Serbia to seek Putin’s support on Kosovo amid deadlock


Serbian leader Aleksandar Vucic was to meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss how to push forward a deal with Kosovo after a plan to rework their borders faced international resistance.
Vucic is seeking broad international support from the European Union and the US to mend relations with Kosovo—a precondition for both neighbours in their aspirations to join the EU in the next decade. Vucic’s proposal for a deal that would allow ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians to live where their kin form majorities in a possible land swap, was rejected by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other EU leaders fearing it may re-ignite tensions that led to Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War II.
Hundreds of protesters marched in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina over the weekend, opposing any plans for partition, while President Hashim Thaci visited a disputed, mainly ethnic Serb area in the north, prompting Serbia to raise its army’s combat readiness.
The situation with Kosovo “will be the priority” in talks with Putin, Vucic told reporters in Belgrade on September 29. “We will inform Putin of the latest developments and ask for his support in all international forums. We will undoubtedly ask him for advice.”
Serbia, one of the Kremlin’s closest allies in the Balkans, refuses to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 secession, a position shared with Russia, China and five EU member states. Vucic’s pledge to lead Serbia into the EU, while maintaining close ties with Russia, has rattled EU leaders. Serbia has refused to back sanctions against its ally and promised not to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In return, Russia is preventing the full international recognition of Kosovo and its UN membership.
“It’s obvious that talks on Kosovo have slowed down,” said Sonja Licht, the director of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence. Enlisting Russian support against a US attempt to downsize the UN mission in Kosovo may also be part of the talks with Putin, according to Licht. Russia’s ambassador to Serbia said last month Moscow would support a deal suitable for Serbia.
“This meeting was planned several months ago, so it’s not connected with the rise in tension in the region,” though that will obviously be an issue for discussion, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Russia has long sought to resist NATO’s expansion into its former spheres of influence including the Balkans. While other ex-Yugoslav states Croatia and Slovenia have joined the EU and NATO, Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia remain in limbo as world powers jostle for influence. In the Republic of Macedonia, Russia backed the opposition’s campaign against a vote that would’ve helped settle a name dispute with Greece allowing it to join the EU and NATO.
Vucic’s 13th meeting with Putin in six years takes place as Serbia hosts joint air drills with Russia, shortly before holding exercises with NATO later this month. Putin’s popularity among Serbia’s of 7.2 million people is unspoiled, with 58 percent saying he’s the most trusted foreign politician, vastly exceeding support for Merkel and Donald Trump, according to a Faktor Plus pollster survey.

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