The United States’ diplomatic approach to Kosovo continues to draw criticism, as more international relations experts criticize the ousting of Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s government.
Kurt Bassuener and Bodo Weber of the Berlin-based think-tank Democratization Policy Council outline, in a recent piece, how the US “precipitated the fall of a popular and promising reformist government” in Kosovo. US special envoy for Kosovo-Serbia negotiations Richard Grenell lead not only to the ousting of Kurti’s government, but also to a fall in America’s credibility in the Balkans, and a deepening of the schism between the US and the EU.
The day before the vote of no-confidence that deposed Kurti, the US ambassador to Kosovo tweeted in support of the deposition. In doing so, the US diplomatic mission to Kosovo split from the ‘united front’ that the diplomatic missions of the US, UK, Germany, France, and Italy planned on putting up by releasing a joint statement that urged preserving the integrity of the government in order to adequately deal with the global pandemic.
Bassuener and Weber label the United States’ support in 2018 for a ‘land-swap’ deal, supported by Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, that would see Kosovo cede territory to Serbia in exchange for the latter recognizing Kosovo’s independence, as a swift break from two decades of strategic American policy in the Balkans. German-led opposition to the idea of border changes in the Balkans quickly suspended talks of such a deal, however.
Serbia blocking Kosovo’s membership in Interpol and continued derecognition campaign led, in turn, to then-Prime Minister of Kosovo Ramush Haradinaj to impose a 100% tariff on Serbian goods in November 2018. The tariff halted Kosovo-Serbia negotiations, while the US pressured Kosovo to lift it.
Bassuener and Weber allege that Grenell exploited the departure of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who was leading the negotiations, to run his own “domestic political errand.” While also serving as ambassador to Germany, he pursued action on Kosovo and Serbia without the presence or knowledge of regional partners.
While Kurti announced his plan to gradually remove tariffs in exchange for Serbia lifting non-tariff trade barriers and ceasing its derecognition campaigns, a move supported by the EU, Grenell dropped his demand for Belgrade to stop the derecognition campaign and threatened withholding financial and military support for Kosovo.
Besides having likely devastating consequences in Kosovo and the Balkans, the deal sought by Grenell has done massive damage to American reputation and credibility in the region. These manoeuvers risk undermining transatlantic partnership, endangering European security, and precipitating legitimate feelings of betrayal in Kosovo, labelled by Bassuener and Weber as “perhaps the most pro-American country on earth.”