The Kosovo War and Trump´s Balkan deal

The Kosovo War and Trump´s Balkan deal

When Kosovo Albania was founded at that time, it was not entirely clear what the motives of the US were at this time. That Serbs and Kosovars could not live together anymore and the USA did not want another dysfunctional confederation like Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is more a mixture between failing and failed state? Did The USA want a geopolitical bridgehead with Kosovo in the Balkans with the US military base Camp Bondsteele as the backbone of it all? Did the  USA want to prevent an Albanian nationalism that would have destabilized the entire Balkans with demands for Greater Albania? Or everything and all together Having relied on the peoples‘ right to self-determination, to have put the international legal issues of territorial integrity and sovereignty aside, especially since Yugoslavia was in the process of dissolution and their real substance was questionable. At any rate, Russia, like China and several other states, have not recognized Kosovo as a state, while most Western governments did. In Russia, Kosovo is seen as a precedent for the breach of international law by the US and the West, which also takes it as legitimation to break international law itself. At least one should not forget that itself is under Yeltsin Russia sent troops to Kosovo and there was almost a confrontation with NATO as US commander Wesley Clark wanted to send NATO troops against the Russian troops and a British three-star general prevented this and deescalated the situation with the words: “I don´t want to risk a Third World War!”.

A former German diplomat who had long served at NATO, in Moscow and on the Balkan commented:

„The 1999 NATO war in Kosovo was a turning point. To this day, like you, I am not clear about the motives in the USA, although I had to deal intensively with the Balkans at the time.
Today I believe that the decision was significantly influenced by Holbrook and Wes Clark. Both had seen Milosevic in Dayton and did not trust him and his entourage on the way, as I think: rightly! I guess Milosevic was a psychopath.

The decisive factor, however, is likely to have been the US and British intention to develop NATO from a defensive to an intervention alliance. The slogan at NATO headquarters at that time was „Out of area or out of business“ or „Out of treaty or out of business“.
With Security Council Resolution 1244, the international dispute was settled with a compromise formula, which declaratively confirmed the territorial integrity of the rest of Yugoslavia.

With the declaration of independence by the Kosovar parliament and the recognition of Kosovo by the USA and 2/3 of the international community, this compromise was terminated.
The Russian position on the South Ossetia question was largely determined by this.
The topic deserves more detailed consideration.”

Putin and Gazprom adviser Prof. Alexander Rahr claims the following motives for the Kosovo war:

“- US wanted to prevent a Great Serbian Empire, which would also be communist and nationalist
– US wanted a bridgehead in the Islamic world
– They wanted to establish the right of self-determination, which was already applied when the SU was dissolved, as the overarching principle of international law. (RU said thank you for this and took Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea according to this principle)
– US wanted to test NATO with allies in an emergency”

The uncovered Stasi spy Rainer Rupp alias Topas, who was sitting in NATO headquarters, claimed: In order to still have a right to exist, NATO took this war as a pretext. Similar what the German diplomat and Prof. Rahr claimed as the motive.

Is this right?

On the one hand, NATO expanded further eastwards without any further missions abroad, so it was by no means out of business and while Teltschik, as head of the Munich Security Conference at the time, even talked about winning Russia as a NATO member, the USA as well as the Eastern Europeans saw this probably different. I believe that back then, even in Yeltsin’s time, there was an unspoken consensus, at least on the part of the latter, to push back the spheres of influence of Russia, including Serbia and certainly a Great Serbian empire, which would have been a Russian forward post in Europe.

The only NATO missions that came after the war in Kosovo were Afghanistan and Libya, but the former after 9-11 and even more late, the latter more as a punctual mission, from which one quickly withdrew. In addition, NATO was not used in Iraq. Nevertheless, she stayed in business.

Bridgehead in the Islamic world. Well, there are only Muslims in Europe in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Albania, although these are rather secular, similar to the formally Suniite Kurds. Bridgehead to what? It was more symbolic than strategic. Although Turkey, Saudi Arabia, even Iran tried to fight as a protective power in Bosnia and sent auxiliary troops.

Also questionable that NATO wanted to introduce the peoples‘ right to self-determination as a future rule that generally breaks international law. Kosovo was the exception to the rule and there is no known case in which NATO otherwise supported separatists or waged wars because of these. So it seems more likely to consider NATO’s test case.

In addition, the psychopath Milosevic is more of a moralizing explanation. Milosevic was just a nationalist like his Croatian counterpart HDZ-Tudjman, who was especially hyped and supported by Germany and the USA. Just remember the meeting between Milosevic and Tujdmann, in which they decided to split up Bosnia-Herzegovina and one should not forget the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Croatians in the Krajina offensive on the Serbian civilian population. Insofar as one regards nationalism as psychopathic, this would be right, but not only limited to Milosevic.

The most obvious motive seems to be pushing back a Serbian-Russian bridgehead in Europe and the Balkans, as well as the creation of a US military base like Camp Bondsteele.

The Balkans remain a contested geopolitical area, with the EU not only trying to exert influence from Russia, China and Turkey from Russian coup attempts in Montenegro to China’s 16 plus 1 group, investments for the New Silk Road and railway lines from Budapest to Belgrade, but also new initiatives from the Trump-USA, especially since Merkel’s EU enlargement euphoria with regard to the Balkans is now being thwarted by Macron France, which openly questioned the EU membership of Macedonia and thus also of other Balkan countries – despite Macedonia’s change of state name under pressure from Greece, it is interesting how Trump himself has now intervened in the Balkans in order to be able to show further quick foreign policy successes for the election campaign as a peacemaker in addition to his North Korea and UAE deals and ordered the highest representative of  Serbia and Kosovo together to come to the White House. Germany and the EU did not want to let the reins of action be knocked out of their hands and have sought a war crimes trial against KLA leader Thaci in The Hague in order to prevent a deal without an EU on US terms

Like Putin and Gazpromadviser Prof. Rahr claimed that the Kosovo war was partly about to create an US bridgehead and hub for the Muslim world, other commentators have similar views, expressing that Trump´s Balkan deal has more to do to create an anti-Iran front, strengthen Isreal in one line with the new deals between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, that the Balkan deal has more to do with Trump´s Iran policy than about Europe or the Balkan itself: The former motives fort he Kosovo war and for Trump´s deal might not be identical.

„Trump’s Serbia-Kosovo Deal ‘Middle-Easternizes’ the Balkans

Kosovo has paid a price for the agreement brokered by the US President in which it has been reclassified as a ‘Muslim state’.

The recent “agreement” signed – on separate papers and not with identical contents – by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti under the supervision of Donald Trump strengthens the role of both US and, perhaps for the first time, Israel, in the Balkans.

By the letter of these two separate “agreements”, Serbia consented to move its embassy to Jerusalem, becoming the first European country to do so.

Kosovo has in turn received international recognition by Israel, which is a significant diplomatic victory after a wave of 15 de-recognitions of its independence in the last few years.

But its embassy will also now be in Jerusalem. President Trump and his associates have presented it as the first majority-Muslim country to be represented in Jerusalem. Trump needed to present Serbia as a European, and Kosovo as a Muslim country, to make the point that the agreement signed in the last months of his term in office is “historical”.

However, there are potentially important implications of such labelling, especially for Kosovo.

Like Albania and Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo has until now avoided being labelled a “Muslim state”.

The only three European countries with Muslim majorities know that in a Europe led mainly by conservative parties and with ideologies that see “Christian values” at the core of European identity, such a label can create problems.

Public opinion in EU member states is increasingly influenced by right-wing, anti-Muslim, rhetoric, and is also increasingly sceptical of further enlargement of the EU.

In 1993, in the midst of the 1992-5 war in Bosnia, Bosnian Muslims changed the name of their nation to Bosniaks, precisely in order to improve their international image and avoid stigmatization.

Albanians from Kosovo in 1998, as the conflict in Kosovo hotted up with Serbia, fully allied themselves with the West, and especially with US. Since then, they have also been determined to be recognised as a Western, pro-American and European nation, not as a Muslim state. Neither in Albania nor in Kosovo do Albanians base their identity on religion. By re-introducing the “Muslim label” into the political discourse and by bringing Israel, and indeed Hezbollah into the equation, President Trump is Middle-Easternising the Balkans.

For most Americans, the Balkans is an old story of which they know next to nothing. The Middle East is something else. It influences election results.

The Middle-Easternisation of the Balkans in the new American political discourse does not help Muslims in the Balkans. Even more potentially damaging for their interests is that Trump has opened up an avenue for the re-interpretation of the 1990s in the Balkans.

In the presidential campaign, Trump is likely to remind his Democratic rival Joe Biden of the latter’s support for President Bill Clinton’s war against Serbia over Kosovo. In the new frame that he has created, by calling Kosovo a Muslim country, and by Middle-Easternizing the problem, one should not be surprised if he accuses the Clinton administration of having been on the side of the Muslims, hoping this accusation will bring him votes.

Trump needed this agreement for one more reason: to present himself as peace-maker. Indeed, in his four years in office, he has not started a war. But he may now use the Kosovo agreement to accuse the Democrats of having started wars in the past, in Kosovo in 1999, and perhaps also in Bosnia in 1994-5, and in both cases in favour of Muslim nations.

He already said that the economic agreement between Kosovo and Serbia is an (at least partial) resolution to a problem that emerged 21 years ago. Kosovo does not want to hear this. For Kosovo Albanians, 1999 was a solution to the problem, not a problem that needs further solving.

The new Trump rhetoric may strengthen Serbia’s position in the Balkans in other ways. It offers Serbia a chance to de-stigmatize its own image. For Serbia it is important not only to be treated as “factor of stability” in the Balkans, but also to challenge the old narrative of the 1990s, in which Serbs were marked out as the main villains.

No less important is the expectation that the agreement might help the Serbian cause in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Belgrade is increasingly linking the issue of the status of Kosovo with the status of the mainly Serbian entity in Bosnia, Republika Srpska. The Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik recalled that in his statement just prior to President Vučić’s trip to Washington.

So far, Washington has been the main sponsor and friend of the Bosniaks, just as it was of the Kosovo Albanians. Serbia, and in particular the Bosnian Serbs, hope this will change. To test the waters, Dodik has proposed that Bosnia follow Serbia in its moving its embassy to Jerusalem. The Bosniaks are unlikely to agree.

The question will then be of a response – both by US and Israel. By moving its embassy to Jerusalem by July 2021, Serbia will have done a very big favour not only to the US but also to Israel, which has already developed close links with Serbia but also some with the Republika Srpska.

Even if Trump loses the elections in November, Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to stay as Israeli leader, and Biden is unlikely to ignore an agreement that is so favourable for Israel.

Trump might go, but Israel is to stay. This is the key to understanding Serbian support for the inclusion of Israel into an agreement that seemingly had not much to do with the Middle East.

If Bosnia and Herzegovina, due to the Bosniaks, does not follow suit, it might risk losing American support.

For all these reasons, the American presidential elections will be closely followed by all sides in the Balkans.

Serbia supports Trump. Bosnia and Croatia – whose leadership is now exclusively oriented towards the EU, not Israel or the US – hope he loses. Either way, the agreement signed in Washington might prove more important for the Balkans than it seems to many at first sight.

Dejan Jovic is Professor of International Relations at the University of Zagreb. He was the Chief Political Analyst in the Office of President of Croatia (2010-2014)

But one should also see the role of the Balkans in connection with energy policy and the developments around the natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean, as a result of which the new US-Greek agreement on mutual defense was signed. The open-ended agreement provides for an expansion of the US Sixth Fleet’s naval base in Crete, the creation of drone bases in central Greece and a military base and a natural gas plant in Alexandropoulis. This latter base would allow US natural gas to be shipped to Greece. This could break the Russian gas monopoly in the region over the entire Balkans via gas pipelines still to be built.

Militarily, the Alexandropoulis base threatens Russia and the Balkans as well as Iran and the Middle East. It would allow Washington to send forces to the Balkans without traveling through Turkish and then Russian-controlled waters into the Black Sea. As the Greek defense analyst Efthymios Tsiliopoulos told Al Jazeera, Washington could “support operations in the Balkans much faster than via other ports” with this base in Alexandropoulis. He added that the US troops on the Greek bases are „easily deployable“ in the Middle East.

„Free markets“ should decide „instead of Russian Gazprom“ on the energy supply, according to Pompeo. This is to be understood as an allusion to the pipeline projects planned by the Kremlin from a geopolitical point of view: the Nord Stream pipeline, which is also controversial in Germany, which is to connect Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea, and the TurkStream pipeline, which has been carrying Russian gas since the beginning of the year the Black Sea to Turkey and from there to Bulgaria.

In a joint declaration, Pompeo and Mitsotakis welcomed the establishment of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) a week earlier and confirmed their support for cooperation within the framework of the “3 + 1 format” between Greece, Cyprus, Israel and the USA.

There was also talk of the planned floating LNG terminal, which is to be built with American support at Alexandroupolis, near the Greek-Turkish land border in Thrace. From 2023, liquefied natural gas (LNG) is to be shipped there from the USA, regasified and delivered to consumers in Europe via pipelines.

So while a strategic energy axis USA-UK-Greece-Cyprus-Egypt (perhaps Lebanon after the border agreement, if the Iran-controlled Hezbollah should agree) versus Russia-Turkey-Iran is emerging, the USA is strengthening the Greek position, initially more symbolically and signaling Erdogan that they will only tolerate his expansion as long as they are directed against Russia and not against US interests. Trump’s Balkan policy should also be understood in this context.

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