In an opinion piece published in The Hill, Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis Janusz Bugajski warns that the United States’ approach to Serbia-Kosovo relations risks provoking a new crisis in the Balkans.
The US administration has sided with Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci over Prime Minister Albin Kurti, whose government was deposed last week, in the hopes that Thaci’s land swap deal with Serbian President Vucic will provide a quick fix to the long-standing tensions between the two countries. Attempts for such a quick deal are the main reasons for Kurti’s removal, and the “magic” deal itself may destabilize the region further, Bugajski cautions.
If the US administration supports a deal based on land swap, they should explain how they are going to provide for full democratic legitimacy of a deal that should meet several conditions: not negotiated in secret; result is mutual recognition; approved in parliament or through a referendum; guarantee necessary constitutional amendments and assistance to people who will voluntarily relocate, he argues.
Without these conditions met, Bugajski warns of three immediate threats. Even if a far-fetched border change agreement is reached, it may lead to further political conflict in Kosovo and encourage nationalism in Serbia. It will also likely reawaken irredentist and separatist hopes in the Balkans, and can set a dangerous precedent for Russian aims at partitioning former satellite states like Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova.
First, domestic conflicts and nationalism in Kosovo and Serbia will rise. The deal will not be widely accepted, particularly if Kosovo doesn’t get a UN seat and Serbia doesn’t become an EU member shortly after.
Second, the region will suffer from several irredentist nationalisms that will want mono-ethnic nations. Support for unification of Albania with Kosovo could rise, which could also affect North Macedonia with its large Albanian population. This in turn, could provoke a conflict between Albania and Bulgaria. Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina could also decide to follow Kosovo’s precedent, followed by the Croats in Bosnia and Bosniaks in Serbia’s Sanjak region.
Third, internationally, a quick land swap deal between Kosovo and Serbia would help Russia exploit conflicts in the region to stop countries’ accession in the EU and NATO. As a result, Russia could increase its power in the region and become a major mediator. Border changes in the Balkans could be a gift for President Putin, who could use this precedent for possible similar plans in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and other states.