is under consideration now. In 2019, Belgrade signed an agreement on a free trade zone with the Eurasian Economic Union. The onshore branch of the Russian Turkish Stream gas pipeline passes through Serbia, which the United States and some European countries perceive as an instrument for energy blackmail in Europe along with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under construction.
Moscow is investing in strategic facilities in Serbia. The Russians have invested $ 800 million in the modernization of the country's only oil refinery in Pancevo. Gazprom Neft has invested $ 3 billion in its subsidiary Oil Industry of Serbia and plans to invest another $ 1.4 billion by 2025. The Power Machines company is reconstructing the Dzherdap-2 power plant. Russian Railways has invested $ 1 billion to modernize Serbia's railway network. Belgrade imports Russian weapons.
China is interested in Serbia in the context of its Belt and Road Global Transport and Investment Initiative, which Americans see as a tool for spreading Beijing's influence around the world. In April 2019, Serbia joined this initiative. Belgrade is interested in Chinese loans and investments, while the Celestial Empire sees the Balkan country as a springboard for economic expansion in Europe. About 65% of Serbia's trade turnover is with the EU. China provided Serbia with $ 2.2 billion in loans and $ 561 million in investments.
Among the major Chinese investments in the Serbian economy, it is worth highlighting the acquisition by HeSteel of a metallurgical plant in the city of Smeredevo in 2016, which until 2012 belonged to the American company U.S. Steel, Zidjin's acquisition of a 63% stake in a copper mine in Bor in 2018. China has invested $ 53 million in the construction of a Chinese cultural center in Belgrade. China supplied Serbia with drones, video surveillance systems for urban environments. Beijing did not recognize the independence of Kosovo, fearing a precedent for the activation of centrifugal sentiments in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Tibet, and Hong Kong.
The Trump administration is trying to lay the foundation for a pragmatic relationship between Serbia and Kosovo, despite the existing contradictions that Russia and China are playing on. After all, if Serbia ceases to perceive the United States and Kosovo as a threat, then the need to seek protection from Russia and China will disappear, and the political pretext for their presence in the region will disappear.
Balkan ‘Marshall plan’
Trump borrowed the experience of his predecessors, ex-presidents Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, who helped build a special relationship between France and post-war West Germany as a deterrent to Soviet expansion in Europe. In terms of its brutality, the Franco-German confrontation during both world wars was many times greater than the enmity between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo. The Kosovo conflict took the lives of 13,000 people, while the First and Second World Wars claimed the lives of about 2 million Frenchmen and over 6 million Germans.
The Americans bought the trust of the leaders of the Fourth Republic in France and managed to build bridges in relation with the sworn enemy. From 1948 to 1951, the United States allocated over $ 4.5 billion to France under the Marshall Plan and persuaded it to agree to join the West German zone of occupation (the US allocated over $ 2.8 billion to the Germans). Subsequently, the French established diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), created in 1949. Then, in 1951, France, Germany, the Benelux countries, Italy launched European integration, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, realizing the benefits that deepening economic cooperation could bring. Finally, in 1963, France and Germany signed the Elysee Treaty of Friendship, which laid the foundation for special relations between countries in various fields, including security.