The "historic agreement" and "the greatest success on the diplomatic front" are exactly what Donald Trump needs today. In the run-up to the election, the current US president was in dire need of powerful victories that would demonstrate the success of his rule. And in recent days, even a few have appeared.

The first victory was the "agreement on the normalization of relations" between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, reached with his participation. This is Israel's first reconciliation with a major Arab state in decades.

However, Trump decided not to stop - and to show that he is able to bring peace to the Balkans.

Sensations were expected from the meeting in Washington between the leaders of Serbia and the partially recognized Kosovo, up to Belgrade's recognition of its autonomy. And while that is not the case, the agreement signed on Friday has become historic, capable of changing the situation in the Balkans.

So what was agreed in Washington? What are the implications for Europe? And why was Israel suddenly among the winners of these talks?

To admit or not to recognize?

Until the last moment, no one knew for sure what the representatives of Serbia and Kosovo would sign in the White House.

On September 3, after the first round of talks, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic addressed the public with an emergency message stating that a section on the recognition of Kosovo had appeared in the draft agreement.

According to Serbian media reports, paragraph №10 read as follows: "Both parties are committed to the mutual recognition and protection of ethnic minorities, property restitution, statelessness and agree to open offices to protect and report annually on minority rights ".

That is, in fact, it was a point in resolving the "Kosovo issue".

But Vucic reassured Serbs, saying he insisted on excluding the item.

The exclusion of paragraph №10 did not remove the intrigue: Kosovo could be recognized in other ways, in passing. For example, by agreeing to sign an agreement (in fact of any content) with the "Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo" instead of the "representative of the Provisional Institutions of Kosovo and Metohija".

But the Serbian delegation also avoided this "trap" - the final document is signed "Prime Minister Avdulla Hoti" (without specifying which government he heads); in the text "Republic of Kosovo" is not mentioned at all.

Moreover, the partially recognized state of Kosovo appears in the agreement as "Kosovo (Pristina)", respectively, the other party defines "Serbia (Belgrade)".

To avoid even a hint of mutual recognition, the parties did not sign a joint document - Kosovo and Serbia did not sign an agreement. Instead, each party signed its own version of the agreement with Donald Trump.

Sitting at two side tables to the right (Vucic) and to the left (Hoti) of Trump, the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo signed an agreement called "Economic Normalization".


Photo by the press service of the White House

"This is a historic day," he said.

It should be added that signing documents of the warring parties with a mediator is not an invention of Trump's team. For example, in our negotiations on Donbass, in the tripartite contact group, the OSCE similarly fixes the agreements between Ukraine and the occupation administrations.

In short, it would be standard practice for "shuttle" diplomacy, if not for one point: later it turned out that the versions of the agreement signed by the Serbian and Kosovo leaders are not identical.

From Holocaust victims to LGBT protection

When the content of the agreement became known to the public, it became clear that it concerned not only the economy and not only the relations between Serbia and Kosovo.

Thus, the penultimate paragraph captures the previously reached - also through the US administration - informal agreement between Belgrade and Pristina.

It is a one-year moratorium on Kosovo's membership in international organizations and also a one-year moratorium on Serbia's campaign to lift the recognition of Kosovo's independence.

In fact, this is currently the main political achievement in the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. Annual "truce" instead of full peace.

Much of the Economic Normalization Agreement does deal with economic issues.

The first sections are devoted to plans for the implementation of infrastructure projects: the construction of the Belgrade-Pristina highway and railway infrastructure to the port on the Adriatic Sea (meaning Durres, Albania).

To implement these plans, Serbia and Kosovo will work with the United States International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and EXIM Bank. In addition, these financial institutions provide loans to small and medium enterprises and other bilateral projects.

There are clauses in the agreement that apply not only to the economy. For example, both sides have pledged to open another checkpoint on the Kosovo-Serbia border (administrative border) in Merdare.

Not only economic is also an important agreement for both sides to join the regional visa-free zone - the so-called "mini-Schengen".

This joint initiative of Serbia, Albania and Northern Macedonia on the free flow of goods, capital and people started in 2019, but the Kosovo authorities were against it - Pristina insisted on obtaining a visa-free regime with the European Union, not with neighbors, instead the idea of ​​"mini-Schengen" Kosovo politicians called it nothing more than a "mini-Yugoslavia."

However, in Washington, the Prime Minister of Kosovo agreed to this controversial proposal.

Another important point of the agreement concerns the artificial lake Gazivode / Ujmani, in northern Kosovo, on the border with Serbia. It's not just about the economy again.

Two years ago, the dispute over the status of this reservoir became the reason for the military-political crisis. Units of the Kosovo Security Force were spotted near the lake, after which Serbia brought the army into full combat readiness.

Eventually, the situation calmed down, but the dispute over control of Gazivoda, which is necessary for the operation of a local power plant and water supply for the entire region in Kosovo, remained unresolved. And now Belgrade and Pristina have agreed to start resolving the issue "to ensure a stable water and energy supply."

Another energy issue concerned the diversification of energy supply, with both sides declaring their intention to do so.

This is a very important point, because it strikes at Serbia's partnership with the Kremlin.

But, unfortunately, the decision is not final

Belgrade, which has long been a key partner of Russia's Gazprom in the region, has not dared to make a clear promise to move to purchase American liquefied natural gas (as allegedly envisaged in the original draft agreement). Therefore, only a declaration of intent was included in the signed document.

A number of other arrangements concern the humanitarian sphere.

Overcoming the effects of the war was reflected in a fixed desire to "accelerate efforts to search for and identify the remains of the missing" and to address the issue of refugees and internally displaced persons.

At the same time, the parties undertook to mutually recognize diplomas and professional certificates.

Interestingly, the stumbling block was not so much Kosovo documents in Serbia as Serbian diplomas issued by Serbian schools in northern Kosovo - a territory inhabited mainly by Serbs. Earlier, these documents were not recognized in Pristina. This problem will now be solved.

One of the points concerns the protection of the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church, as well as the continuation of the restitution of the property of the Jewish community during the Holocaust.

At the same time, the document mentions the obligations of the parties to protect LGBT rights.

Two gifts for Israel

But the biggest surprise of the Washington agreement was the inclusion in the text of paragraphs from completely different "plots", not related to the Balkans at all, but much needed by Trump. Especially before the American election.

One of the clauses of the agreement concerns the 5G network. Both sides have pledged to ban the use of equipment from "unreliable suppliers" - a transparent euphemism for Chinese manufacturers.

In the same agreement on the alleged economic normalization of Serbian-Kosovo relations, the parties undertook to… recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and limit its financial activities within its jurisdiction. How does this relate to Kosovo-Serbia relations? That's right, no way.

But the last surprise of the agreement was a real surprise (it seems, even for Vuchich) - this part turned out to be different for the two signatories.

According to the last paragraph of the agreement signed in the White House, Kosovo and Israel have agreed on mutual recognition.

For Kosovo, this is a real diplomatic breakthrough.

With the number of countries recognizing its independence shrinking (albeit with lobbying by Serbia), Kosovo desperately needed a new "success story."

But for Israel, recognition by a predominantly Muslim country is all the more extraordinary.

In addition, Kosovo later announced its intention to open its embassy in Jerusalem - thus becoming the first "Muslim" country to take such a step.

However, this achievement was somewhat marred by Trump himself, writing that the example of Kosovo should facilitate the recognition of Israel by other countries in the Middle East. This statement outraged Kosovars, who position themselves as Europeans and have nothing to do with the Middle East.

However, the last point of the signed agreement turned out to be a real sensation for Serbia. Presenting the agreements reached to the media, Trump announced the transfer of the Serbian embassy to Jerusalem.

Indicative is the video where the President of Serbia is surprised to start looking for such an item in the signed agreement (he later explained that the folder for documents was a surprise).

And he finds it - according to the agreement signed by him, Serbia undertakes to open a trade office in Jerusalem by September 20, and to transfer the embassy there by July 1, 2021.

Judging by Vuchich's reaction, he did not expect this. It seemed that the agreement would mention only the opening of an office, not an embassy. It is worth noting that Ukraine did the same - after the US proposals to move the embassy to Jerusalem, it limited itself to opening an Innovation Office there.

However, in the case of Serbia, Trump seems to have resorted to more outright coercion. However, if Trump loses the election in November, it is possible that the new US president will not insist on Belgrade's implementation of this clause of the agreement.

Who won and who lost?

"Serbia and Kosovo together have taken a step towards economic normalization," Donald Trump said, calling the signed document a "major breakthrough" in the 12 years since Kosovo's independence.

The pathos of the White House host is understandable - for Trump it is really a victory and a "plus" to the ranking among those Americans for whom US international power matters.

It brought together representatives of the conflicting parties; they signed something under his patronage; he easily "solved" a number of important issues for the States in the course of the case - all of which must surely please the electorate.

At the same time, he has shown the EU that the United States remains a major security factor in the Balkans, more effective than European diplomacy.

Trump also showed that, even in resolving the Balkan conflict, he does not forget about Israel's interests, justifying his unofficial title of "Israel's friendliest president of the United States."

What does this mean for the direct signatories of the agreement: Serbia and Kosovo?

For the Serbian government, which had just survived the election and remained at the helm, the main goal was to prevent betrayal (recognition of Kosovo) and to demonstrate concern for Serbs in Kosovo. Both of these goals have been achieved.

Kosovo, although not receiving the "grand prize", may also consider the trip to Washington a success.

Of course, the question of how the signed agreement will be implemented remains open.

However, Russia's reaction to the agreement was indicative.

American mediation was a slap in the face to the Kremlin. And it was very noticeable.


the reason for the ridicule was this photo from the White House

From the boorish tweet of Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who ridiculed a photo of the Serbian president at a meeting with Trump (which caused outrage in Serbia and for which he eventually even had to apologize), to a phone call to Vucic from the foreign minister asking him to check his watch on Kosovo.

Although small steps, Serbia and Kosovo have come closer to understanding.

US tactics suggest that countries that actively trade with each other have fewer grounds for conflict. And the implementation of the Washington agreement should contribute to this.

Therefore, it is natural that even such an almost formal or framework agreement is considered in Russia as a threat to its influence in the Balkans.

But the European Union did not take offense at Trump. He organized a Brussels meeting just after the Washington meeting. But sensational agreements are not expected from today's meeting between Vucic and Hoti in Brussels.


Natalia Ishchenko, journalist, editor of the Balkan Review portal,

Yuri Panchenko, editor of "European Truth"

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Posted in Politics