In a joint letter endorsed by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as counterparts from Germany, the U.K., Ukraine, and other nations, concerns are raised over the insufficient pressure being exerted on Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic by U.S. and European Union (EU) negotiators.
Decades of disagreement between Serbia and Kosovo, marked by a war in 1998-99 that resulted in significant casualties, have led to Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence in 2008, which remains unrecognized by Belgrade.
Dutch EU lawmaker Thijs Reuten, a signatory of the letter, expressed that the seriousness of the situation involving leaders like Vucic and Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has been underestimated by the EU and allies. Incidents, such as attacks on NATO peacekeepers, have been escalating since Serbs boycotted municipal elections in the northern region of Kosovo in April.
The letter, directed to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, and U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, highlights these concerns and emphasizes that the current approach is leading to a deteriorating situation that jeopardizes regional peace and the ongoing Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.
Despite the EU’s role as a neutral facilitator in the dialogue, Borrell’s team leads discussions aimed at normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo, with the U.S. also playing a significant role. The recent emergency talks in June between Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti ended inconclusively.
The lawmakers stressed the necessity of revising the current approach and avoiding a policy centered solely on Belgrade. They noted a lack of balanced pressure on Serbia over peacekeeper attacks and the detention of Kosovo police. The diplomatic response, they argued, lacks fairness in addressing such escalating events.
While Vucic interpreted the letter as aimed at him personally, he stated that it is directed against Serbia due to his refusal to recognize Kosovo’s independence. He also emphasized his advocacy for the rights of Serbian people in neighboring regions.
Vucic, once an ultranationalist, now seeks Serbia’s entry into the EU. Despite his ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he has yet to impose sanctions on Russia for its conflict with Ukraine, raising concerns of Moscow’s influence in the region.
There are growing concerns that potential manipulation by Moscow could reignite ethnic conflicts in the Balkans, which experienced devastating wars in the 1990s during the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kurti of Kosovo has presented challenges for negotiators, and minimal progress has been achieved in improving relations since he took office in 2021.