bne IntelliNews – Serbia and Kosovo leaders to meet as they pull back from the brink of conflict

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti have agreed to meet on August 18 in Brussels as part of the EU-mediated normalization dialogue, the foreign policy spokesman said. EU, Peter Stano, 5 August.

The meeting, the first between Vucic and Kurti this year, comes shortly after Belgrade and Pristina were on the brink of a serious dispute over Kosovo’s decision not to recognize Serbian identity documents. The move sparked tensions in northern Kosovo, populated mainly by ethnic Serbs.

Kosovo and Serbia have a history of strained relations following Kosovo’s war of independence, which ended with NATO strikes on Serbia in 1999 and Pristina’s secession from Serbia in 2008.

“I invite Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti on August 18 to Brussels, to discuss the way forward between Pristina and Belgrade,” EU High Representative Josep Borrell tweeted.

The Vucic-Kurti meeting will be held in the presence of Borrell and EU special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo, Miroslav Lajcak.

Lajcak previously announced that the meeting between Vucic and Kurti would take place in the second half of July, but it was postponed.

“The August 18 meeting in Brussels should advance the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade. It’s something that’s really needed at the top level because we haven’t had such a meeting for some time,” Stano said.

The spokesperson did not specify what issues will be raised at the meeting, but said: “When it comes to issues relating to the rule of law, international prosecutions or dealing with issues of the past, this is being addressed at the appropriate level and at the appropriate time with our partners both in Kosovo and in Serbia.

Kosovo’s controversial introduction of reciprocity measures – the issuance of temporary identity cards to replace ethnic Serbs’ travel documents issued by neighboring Serbian authorities – was due to take place on August 1. The measures were officially announced on June 29, prompting an angry reaction from Serbian officials. The situation escalated on July 31, a day before the measure was implemented, as ethnic Serbs began blocking roads leading to the border several hours before the new measures took effect.

Serbian officials said the new rules on replacing identity cards and license plates of local Serbs represent another step towards the expulsion of Kosovo’s Serb population. The measures also require vehicles with Serbian license plates that want to cross the border to have a sticker to hide national symbols and state designation. This mechanism will be valid until October 31, 2022. Ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo should get new license plates with the Kosovo country code RKS, which is not accepted by Serbia, instead of the code KS.

After consulting with EU and US officials, Kurti announced on July 31 that Kosovo was prepared to postpone the decision until September 1, if the barricades are removed.

However, the decision was not only implemented at the Jarinje and Brnjak crossing points, where barricades were erected and then removed, but also applies to other crossing points.

Vucic said after tensions eased that “the most difficult scenario” in Kosovo had been narrowly avoided.

“We were one step away from disaster,” Vucic said.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on July 29 that what is happening in Kosovo is the result of Kurti’s unilateral measures.

“Serbia did nothing to trigger this crisis. On the contrary, it is the epilogue of years of mistreatment of Serbs in Kosovo and failure to respect international agreements,” she said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged Kosovo and Serbia to “maintain calm” and “avoid unilateral action” following tensions on Kosovo’s northern border.

In a phone conversation with Vucic about the tensions on Aug. 3, Stoltenberg said all parties needed to constructively engage in dialogue with the EU and resolve differences through diplomacy.

“NATO-KFOR is ready to intervene if stability is threatened, based on its UN mandate,” Stoltenberg said.

With Moscow backing Serbia in its refusal to recognize Kosovo’s independence, the unresolved situation between Serbia and Kosovo is seen as one of the major potential flashpoints in the Western Balkans.

On August 2, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova urged the US and EU to stop encouraging Kosovo “radicals” to provoke Serbs in Kosovo and Serbia.

“Until the West realizes that the threat of undermining the fragile stability in the Balkan region is very real, dangerous experiments will continue. The responsibility lies entirely with the West and, above all, with Washington,” Zakharova said.

The latest progress of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue was observed in the field of energy issues with the adoption of a roadmap on the implementation of energy agreements.

The conclusion of a comprehensive agreement, which for Kosovo means recognition by Serbia, is an essential condition for the two countries to progress on the road to the EU. Serbia is already engaged in the process of EU accession negotiations, while Kosovo plans to apply for EU membership by the end of the year.

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