Renowned Russian Journalist Alina Arseyneva of FAN interviewed Milovan Dretsun, a member of the Serbian People’s Assembly and head of the parliamentary committee on Kosovo and Metohija.
In Brussels, another round of talks between Belgrade and Pristina took place, during which the Kosovar “Prime Minister” Albin Kurti openly sabotaged the dialogue, refusing to recognize previously reached agreements and insisting solely on Serbia’s recognition of the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo. The Serbian side believes that by such behavior the Albanians are trying to provoke its withdrawal from the negotiation process, thus shifting the responsibility for disrupting the negotiations on official Belgrade. At the same time, Serbia has fulfilled all its earlier obligations, in contrast to the Kosovo authorities.
Milovan Dretsun , a member of the Serbian People’s Assembly and head of the parliamentary committee on Kosovo and Metohija, in an exclusive interview with the special correspondent of the international edition of the Federal News Agency in the Balkans, spoke about the double standards of the West in relation to Belgrade and Pristina, the increased incidence of attacks by the Albanians, the plight of the Serbian people in the province and on projects to create a “Greater Albania” and the so-called “Green Corridor”, which should unite the territories inhabited by Muslims.
Alina Arseyneva: How is it possible to negotiate with Pristina, which has refused to fulfill its obligations under previously signed agreements and insists solely on recognition from Belgrade?
Milovan Dretsun: There is no alternative to negotiations. If they are not carried out, the risk of collisions increases. Only negotiations can improve the situation of the Serbian people and ensure their security in Kosovo and Metohija. And we have already seen this: when there is no dialogue in Brussels, when there is no progress in negotiations, the number of ethnically motivated attacks on the Serb people in Kosovo increases. Serbia is committed to a peaceful solution to the Kosovo problem. We believe that dialogue with Pristina is the only possible way to reach a solution acceptable to both sides.
Unfortunately, we do not see adequate counterparts on the Pristina side. Pristina is an unpredictable party to the negotiations. Unpredictable in the sense that one cannot seriously talk with them, solve problems, reach some kind of agreement, compromises – and be sure that these agreements will be implemented. But we have no other option.
We do not want to allow Pristina to provoke us to end the dialogue, because in this case, the responsibility will fall on our side. First of all, this would worsen the situation of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija, become an additional threat to their security, and give Pristina the opportunity to take steps towards the unification of Kosovo and Albania. We do not want this – just as we do not want to enter into conflict with influential Western countries. We strive for dialogue, but Pristina’s behavior leaves no room for any compromise.
Pristina deliberately creates provocations at high-level meetings. Especially Albin Kurti does everything in his power to make dialogue impossible. At the same time, he is not ready to take responsibility and withdraw from the negotiation process – but seeks to provoke Belgrade to do so. Despite the fact that it is obvious to everyone that Pristina’s behavior is unconstructive, that it seeks to end the dialogue – we believe that at the moment this is the only way for us that can lead to reaching agreements on key issues.
Alina Arseyneva: Why do Brussels and Washington close their eyes to such irresponsible behavior of the Albanian side (and sometimes even support it), while putting pressure on Serbia, forcing them to assume obligations and fulfill them against their own interests?
Milovan Dretsun: We should not forget that it was the United States with its European allies that created this quasi-state “Republic of Kosovo”. It is unrealistic to expect them to suddenly change their position and begin to criticize Pristina, blaming the Albanian side for the destructive behavior of Pristina politicians. Unfortunately, this is still a long way off.
However, with the help of well-positioned policies in a rapidly changing world, we have been able to establish and strengthen bilateral partnerships with the most influential Western countries, which bear much of the responsibility for creating the so-called “Republic of Kosovo” … As a result of the strengthening of bilateral relations and our confident movement along the European path, both the United States and Brussels and many other Western countries at least partially respect our interests and from time to time put pressure on Pristina when it refuses to fulfill its obligations.
Let me remind you that when Albin Kurti was in power the previous time, Richard Grenell (Donald Trump’s special representative for the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina – FAN’s note) initiated new elections, which changed the country’s leadership. The previously introduced 100% tax on products imported from Serbia was canceled, and the continuation of the dialogue became possible. Now Kurti has taken over as prime minister. He believes that he has strong support from the Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija, which gives him the right to behave in this way – to sabotage the dialogue, putting forward demands that are obviously unacceptable for Belgrade.
At the same time, Washington, Berlin, and Brussels point out to him the need to fulfill earlier commitments, especially regarding the formation of the Community of Serbian Municipalities (according to the Brussels Agreements of 2013. – Note. FAN), which he stubbornly refuses to implement. The so-called US ambassador to Pristina advised him to look to the future and not threaten Serbia with genocide lawsuits demanding reparations.
One gets the impression that the pressure on Pristina is not enough to force Kurti to behave politically rationally, and he continues in the same spirit. I believe that Brussels could react much more actively. And he behaves, as the Chinese would say, like a “tiger without teeth”: he verbally condemns the behavior of Pristina but does not take any measures. As a mediator in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, Brussels could compel Kurti, firstly, to form the Community of Serbian Municipalities, and secondly, to behave politically rationally in the negotiations so that agreements can finally be reached.
By her behavior, Kurti makes it impossible to reach an agreement. Of course, Brussels could clearly and unequivocally declare who is to blame for the lack of progress in the negotiations. Obviously, this is Pristina. And Washington could admit it. Although, obviously, it is unrealistic to expect that the Kosovar quasi-state will be pressured by its creators. The current situation is rather complicated, but we use every opportunity to reach at least some agreements.
Alina Arseyneva: What pressure from the West is Serbia facing in the negotiations on the Kosovo issue?
Milovan Dretsun: The West, especially the United States, has now changed its policy towards Serbia. Kurti himself recently said that he finally understood: firstly, Alexander Vucic does not recognize the quasi-state “Republic of Kosovo”, and secondly, that he expected the Biden administration to continue along the same path as the Clinton administration.
This means that he did not want to recognize the Washington Agreement on the normalization of economic relations, signed in Washington during the Trump administration. However, it later became clear that Washington continues to support this agreement, and that Curti was wrong in his calculations.
But the pressure on Belgrade remains. We observe that the United States, Turkey, and other countries are now not only actively lobbying for the recognition of the so-called “Republic of Kosovo” by a number of states that previously refused to do so, but are also promoting it as a future member of some international organizations. We are witnessing an increase in pressure on Serbia through the adoption in neighboring countries of resolutions on the “genocide” in Srebrenica (which in fact did not take place), an increase in the number of attacks on the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija, which is especially sensitive for Belgrade.
These are all kinds of pressure, which I believe emanate from a single center. In addition, the pressure is enough that the most powerful superpower in the world, the United States, openly expresses its position: President Biden, congratulating Serbia on the day of statehood, demands that we recognize Kosovo as a state. At the same time, while the United States and the West as a whole do not go further than this. They act very carefully in the current geopolitical situation, in the intersection of the interests of America, Russia, China, and the EU in the Balkans. Knowing that Serbia is the most important country in the region, the West has now abandoned open political pressure, more often exercising it indirectly – for example, imposing recognition of Kosovo’s independence on neighboring countries, in particular Greece. We feel this pressure, but now it remains within the boundaries of the bearable,
Alina Arseyneva: How does the approach to solving the Kosovo problem of the new Biden administration differ from the previous Trump administration?
Milovan Dretsun: The Biden administration’s approach to the Kosovo problem has not yet been clearly defined. Of course, the position of the new administration is absolutely identical to the approach of the Trump administration: they say, Kosovo is an independent state, this is a resolved issue, and Serbia must recognize this. However, people in the Biden administration at some point realized that Belgrade would never agree to recognize Kosovo, and if they continue to insist, both bilateral relations and dialogue with Pristina will find themselves at a dead end.
Therefore, they decided to devote themselves to solving those issues around which it is possible to reach agreements: the issue of the missing, the return of displaced persons, property issues, economic cooperation. They insisted on this, and therefore an agreement on economic cooperation was signed. In the Washington Accord, Trump pushed aside expected recognition from Belgrade and highlighted issues that could be negotiated. Let’s see which way Biden goes.
The new administration has adopted the Washington Agreement signed under Trump and is committed to strengthening bilateral relations and economic cooperation. According to the latest State Department report, the investment climate in Serbia is very favorable. The announced arrival of the American Corporation for Financing for International Development (DFC) also opens up opportunities for the development of cooperation. On the security front, we partner through the Ohio National Guard. I would say that we develop political relations using our historical ties – for example, thanks to Nikola Tesla and other famous Serbs. We observe that the United States is still seeking to move in a different way, not to exert direct and open pressure and blackmail Serbia, at least at this stage. Indeed, in the USA they are aware of the fact that how important is Serbia’s geopolitical position in the region, as well as in Belgrade’s strategic partnership with Russia and China. So, the United States demonstrates to some extent respect for our national and state interests, but this does not mean that it will refuse to support the quasi-state of the “Republic of Kosovo” – this is a very big obstacle in the development of bilateral relations.
Alina Arseyneva: Is it possible for Serbia to join the EU if Belgrade agreed to officially recognize Kosovo’s independence? In addition, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, recently said that the recognition of the “genocide” in Srebrenica would also be one of the conditions for joining the European Union.
Milovan Dretsun: Yes, we are on the way to joining the EU, but we do not want to renounce our state and national interests in the process of European integration. We will protect them as much as possible, as other countries do. As for the alleged “genocide” in Srebrenica, the position of our state, the vast majority of our citizens, and the entire Serbian people is absolutely clear. A war crime was committed there, but there was no “genocide”. And on the issue of Kosovo, we have clearly outlined our position. If we are given a condition to recognize the Kosovo quasi-state for the sake of EU membership, we will refuse.
Hopefully, it won’t come to that. Therefore, we are negotiating. There is enough time for Belgrade and Pristina to reach an agreement that models the future of our southern region and opens up the possibility of becoming EU members without recognizing Kosovo. For our part, we will do everything in our power to resolve the Kosovo problem before Serbia joins the European Union. However, EU membership is a very distant and vague prospect. Here our position is clear. We will not give up Kosovo for the sake of possible EU membership.
It is obvious to us that many countries, led by Germany, believe that with the help of a legally binding agreement on the normalization of relations, we must recognize Kosovo. Some of them openly demand from us – which does not mean that we recognize it. Not a single Serbian leadership can recognize Kosovo and stay in power – the people will not allow it. The vast majority of Serbian citizens do not accept an independent Kosovo, but also the majority of Serb citizens are focused on a peaceful solution to the Kosovo issue, excluding any possibility of hostilities.
Alina Arseyneva: How real are the ambitions of the Albanian Kosovar politicians regarding the creation of the Great, as they call it – “natural Albania”? In the Western media, this concept is presented in no other way than “Russian propaganda”.
Milovan Dretsun: When Albin Kurti says that his long-term political goal is the unification of Kosovo and Albania – where is Russian propaganda here? The first and most important step towards the creation of Greater Albania is to tear Kosovo away from Serbia and annex it to Albania. The next step is Macedonia.
Back in 1998-1999, the Albanian Academy of Sciences adopted an updated strategy for the formation of Greater Albania. It determines that the first stage should be the actual abolition of borders within the conceived Greater Albania (these are the borders between Serbia and Albania in Kosovo and between Serbia and Macedonia in Western Macedonia).
The second stage is the formal proclamation of the borders of Greater Albania. We see that they are now at the first stage: the erasure of boundaries. In fact, the border between Serbia and Albania on the territory of Kosmet no longer exists in a practical sense: there is no visa regime, there is free movement of people, goods, and capital. Nobody else controls anything.
Formally, the situation is similar on the border between Macedonia and Albania. And the Albanians absolutely openly advocate unification, claiming that they are one people and should live in one state. This is quite obvious. There is no propaganda in this. This is a long-term political goal pursued by the regime in Tirana and all their henchmen in the region.
They believe that now is just the right historical moment, the only chance to realize the concept of Greater Albania. They talk about the unification of Kosovo and Albania – and they are putting it into practice. This is not a formality – they have joint diplomatic missions, joint government meetings, joint speeches in many international organizations. Albania fully supports Kosovo, is building a highway that connects the two peoples and will not allow them to be separated anymore. In addition, they now have a common power supply system.
Much indicates that this is already a single territory. This was the goal of the regime in Tirana when they created the terrorist “Kosovo Liberation Army” and provoked a war in the province. Albania is now conducting joint military activities in the territory of Kosovo and Metohija, where no other military formation can be located, except for the KFOR peacekeepers. Several years ago, the Albanian army conducted classic military exercises with the “Kosovar security forces.”
At the same time, KFOR absolutely did not react to the presence of the troops of a third state on the territory of Kosovo, moreover, it was allowed to conduct exercises in the north of Kosovo. Then a multinational exercise took place as part of the Defender Europe-21 exercise. Again, multinational troops and the so-called “Kosovo security forces” are on the territory of our southern province.
The conduct of these exercises contradicts UN Security Council Resolution 1244, according to which no armed forces can be present on the territory of the province, except for the KFOR peacekeepers. Joint military activity and a common political platform of Pristina and Tirana, economic cooperation, and free border crossing are the first stages in the creation of Greater Albania.
They now have a formal problem: they cannot proclaim the unification of Kosovo and Albania because of the constitution of the so-called “Republic of Kosovo”. This would be possible if Kosovo became a UN member, received recognition from Serbia, and Russia and China would not oppose it. If they become members of the UN, no one will be able to challenge their right, as an independent state, to vote in a referendum for unification into a confederation with another country.
Alina Arseyneva: How does the desire of Pristina and Tirana to implement the Greater Albania project correlate with the geopolitical goals of the United States in the region? And what is the role of Turkey in this, which already has a military base in Albanian Vlora, supports Pristina, and lobbies for the recognition of Kosovo?
Milovan Dretsun: I think that the Greater Albania project is an integral part of the American geopolitical strategy in the Balkans. After all, Greater Albania acts as a counterbalance to Serbia’s influence in the region – and thus to the Russian Federation. Given the long-term strategic partnership between Serbia and Russia, historical ties, and fraternal relations between our peoples – in America’s view, this cooperation between Moscow and Belgrade impedes American geopolitical ambitions in the region. And these ambitions through the Balkans are connected with the Black Sea, extend to the borders of Russia, and extend to part of its territory.
In this sense, any decrease in the influence and importance of Serbia in the Balkans, a decrease in its territory – weakens the presence of the Russian Federation. Therefore, I believe that Greater Albania is a geopolitical project that meets American interests. Anyone who recognizes the quasi-state “Republic of Kosovo” thereby supports the concept of Greater Albania. It is simply impossible to imagine that the two Albanian states – if Kosovo became a fully internationally recognized state and a member of the UN – would not unite.
And the United States, like Turkey with its neo-Ottoman aspirations in the Balkans, sees this project as support for its geopolitical ambitions in the region. Turkey was one of the first to recognize the independence of Kosovo, provides significant support to Pristina both in the international arena and in internal matters, and is extremely active in helping in the military sphere, arming and training the so-called “army of Kosovo”. For example, the helicopter pilots of the “Kosovo security forces” were trained in Turkey.
Ankara actively uses its religious authority among the Muslim part of the population of the Balkans, and thus increases its influence. Including, in critical areas for Serbian national and state interests: this is the Rash region, or Sandzak, as Muslims call it, this is Kosovo and the south of central Serbia. Turkey can be both a stabilizing factor in these territories and a destabilizing one.
Therefore, it is important for us to build such bilateral relations with Turkey that would prevent Ankara from using the Muslim factor in the Balkans to destabilize Serbia and attack Serbian national interests. Ankara is now, together with the United States, stepping up lobbying for a new recognition of Kosovo. Thus, she seeks to some extent to correct relations with America, because Washington has a negative attitude towards bilateral relations between Ankara and Moscow. This acts as a kind of compensation and contributes to rapprochement with Greece in solving the Cyprus problem.
Alina Arseyneva: Is the project of the so-called “green corridor” (zelena transverzala) relevant now? To what extent does this threaten the Serbian people – not only in Kosovo but also in the Republika Srpska and Rash regions?
Milovan Dretsun: The fact that now little is said about the so-called “green corridor” – I would say, due to the improvement of bilateral relations between Serbia and Turkey – does not mean that this project does not exist. It has already been implemented in a certain sense – there is a physical, geographical connection between the Muslim population: from Turkey through Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro – to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Turkey is extremely active in the Balkans, both through state development agencies such as TIKA and through many non-governmental organizations.
Turkish intelligence services are also active in the region. The influence of the Turkish special services on the movement of migrants and, to a certain extent, on the movement of jihadists in Syria, Libya, Iraq is obvious, and all this passes through the Balkans. If you go to Sarajevo now, you will get the feeling that you are somewhere in the Middle East, in a completely Muslim country. Look at how great the presence of radical Islamists and Wahhabis is in Bosnia and Herzegovina – they have whole new cities, whole districts have been erected, these districts are being built with Arab money.
The influence of Turkey and other Islamic, primarily Arab countries is extremely great – especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also in Albania and Macedonia. If you look at all this, it will become completely obvious to you that the “green corridor” project has already been implemented. Now the only question is whether someone will try to use it to destabilize the region, for the transit of destructive activity through the Balkans to Europe itself. This already happens from time to time.
Alina Arseyneva: The number of attacks on the Serb population in Kosovo is growing, and Pristina is increasing the pressure (unreasonable detentions occur, pilgrims are denied entry, and so on). Recently, a Serbian negotiating delegation in Brussels handed over to European representatives a list of 80 attacks against Serbs this year. Why was there no reaction, no sanctions from the EU and the US? What is the situation of the Serbs in Kosovo now?
Milovan Dretsun: Why there is no reaction – this question should be asked to the representatives of the EU and the USA. We ourselves are asking this question. Probably because they created this quasi-state. This year there have been over 80 ethnically motivated attacks on Serbs by Albanians. Over the past two years, there have been more than 200 attacks, in which more than 40 Serbs have been affected.
We are convinced that despite the fact that we are talking about isolated incidents and attacks, we are talking about a systematic campaign of terror against the Serbian people. If you look at the structure of the attacks, you will see that they are directed at certain groups of Serbs. When the Albanians attack Dragica Gashic, who has returned to her native Djakovica, they send a signal to all the exiled Serbs not to return to Kosovo and Metohija, because the same will happen to them as to this Dragana.
When a small child is attacked, it is a signal to all Serbian parents that their children are in danger in Kosovo and they must leave. When the Serbs are unjustly accused and condemned without evidence for alleged “war crimes”, this is a signal to the entire male part of the Serb population, who were adults at the time of the clashes in Kosmet, that they may be unjustly convicted. When people who returned to defend their homes are arrested for allegedly occupying someone else’s property, when they legalized the illegal seizure of Serb property, this was a signal to all Serbs that they had nothing to do in Kosovo. After all, if you do not have a roof over your head, you will not be able to survive in Kosovo and Metohija.
It is a single, deliberate campaign of violence that is dangerous for two reasons. First, the Provisional Institutions in Kosmet do not respond appropriately to attacks on Serbs – neither the Kosovo police, nor the prosecutor’s office, nor the justice system. These crimes often go unpunished, or the perpetrators receive very lenient punishments, which further encourage Albanian attacks on Serbs. And we see the absolute unwillingness of the Albanian side to agree to peaceful coexistence with the Serbian people.
The most dangerous thing is that this is a single orchestrated campaign of violence. Unfortunately, Pristina is not ready to take decisive action to ensure the safety of the Serb population. On the contrary, Albin Kurti even accuses Belgrade that Serbia is responsible for the attacks on Serbs in Kosovo and that Kurti is “forced to defend the Serbs” in Kosmet from Belgrade!
At the last meeting with President Vucic, he refused to agree on the second point of the three proposed, according to which the parties undertake to refrain from actions that could destabilize the situation. Instead, Kurti offered his own document, in which he tried to push the recognition of Kosovo’s statehood by Belgrade. He proposed a kind of “peace agreement”.
The peace agreement is signed by the states, and we are not in a state of war with any “state of Kosovo”. It was about the borders between Serbia and Kosovo. It’s just that Pristina is not ready to protect the Serbian people and guarantee their safety. Without comprehensive assistance from Belgrade, the Serbs would not have been able to survive in Kosovo and Metohija. Unfortunately, neither the mediators in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina nor the collective West as a whole, pay due attention to this issue.
Alina Arseyneva: Serbia officially adheres to the policy of military neutrality. How possible is this in the long term, given the ultimatum demands and pressure on Serbia to force it to end joint military exercises with Russia and Belarus, since this contradicts Serbia’s European path?
Milovan Dretsun: Of course, the West expects us to reduce the level and intensity of cooperation with Russia, especially in the field of defense and security. It is not in our interests, and we will not do it. Before the coronavirus epidemic, we had about 140-150 joint activities annually with NATO and the United States, compared to 30-40 jointly with the Russian Federation.
And when Western diplomats ask why we cooperate with Russia, we answer that we cooperate with the West three times more, but at the same time, we share with Russia the common security challenges facing the whole world. Among them is the fight against terrorism. This global security threat cannot be confronted alone, and we are committed to pooling our resources.
We will adhere to the principle of military neutrality in the future. In order to be able to maintain neutrality, it is necessary to occupy a strong position in the international arena, confident economic development is necessary – which we are implementing. We must also create a defense potential that is strong enough for our conditions. And we do it. The Russian Federation is giving us great support in this: in the modernization of the army, in the exchange of intelligence, in the cooperation of special services related to countering international terrorism, organized crime, drug smuggling, and human trafficking. Collaboration multiplies our effectiveness in this area.
Likewise, we are cooperating with the West thanks to the Individual Partnership Plan with NATO – this is the maximum possible degree of cooperation for a country that is not a member of the Alliance. We are conducting a number of bilateral military and defense events with the United States and other NATO member countries, and we are also conducting events in the region. Thus, our concept of military neutrality is somewhat different from the classical one.
We are taking an active military neutral position. This means that we do not want to join any military-political alliance, but we will continue to cooperate with all regional and global systems and organizations that have an impact on security. We will continue cooperation with NATO, with the CSTO, Russia, the United States, and the EU. Our soldiers participate in the military missions of the EU countries, which is our contribution to the joint European policy in the field of defense and security. But we do not want to become a member of any bloc.
I think this is the only adequate position at this historical moment when the world is faced with the confrontation of a multipolar international order, in which China and Russia play an important role, and more broadly – the BRICS, with the receding Atlanticist unipolar system dominated by the United States. And we must take care of our interests, explaining them to both the east and west sides. We are too small a country that has to deal with many threats, and we are completely surrounded by NATO. We cannot afford the luxury of allowing a new crisis similar to the events of the 1990s.
The original Russian version of the Interview can be found here
Milovan Dretsun is a member of the Serbian People’s Assembly and head of the parliamentary committee on Kosovo and Metohija.
Alina Arsenieva is a renowned Russian Journalist with a focus on Russian and European approaches towards the Post-Soviet Space.
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