Vzglyad.az interview with the Director General of the Center for Geostrategic Research (Belgrade), Dragana Trifković.
US President Donald Trump received the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo at the White House. What results did the parties achieve at the Washington meeting?
“Firstly, the agreement signed in Washington between Belgrade and Pristina does not correspond to the interests of the Republic of Serbia and its international position on any point. The biggest winner of the agreement reached is Israel, which, in my opinion, was a mediator in the harmonisation and agreement between the two sides and Washington. Serbian President Aleksandr Vucic, through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in March this year agreed on part of the commitments, including the opening of Serbia’s diplomatic and economic mission in Jerusalem, which is a violation of international law and UN Security Council Resolution 478.
In the cooperation agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, Israel has included a number of points that have nothing to do with the problem of Kosovo, but only with the implementation of Israel’s goals related to the occupation of Palestinian territories. For example, it was decided that Serbia and Kosovo would declare Hezbollah a terrorist organisation. This is solely in the interests of Israel, which considers this organisation dangerous for its own interests. Hezbollah is an organisation that has achieved significant results in the fight against terrorism in Syria, along with the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian army.
This situation, from the position of Serbia, is contrasted with good relations with Syria, Iran, and Russia, which are conducting anti-terrorist actions in the Middle East.
Another winner of the agreement was Donald Trump himself in terms of using the Kosovo issue (which is the most important national issue for Serbs) in the US electoral campaign so that he could be re-elected as president with the support of Israel and the strong Jewish lobby in America. At the same time, the Serbian diaspora in the US participated in the electoral campaign for the first time on the side of Donald Trump, which is kind of absurd after the Serbian President signed the agreement.
The third winner is NATO, because projects for the construction of roads and railways, the part of the infrastructure that NATO needs, have been agreed. On the other hand, they are strategically important for Albania and its networking, i.e., its relationship with the EU.”
Serbia and Kosovo have committed to “diversify their energy sources”. Taking into account the structure of Serbian energy imports and the strong connection with Russia in this area, can this point be understood as a requirement for Serbia to immediately switch from importing Russian oil and Russian gas to other, third-party sources?
“This is how this point of the agreement was understood in Serbia. Trump took the opportunity to include the issue of energy supplies to Serbia in an agreement to normalise economic cooperation between Serbia and Kosovo, which has nothing to do with each other.
Thus, Serbia allowed the US to influence the choice of energy supplies, which is contrary to the interests of Serbia. So far, the US has tried to force Serbia and other European countries to buy American liquefied natural gas, which is much more expensive than Russian gas. This clause of the agreement is not suitable for future energy projects that are planned to be implementation in Serbia, such as the continuation of Turkish Stream, i.e., the branch of the South Stream through Serbia.
As you know, the US has so far interfered in relations between Russia and European countries in connection with energy projects, so the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline through Bulgaria has been suspended.
On the other hand, there are points concerning the Gazivode hydroelectric power station, which is located in the north of Kosovo. This hydroelectric power station is of strategic importance for the entire energy system of Kosovo, and Lake Gazivode is a source of water supply. In addition, water from the lake is used for thermal power plants in Obilić, so without it, the Obilić thermal power plant could not operate. The Gazivode hydroelectric power station was built by the state of Serbia in 1980 and repaid all loans raised in connection with the construction of this station. The President of Serbia agreed that the US Department of Energy will conduct a feasibility study of this property of the state of Serbia to separate the Lake as a safe source of water and energy. It has caused direct damage to the state of Serbia, and there is another problem in relations with Germany. In particular, Germany has invested huge amounts of money through loans in the energy system of Kosovo, which cannot function without the Gazivode hydroelectric power station. Earlier, Aleksandr Vucic signed energy agreements within the framework of the Brussels agreement, i.e., in the framework of dialogue with Pristina under the auspices of the EU. Now the situation with the Washington agreement is quite complicated, and Germany and the EU are not satisfied with this.”
Belgrade and Pristina also agreed not to use Huawei’s 5G technology. Why did Vucic agree to this point of the agreement, especially given his vow of friendship with Chinese President XI Jinping?
“The part of the agreement concerning 5G technology is directly directed against economic cooperation between Serbia and China. The Serbian government has so far favoured economic cooperation with China, but this has given the US the opportunity to cancel part of the agreed treaty between Serbia and China. The US is waging a fierce campaign and trade war against China. Serbia decided to allow American interference in the Serbian-Chinese agreements, which cast doubt on future economic cooperation with this country. In 2017, the Ministry of Communications of Serbia signed an agreement on strategic partnership in the field of Internet development with Huawei, as well as a memorandum of understanding on the development of the smart cities project in Serbia in 2019. Serbia’s Communications Minister also signed an agreement with Chinese officials to make Serbia part of the digital silk road. However, these agreements are not commercial and are not binding. Serbia also signed an agreement with China to create a national platform for the development of artificial intelligence as part of a valuable Chinese donation.
We have not yet heard from Serbian officials, i.e. from the Ministry of communications, how the agreement from Washington will affect further cooperation with China, especially with Huawei, and whether Serbia will continue to develop the 5G network in cooperation with this company. America has imposed sanctions on Huawei and even accused it of spying for the Chinese government. The Washington agreement between Serbia and Kosovo states: ‘Both parties will prohibit the use of 5G equipment from unreliable suppliers in their communication networks’ or ‘Where such equipment already exists, both parties will promptly deal with its removal and other intermediary efforts.’ I believe that the US will insist that we do not cooperate with Huawei. I think that because of this, Serbia will abandon the agreement on the development of the 5G network with China.
Serbia already has one Telenor 5G network station with Chinese equipment, but it is currently not working. Next year, an auction will be held to grant licenses for the 5G network in Serbia.
Until now, President Vucic has consistently stressed the importance of cooperation with China, even more than with Russia, but now we see that in one day he rudely rejected the fraternity with XI Jinping that he was so proud of. It seems that Aleksandr Vucic has found new brothers in the US and Israel.”
In your opinion, the points “diversification of its energy sources” and “refusal to use Huawei’s 5G technology” may have negative consequences for Serbia’s international position and its relations with China and Russia? After all, these countries are currently the only guarantors of preserving Resolution 1244, according to which Kosovo remains part of Serbia….
“Russia has been defending Serbia’s territorial integrity at the international level for many years. It has made huge diplomatic efforts to help Serbia preserve its southern province. In this sense, China has not made as much effort as Russia, but it has followed Russia’s policy on this issue. However, the recognition of Kosovo by Serbia does not suit China because of problems with Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.
Both Russia and China have a veto in the UN Security Council, and the only valid document on the basis of which the Kosovo issue can be resolved is Resolution 1244. However, the problem is that the Serbian leadership has not referred to Resolution 1244 for a long time and is negotiating a settlement of the Kosovo issue outside the constitutional and international legal framework. Technical talks on Kosovo and Metohija were moved from the UN to the EU in 2011, but the EU does not have a mandate to resolve the status issue. After the change of government in Serbia in 2012, the negotiations on Kosovo and Metohija were raised from the level of technical negotiations to the level of negotiations between the two presidents, Aleksandr Vucic and Hashim Thaci.
As part of these negotiations, the harmful Brussels agreement was reached in 2013, establishing a classic border between Kosovo and Metohija and the rest of Serbia, after which the institutions of the state of Serbia on the territory of Kosovo and Metohija were closed. These are all important steps taken by the presidency of Aleksandr Vucic and Ivica Dacic towards the recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
To make matters worse, the US, which is also the main creator of the so-called ‘independence of Kosovo’, has now directly joined the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina. I should note that the US has no mandate to resolve the Kosovo issue and that Aleksandr Vucic had no reason to accept an invitation to a meeting at the White House. On the other hand, we have heard several times from Russian officials that Russia wants to join the talks on Kosovo and Metohija if it receives an invitation, but the Serbian authorities have never sent such an invitation to Russia.
Finally, an election was recently held in Serbia. The Assembly has not yet been formed, nor has the new government. The Serbian President used this vacuum to sign the agreement in Washington, which is not authorised to resolve this issue, without any permission from other institutions. According to our constitution, Serbia’s foreign policy is led by the government, not the President of Serbia, and he has no right to sign international agreements. So, in summary, Washington has no reason to participate in the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, the President of Serbia does not have the authority or support of Serbian citizens to sign such an agreement, and the points of the agreement on many issues do not relate to Serbian-Kosovo relations – an internal issue. I am referring to the points of the agreement related to Hezbollah, the 5G network, the promotion of homosexuality, and the issue of the status of Jerusalem. By signing such a document, the President of Serbia once again violated the Constitution of Serbia, as well as international resolutions 1244 and 478 of the UN Security Council.”
What did Serbia and Kosovo get in return? What is the benefit of this for Serbia?
“I believe that such a decision to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organisation and for Serbia to move the Embassy to Jerusalem, and for Kosovo to open an Embassy in Jerusalem, suits only Israel and US’ policy in the Middle East. Neither Serbia nor the Kosovo Albanians benefit from this. Another result of the Washington agreement is that immediately after the signing of the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, Israel recognised Kosovo as an independent state. There is no logic in Serbia agreeing to move the Embassy to Jerusalem, which is contrary to international law, but also to the position of the EU (Serbia is in the process of European integration and is obliged to coordinate its foreign policy with the EU), and in return Israel recognises the southern Serbian province as an independent state. I think that even the Serbian enemies will not sign an agreement that is so unfavourable for Serbia.
Thus, Serbia unnecessarily intervened in the Middle East conflict and entered into conflict with the entire Islamic world. I should note that so far Serbia has had good relations with Palestine, which has not recognised the independence of Kosovo. Palestine has an Embassy in Belgrade and has a traditional friendship with our country.
Serbia will be the first European country to move its Embassy to Jerusalem, which the EU reacted sharply to. On the other hand, Kosovo will also come into conflict with the Islamic world over the decision to open an Embassy in Jerusalem.
I believe that Muslim countries should respond to this decision by withdrawing their recognition of Kosovo, which will further complicate the implementation of the completely insane agreement in Washington.
In any case, Kosovo will also enter into a big conflict with the Islamic world, but also with some western structures, because the EU does not support such steps. Although Kosovo has received support for separatism from the Clinton administration, in this case, Trump was given a favour, which could be a problem if Trump loses power in the US. On the other hand, Aleksandr Vucic donated $2 million to the Clintons during the 2016 election campaign, supporting Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate, and this time he donated Serbian sovereignty and part of Serbia’s territory to the campaign of Donald Trump.”
It seems that everyone won in these negotiations, except Serbia. Trump achieved “important foreign policy success” during his presidential campaign, Pristina received important international recognition for Israel, and Israel will receive the first two European embassies in Jerusalem. What do you think about this?
“The biggest winner of the agreement in Washington is Israel, through which Vucic lobbied and negotiated this type of agreement. Despite the fact that Israel cannot play a significant role in any agreement in the treaty between Belgrade and Pristina on the resolution of internal relations in Serbia. However, Israel used the need of Aleksandr Vucic to reach an agreement with the mediation of the US and his personal initiative in this regard, which is beyond the competence of the state, in order to maintain power.
The US used this opportunity to score points in the foreign policy plan that Donald Trump will use in the electoral campaign to present himself as a politician who successfully resolves international conflicts. On the other hand, the huge services rendered to Israel should endorse this country in terms of supporting Trump for re-election, as well as influence the support of the Jewish lobby in America.
In addition, the US used the opportunity to conduct foreign policy and economic conflicts with Russia and China through Serbia.
NATO implements its interest through agreed infrastructure projects connecting Albania and Serbia.
Serbia won nothing by signing the agreement, and lost a lot. First of all, the Serbian President signed that Serbia will not oppose Kosovo’s entry into international institutions: ‘Serbia (Belgrade) agrees to impose a one-year moratorium on the campaign for revocation of recognition and to refrain from formal or informal demands that no state or international organisation should recognise Kosovo (Pristina) as an independent state’. By doing so, the President of Serbia gave Kosovo the opportunity to realise independence, i.e., he recognised Kosovo as an independent state. In a year’s time, Kosovo will be able to apply for membership in NATO, the EU, the UN, Interpol, and other international organisations.
In addition, the numerous economic and foreign policy decisions that Serbia must make as a sovereign state are now the responsibility of the US. With this, Serbia lost its sovereignty.
In terms of foreign policy, Serbia has soured relations with Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, the EU, and Germany by signing this agreement and entering into conflict with the entire Arab world.
Finally, after Vucic’s return from Washington, Serbia was left friendless on the international stage.”