Belgrade and Washington have differing views on Kosovo army

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (R) shakes hands with US U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchel in Belgrade on 14 March. [BETAPHOTO/BRANISLAV BOZIC/DS]

The visit of US Assistant Secretary of State to Belgrade made it clear yet again that the issue of Kosovo remains a thorn in Serbia’s side and the biggest obstacle to its hopes of joining the European Union in 2025. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

Wess Mitchell, the US diplomat in charge of European and Eurasian affairs, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić agreed in “an open and good” conversation in Belgrade on the matter of bilateral economic relations, reforms and Serbia’s European integration, but presented radically different views on the possible forming of a Kosovo army.

Mitchell said he believed Kosovo is entitled to its own professional security forces, which he said do not pose a threat to Serbia, while the Serbian president pointed out that there is no official document giving Kosovo the right to form its armed forces.

Kosovo, Serbia’s former southern province, declared independence 10 years ago and now wants to form its own army. It has been recognised by more than 100 countries of the world, including all EU member states except Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia. Serbia, backed by Russia, has vowed never to recognise its independence.

“We support Kosovo’s legitimate right to have a professional security capability,” Mitchell told a joint news conference on Wednesday (14 March) after meeting Vučić in Belgrade. “No one can have a veto on Kosovo’s ability to develop those capabilities.”

Vučić said that Serbia’s stance was that the idea of forming an army was based on an illegal decision on Kosovo’s independence and therefore there were no legal grounds for that in international law.

The Serbian president underscored that there was not a single legally valid paper that would grant Kosovo the right to form an army and that “no one can make it up.”

Vučić, however, also said that without the Americans, Serbia could not solve the Kosovo problem or other problems in the region and that it was “naive and irresponsible” to think that this could be done without U.S. involvement.

The Serbian president also said that Belgrade was ready to discuss compromises.

“We can accept compromises, but we cannot accept the humiliation of the people and destruction of the state. Any compromise is hard, but that is why it has to be accepted by the second and third party, too,” the Serbian president said without elaborating.

Despite the disagreement over Kosovo and its security forces, Vučić that Serbia and the U.S. had concurred that the EU-mediated dialogue (with Priština) should continue.

Mitchell also said that Washington saw Serbia as the foundation of the entire Balkan region and was committed to cooperation and strengthening the partnership with Serbia.

Mitchell also met with the Serbian opposition and Vučić used that to present what he said was the opposition’s plot to remove him.

“Two of the opposition leaders have already told me what they talked about at the meeting with Mitchell. The topic was to let me deal with the Kosovo knot because we all know that Kosovo must gain independence. Give Vučić the ‘hot potato’ and then we’ll take him down over that,” said Vučić.

On March 12, the U.S. diplomat said in Priština that he had come to Kosovo to boost the Kosovo-Serbia talks and dismissed as untrue claims that he had brought a proposal for solving the problems between the two countries, which the media had speculated ahead of his visit.

Moscow immediately responded to Mitchell’s statements in Belgrade and Priština about the creation of Kosovo’s armed forces.

The creation of the armed forces of Kosovo, a structure which in no way comes close to being a proper state structure, further intensifies an already tense situation, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on March 15.

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