Okay, so Kosovo is likely to declare some sort of independence in the near future.
“Some sort” covers a lot of ground, but it will be something formally unacceptable to Serbia, and thus to Russia. The negotiations have another three weeks to run, but it’s clear they’re going nowhere; the Kosovar Albanians want independence, and Serbia will never agree to that. So, at some point the knot will have to be cut.
Okay, what happens next?
Former US Ambassador to Serbia William Montgomery has some ideas. I disagree, and I’m willing to stick my neck out a little.
Some fisking follows. If you’re not interested in Serbia and Kosovo, jump now!
I agree completely with Montgomery’s opening paragraphs, about Serbia’s ruling coalition:
G17 Plus wants to improve the countryâ€™s international financial position and its overall economic underpinnings.
DS is trying to move Serbia towards full integration in the Euro-Atlantic institutions and more importantly, have Serbia perceived as a normal European country, sharing a common system of values.
DSS remains focused on Serbian national questions such as Kosovo and Bosnia. The rivalries and animosity among these three parties is far stronger and more evident than towards either the Socialist or Radical Parties, which would logically be their political and philosophical opposition.
The end result is a government with major internal contradictions; â€œfiefdomsâ€ exclusively controlled by individual parties; a patronage system where party loyalty rates far higher than competence, honesty or effectiveness; stalled reforms; and lack of coordination in public statements which results in contradictory messages to the outside world.
Just so. After that, however, I think he heads off into mouth-breathing Serb Menace land. For instance:
The DSS has already taken steps to demonstrate that there will be serious regional repercussions in the event of Kosovo independence. A major initiative in this regard was to link the date of elections for the Serbian President to events in Kosovo.
In other words, the DSS has deliberately taken steps which make it far more possible that the next President of Serbia will be from the Radical Party. They are sending a message to the International Community that this is one of the potential downsides of unilateral recognition of Kosovo Independence.
Meh. What DSS is really doing here is signalling to its coalition partners that it would be willing to join a government with the Radicals. Since DSS has been sending these signals since the elections nearly a year ago, this is not exactly shocking. The only questions are whether anyone will ever find the nerve to call their bluff; and if so, whether they’re really bluffing.
A Radical President? Unlikely. Current President Boris Tadic is one of the most popular… no, that’s not right. One of the least unpopular politicians in Serbia. He had little difficulty defeating Radical Party leader Tomislav Nikolic three years ago. Nikolic will probably be the rival candidate again, and will probably be beaten again.
The second step which the Prime Minister and his party has taken is to support aggressively the Bosnian Serb leadership in its protests over measures taken by the High Representative to facilitate the work of the Bosnian Parliament and Council of Ministers.
This was accompanied by a coordinated media campaign reminiscent of the MiloÅ¡eviÄ‡ years. This was intentionally done to present a case of the International Community mistreating Serbs not only in Kosovo, but also in Bosnia.
True. And it’s kind of sad how willing most of Serbia’s media has been to swing into line on this. But not really relevant; protests from Belgrade are going to have little effect on events in either Bosnia or Kosovo.
The end result was to solidify, at least in the minds of the Serbs, a definite linkage between the two cases. It raises the possibility that any unilateral declaration by the Kosovo Albanians of independence could lead either to further Bosnian Serb challenges to the authority of the High Representative or even an effort to stage a referendum on independence for the Republika Srpska.
I think this is possible, though not likely. RS leaders have been muttering about a referendum for a while now.
Problem is, this would blow up Dayton, and give the international community an excuse for reorganizing Bosnia. Of course, that in turn would drastically escalate matters, so maybe not.
But on yet another hand, the status quo in Bosnia isn’t too bad for the RS leaders… they’re autonomous, and not for from de facto independent. The current High Commissioner can hassle them, but he isn’t changing the balance of power. I have trouble seeing them want to take a wild gamble like a referendum.
Thirdly, the DSS has taken the lead in visibly cozying up to Russia. This includes claims that the Westâ€™s purpose in supporting Kosovo Albanian independence is to create a â€œNATO Stateâ€ in the Balkans and other NATO bashing. The obvious intent is to show that the end result of Kosovo independence would be a Serbia far, far closer to Russia and more distant from the EU.
Really. The whole “we’re going to jump into bed with Russia!” thing doesn’t resonate anywhere outside of Serbia. This is not a meaningful threat. You want to join Russia? Knock yourself out, guys. Welcome to Kaliningrad South.
Finally, even though the government has been careful to avoid any overt signs of support, the announced formation of a â€œSt. Tsar Lazar Guardâ€ composed of Serbian volunteers to fight to defend Kosovo in the event of an unilateral declaration of independence is obviously designed to raise the possibility of paramilitary units going into Kosovo as they did in Bosnia and Croatia in 1990-95.
I don’t think the current government is dumb enough to let these guys actually do anything; and if they are, I don’t think the international community would be dumb enough to let them get away with it. People do still remember the 1990s.
The hope of the DSS is that these threats and actions will be sufficient to scare key EU countries such as Germany so that they defer any action on Kosovo. At least as of today, however, it appears as if the majority of EU countries (including all of the â€œheavy hittersâ€ with the support and encouragement of the United States has decided to proceed regardless of the potential consequences.
Since these threats and actions aren’t all that scary, this isn’t surprising. — Mind, it would be interesting to see an up-to-date nose count of who stands where on Kosovo. German seems to be tipping towards recognition, but does anyone have more on that?
In fact, it unfortunately seems that many in the West are beginning to view Serbia, as during the MiloÅ¡eviÄ‡ years, as a destabilizing factor in the region. The â€œhoneymoonâ€ following the downfall of MiloÅ¡eviÄ‡ is definitely over.
I’d say that’s true. It’s also a little unfair, since Serbia has a real grievance with Kosovo. But in terms of perception, yeah, the current Serb leadership is reminding a lot of people of the bad old dies. Croat President Stipe Mesic said this in a speech just the other day; since Mesic isn’t usually a big Serb-basher, it’s worth taking notice.
The question then becomes, exactly what will Serbia do in the event of unilateral independence. My best guess is as follows:
Duelling guesses! Woo hoo!
a) A contingency plan has already been worked out with Kosovo Serbs so that they will react immediately in rejecting any unilateral declaration of independence.
Serbian-controlled areas will be established in Kosovo similar to those set up in Bosnia and Croatia sixteen years ago
Maybe. If so, this will only be in the northern, Serb-dominated part of Kosovo. The Serb enclaves in the south are too small to make this possible.
b) At least some â€œvolunteersâ€ from Serbia proper will go to help the Kosovo Serbs. The government will take a hands-off position and claim that it had nothing to do with it.
See above. I don’t think this will happen.
c) The Bosnian Serbs will be encouraged to further challenge the High Representative, possibly even with a referendum initiative.
They may be encouraged, but I’ll be surprised if they actually do it.
d) Large protest rallies will be staged in many cities in Serbia.
Whoop ti doo.
e) Efforts will be made in Parliament and in the media to significantly downgrade relations with countries which recognize Kosovo independence.
What, like Serbia’s major trading partners Italy and Germany?
I think “efforts will be made”, sure. There will probably be an outburst of anti-Americanism, in particular. And Germany has been a whipping boy of Serb nationalism since dirt was new. But I don’t think it will have much effect. What are they going to do, break off relations?
f) Serbia will renounce any responsibility for its debts in Kosovo with international financial institutions.
Umm. Any version of Kosovar independence is likely to include saddling Kosovo with some debt (though the Kosovars will vigorously resist, of course). But how is Serbia supposed to square “Kosovo is still part of Serbia!” with “but we renounce all debts”?
g) Serbia will close its boundaries with Kosovo for all traffic other than those with Serbian license plates and review its transit agreements with KFOR/NATO.
This might happen briefly. It’s very unlikely to stick. A blockade would cripple Kosovo’s economy (the overland connections to Macedonia and Albania are pretty bad), but it would inflict a lot of pain on Serbia too. The economies of southern Serbia and Kosovo are tightly interconnected — much to the irritation of both Serb and Albanian nationalists. Since Kosovo is on the euro, and runs a big trade deficit with Serbia, it’s an important source of hard currency. And the parts of Serbia that are exporting most to Kosovo are exactly the parts that are the strongest supporters of DSS.
h) Serbia will consider cutting off its supply of electrical energy to Kosovo.
“Will consider”? What kind of a prediction is that? Here’s my prediction: they won’t pull the plug.
i) Serbia even now will encourage Russia to use the renewal of the EUFOR Mission in Bosnia in the UN Security, which is scheduled for December, to extract unacceptable concessions in exchange for its support.
They may “encourage”, but it won’t work. Note that Russia has made noises about Bosnia — they’re very critical of the current High Rep — but has yet to even suggest concrete action there.
j) Serbia will do some â€œsaber-rattlingâ€ by ostentatiously moving military units closer to the boundary with Kosovo and reinforcing the police units currently there.
Police, maybe. Military, no.
k) There may well be some highly-publicized departure of Kosovo Serbs, primarily from the more southern enclaves.
No “may well” about it; some Kosovar Serbs will leave.
But not many. Most everyone who was going to leave has already. The ones who are left are either fanatically devoted to the land, so poor they have nothing to lose, or both. (Talking about the enclaves here, not the north.)
What this adds up to is “not much”. There’s just not a lot Serbia can do here. Obviously they’ll refuse to recognize Kosovo, and obviously Russia will make as much diplomatic profit from the affair as possible. (Most notably by connecting Kosovo to Russia’s own “frozen conflicts” — if the Kosovars can do this, why not the Abkhaz?) But Serbia itself… well, what are they going to do? Elect a Radical government? Join Russia?
So, here’s my prediction: Kosovo will get some sort of independence, Belgrade and Moscow will cry foul, there will be a certain amount of huffing and puffing… and then, not much. The borders will stay open; the lights will stay on. The medium-term effect will be to create a sort of Balkan Taiwan, recognized by some states but not by others.
We’ll find out soon enough, won’t we.
Predictions! Anyone else want to try?