Kosovo’s acting prime minister Albin Kurti (pictured above) has accused a United States envoy of being “directly involved” in toppling his government last month, calling it part of a plan to achieve a major diplomatic victory in a US election year.
After less than two months in office, Mr Kurti’s coalition government collapsed in March, losing a no-confidence vote initiated by the junior coalition partner, the Democratic League of Kosoovo (LDK). Mr Kurti, who continues as a caretaker prime minister, now claims that the LDK acted under pressure from Richard Grenell, US President Donald Trump’s envoy to Kosovo and Serbia.
“My government wasn’t overthrown for anything else except the fact that Ambassador Grenell is in a rush to sign a deal with Serbia which I strongly believe is harmful, since it includes territorial exchange,” said Mr Kurti during an online press conference.
Mr Kurti said Grenell had “hijacked” the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue process and “cares very much about the signature at the bottom of the paper not about the text on the paper.”
“What he needs is a quick deal to show that they can fix crises in the world, perhaps in contrast to Clintons, Bushes and Obama, without any military intervention, and this can be presented as a success in this electoral year,” he added.
Writing in the American Conservative last week, Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow for defence and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, appeared to preempt Mr Kurti’s words.
“Some analysts speculate that Trump seeks a foreign policy coup by brokering a settlement between Serbia and Kosovo,” he wrote. “With the prospect of a major peace accord involving North Korea fading by the week, so the theory goes, the president desperately needs a blockbuster achievement on the international front, and a breakthrough in the Balkans appears to present the best opportunity.”
Last week, the European Union appointed its own special representative to Serbia and Kosovo, Miroslav Lajčák, a former Slovak foreign minister. “Let’s give him the the time he needs to see how he can help both parties resume dialogue,” said EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, who added that there can be no sustainable future for the Western Balkans without a clear EU perspective.
The EU and the US currently have very different perspectives regarding the resolution of the Serbia-Kosovo dispute. The US is believed to favour a land swap deal that would see the Presevo Valley in southern Serbia, where the population is mostly ethnic Albanian, join Kosovo, while in return, Serbia would re-establish full control over the majority ethnic-Serb area of Kosovo to the north of the River Ibar, including the town of Mitrovica. The EU is steadfastly opposed to the proposal, which is said to have been discussed behind the scenes for years by Kosovar President Hashim Thaçi and his Serb counterpart, Aleksandar Vučić. The EU believes that such a deal would reopen other border disputes across the Western Balkans.
Mr Kurti also opposes any deal involving a land swap. “I am ready to discuss the needs of communities, the rights of citizens but not a territorial exchange,” he said, adding that Thaçi and Vučić had also discussed giving Serbian religious sites in Kosovo a special status, similar to the Vatican or Mount Athos in Greece.
The US ambassador immediately denied Mr Kurti’s accusations. “There has been absolutely no talk of land swaps from me – and it’s never been discussed by anyone else in my presence. We have said this many times,” he said.
In March, Mr Kurti lifted tariffs on Serb goods which had been imposed by his predecessor Ramush Haradinaj in November 2018 in a bid to put pressure on Serbia, which is blocking Kosovo’s international recognition and preventing it from joining international organisations, including Interpol. He has vowed to restore the tariffs in June if there are no “signs of good faith” from Serbia in the meantime.
Serbia continues to refuse to recognise Kosovo’s independence, declared in 2008.
Meanwhile, Mr Kurti’s political future remains unclear.
President Thaçi has said he would start the process to form a new government this week, while the acting prime minister has called for fresh elections instead.
In a side issue, Mr Kurti has also had to fend off opposition criticism for accepting 1,000 Covid-19 testing kits from Serbia.
“The test kits were a gesture from Serbia which should not be politicised,” he said. “Had Kosovo refused the test kits we would have been accused of irrational behaviour.”
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