Kosovo’s Acting Prime Minister Albin Kurti has accused Richard Grenell, the U.S. special envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, of being involved in pushing for the toppling of his government less than one month ago.
“My government was not overthrown for anything else but simply because Ambassador Grenell was in a hurry to sign an agreement with Serbia,” Kurti said during a press conference with international journalists today.
Kurti held a press conference with international journalists via Internet today, organized by the Austrian journalists association Presseclub Concordia. The session was moderated by Tim Judah, who is a journalist and author, Balkans correspondent for The Economist, and President of Board of the BIRN Network.
Exit News brings highlights of Kurti’s press conference, based on a summary by Jasmin Mujanović, a political scientist and researcher who attended the conference, and whose summary was endorsed by Tim Judah.
Kurti told journalists that almost from the moment he took over as prime minister, he and his coalition partners were immediately pressured by US envoy Richard Grenell to drop tariffs against Serbia.
Despite his statement that he is not in the dialogue to rush toward an agreement, Kurti thinks that Grenell wants a rushed deal between Kosovo and Serbia that will involve land swap, so he can deliver a political win for President Trump before the U.S. elections.
He has reportedly said that the land swap project was started by Presidents of Serbia and Kosovo, Vucic and Thaci, when EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini was mediating the dialogue. Grenell picked up on the idea and continued to pressure Kurti to drop tariffs, so that the project could take off again. Kurti reportedly said that this is “a reckless quick fix”.
Whilst he states that he wants a deal with Serbia, Kurti refuses to accept a deal that involves maps and redrawing of borders.
However, he sees the toppling of his government directly connected to the deal with Serbia. He was ousted partly as an outcome of President Thaçi’s attempt to declare a state of exception/emergency that would give him more power, and would enable him to send the army into the streets, justified by the coronavirus pandemic. Kurti claims that Thaçi aimed to “create incidents”, arguably ethnic one, which would then open the road for a rushed land swap deal with no democratic oversight.
Kurti has reportedly said that he has not seen a map of the land swap but a close advisor to Thaci has discussed outlines of the deal with a close advisor of Kurti. According to the Vucic-Thaçi plan, three northern Kosovo municipalities with Serbian majority (possibly Leposavić, Zvečan and Zubin Potok) join Serbia, while parts of Presevo in Serbia join Kosovo. Northern Mitrovica, inhabited by Serbian ethnic majority, stays in Kosovo, but Serbia gets to have an Association of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo, which would have a high degree of independence form the Kosovo government. In exchange, Kurti has reportedly said, Serbia will not actually formally recognize Kosovo. He dismisses the Vucic-Thaçi plan as absurd.
He admits that this plan is attractive to its main actors. Thaçi wants a quick deal with Serbia, thinking that it could save him from jail, either in Kosovo or abroad. A quick fix with the many benefits mentioned by Kurti would also serve Serbia well, who could quickly join the EU after that. The third major actor, Grenell only cares about “the signature at the bottom of the page, not the text on the page,” Kurti has reportedly said.
Kurti has reportedly warned that if the president and parliamentary parties decide to form a government without early elections, as they seem set to do, a “phase of destabilization will follow”, and his Vetevendosje party will hold mass protests.
A deal involving land swap will not be allowed by the people of Kosovo, who are being held back from protesting only due to the pandemic, according to Kurti. He added that he has made this clear to Grenell that any major deal with Serbia would require approval by the people.
Asked about EU special envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, Kurti said that he and Josepf Borrell are seen with skepticism in Kosovo because they both come from non-recognizer states. Lajcak’s biggest challenge would be to convince Vucic to abandon the idea of a land swap deal.
Kurti has also said that the coordination between the EU and US for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue is minimal: they “are like on two different planets”. However, he underlined that he does not want to choose between the EU and US, and that only Russia would benefit from a rift between them.
Finally, Kurti has reportedly reiterated that his party and the people of Kosovo would not accept a land swap deal, attempts for which are machinations of a fading, corrupt political class: “We are not afraid of them.”