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16 Jun, 2020 02:01

Does he want a statue too? Trump to host ‘Serbia-Kosovo’ summit in Washington on ominous anniversary

Does he want a statue too? Trump to host ‘Serbia-Kosovo’ summit in Washington on ominous anniversary

Hosting the leaders of Serbia and its breakaway province of Kosovo at the White House on the eve of a major anniversary in Serbian (and world) history raises questions about what President Donald Trump may be up to in the Balkans.

While no longer the acting Director of National Intelligence or ambassador to Germany – as of two weeks ago – Richard Grenell is technically still Trump’s special envoy for Serbia-Kosovo talks. It was in this capacity that he announced the meeting, scheduled for June 27. 

Belgrade has agreed to temporarily halt its campaign to have countries that recognized Kosovo withdraw that recognition, while Pristina has likewise stopped seeking membership in international organizations. The discussions will focus on economic growth, Grenell said on Monday. 

Kosovo is the province of Serbia that was occupied by NATO “peacekeepers” in June 1999, following a 78-day war waged by the alliance on behalf of ethnic Albanian rebels. Instead of protecting Serbian sovereignty over the province, as outlined in UN Security Council 1244 that authorized the armistice, NATO proceeded to build an Albanian provisional government, which declared independence in February 2008. It has been recognized by the US and most of its allies – about half the world’s governments – but not Russia, China or Serbia itself.

Getting Belgrade to recognize the land grab as legitimate has been the endgame of every US administration since – whether it was Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barack Obama in the White House. Yet every Serbian government “midwifed” into office by US diplomats and consultants since the 2000 color revolution has balked at that final step, including – so far – the “progressive” President Aleksandar Vucic. 

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There are two eyebrow-raising things about Grenell’s initiative. The immediately obvious one is its timing, on the eve of June 28. That is the anniversary of the 1389 battle between Serbian princes and the Ottoman Turks in Kosovo Field. Serbian oral history memorialized the event as a combination of martyrdom and tyrannicide. This motivated a young Bosnian Serb student named Gavrilo Princip to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary on that date in 1914. Vienna seized upon that as a pretext to invade Serbia, starting the chain of events that escalated into WWI.

The other oddity is that while Vucic has welcomed the talks, the Albanians have been divided. Hashim Thaci, militant leader turned “president” of Kosovo, said earlier this month he was hopeful about the initiative. Albin Kurti, a hardliner championing union with Albania who was prime minister between January and March, has accused Grenell of having the “identical stance” with Serbia, rather than being an impartial mediator. 

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Kurti has reportedly argued that Grenell is trying to “rush” a deal between Belgrade and Pristina to get Trump a foreign policy victory ahead of the 2020 election. He also accused Trump’s envoy of orchestrating the no-confidence vote that ousted him back in March. A man named Avdullah Hoti was confirmed as the new PM on June 3, over Kurti’s objections, and will be headed to Washington.

Kosovo Albanians may have reasons to be apprehensive. The economic focus of Grenell’s proposal sounds very much like Trump’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian “deal of the century,” which the Palestinians overwhelmingly rejected. The current US president is known for bucking long-standing foreign policy consensus. He is not personally invested with either side in the conflict and may even be prejudiced against the Albanians somewhat, given their obsession with erecting statues to Bill and Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and other prominent Democrats.

Admittedly, there is a statue of President Bush in Albania as well, and former Senator Bob Dole (R-Kansas) has been a champion of Kosovo Albanians for decades – and still is. The Bush and Dole factions of the GOP are by and large opposed to Trump, however.

Also on rt.com Idolatry much? Kosovo honors Clinton, Albright on 1999 war anniversary

Over in Belgrade, Vucic has been repeatedly accused by his nationalist critics that he intends to “sell out” Kosovo the first chance he gets, and his defeatist rhetoric has not helped him counter that. Western-funded liberals, not surprisingly, lament that he hasn’t done it yet, and want him replaced with someone who will. 

A general election has been called for June 21, less than a week before the White House meeting and just days before Vucic is scheduled to attend the Victory Day parade in Moscow. Vucic’s party is expected to sweep the polls, giving him legitimacy for pretty much anything – even rewriting the constitution to give up Kosovo, maybe. 

That said, given that none of Trump’s ambitious foreign policy initiatives have yet born any fruit – from North Korea to Venezuela and anything in between – and that the prospects for his re-election appear fatally undermined by a series of recent events at home, perhaps neither Vucic nor Thaci nor Kurti ought to expect much.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.