Expected Council Action
In April, the Security Council is expected to hold its first briefing this year on the situation in Kosovo. The new Special Representative and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Caroline Ziadeh, will brief on recent developments and the latest report of the Secretary-General. Serbia is expected to participate under rule 37 and Kosovo under rule 39 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
Key Recent Developments
On 15 January, the parliament of Kosovo decreed that it would no longer allow Serbs living in Kosovo to vote in Serbian elections and referendums within Kosovo, effectively discontinuing the long-standing practice of allowing the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to collect the ballots of eligible Serbian voters in Kosovo and send them to tallying centres in Serbia. During Serbia’s 16 January national referendum on constitutional amendments aimed at judicial reform, Serbs residing in Kosovo were only permitted to vote by mail or in Belgrade’s liaison office in Pristina.
At a 20 January meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council, Permanent Representative of the US to the OSCE Michael Carpenter commended Serbia for organising the referendum as a “significant step towards depoliticizing Serbia’s judiciary in alignment with European standards” which, he added, would “support Serbia’s EU accession process”. While Carpenter acknowledged Kosovo’s right to set the terms by which elections of other states are conducted within its territory, he said that the US had hoped that Pristina would continue to allow the OSCE to assist Serbs living in Kosovo to vote in Serbian elections.
This issue has recently resurfaced, as Serbia’s general elections are set to take place on 3 April. On 18 March, Prime Minister Albin Kurti of Kosovo said that the 15 January parliamentary decision was not intended to “make it impossible” for “citizens of Kosovo who may be bearers of Serbian passports to exercise their right to vote”. Instead, Kurti insisted that Belgrade enter into an agreement with Pristina on holding elections within its territory that is in line with “the legality and constitutionality of the country”. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence and continues to refer to it as an autonomous province. On 22 March, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić threatened to impose “restrictive measures” on Kosovo for restricting Serbian citizens’ right to vote.
In a joint statement issued on 23 March, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the US—collectively known as the Quint—expressed “great disappointment” in Pristina for failing to “demonstrate its commitment to the principle of protecting the civil and political rights of all its citizens, including of members of minority groups”.
In the northern Kosovo cities of Mitrovica and Gračanica, hundreds of ethnic Serbs protested on 25 March following the suspension of the head of the Mitrovica Basic Court, Liljana Stevanovic, for attending a meeting with Vučić in Belgrade. According to media reports, protesters demanded that Kurti reverse the 15 January decision. The Quint countries issued a statement on the same day expressing “concern at the risk of escalation or violence”.
Meanwhile, the EU-facilitated talks between Belgrade and Pristina have been at an impasse since mid-2021. After a nine-month hiatus in high-level talks, Vučić and Kurti met on 15 June and 19 July 2021 under the auspices of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák. Following the meeting, the two leaders indicated that their positions remained far apart.
Relations between Belgrade and Pristina have remained generally stable since the Council’s last briefing on 15 October 2021. However, the war in Ukraine has raised concerns about geopolitical tensions reverberating to the Western Balkans. At a press conference on 27 February, Borrell said that Russian influence “will have an impact on the Western Balkans”, adding that countries in that region should align their foreign policy with the EU.
In a 24 February statement posted on Twitter, Kurti expressed Kosovo’s full support for NATO and the EU in condemning Russia’s aggression and called for “vigilance and soberness in the [Western Balkans]”. Pristina has long been concerned about Russia’s influence in the region. On 22 October 2021, President Vjosa Osmani of Kosovo declared two Russian officials personae non grata, saying that Kosovo’s institutions were determined to “fight against the malign influence of [Russia] and [its] satellites in the region”.
EU member states and the US have also expressed concern that Russia may seek to destabilise Kosovo. At a press briefing during the Munich Security Conference, held from 18 to 20 February, Osmani suggested that Russia might use Serbia, its close ally, to destabilise the Western Balkans. This sentiment was echoed by the European Parliament, which adopted a resolution on 1 March noting with grave concern Russia’s persistent efforts at destabilising Western Balkan countries and regretting “Serbia’s non-alignment with EU sanctions against Russia which damages its EU accession process”.
Kosovo and its Western allies have taken steps to minimise the potential escalation of tensions in the region. On 28 February, Pristina banned the broadcasting of Russian television channels. On 14 March, the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) announced that it would temporarily deploy an additional 92 officers of the European Gendarmerie Force (EUROGENDFOR) to reinforce the capacity of the existing EULEX police unit.
Kosovo has also renewed its calls for NATO membership. In a 27 February Facebook post, Kosovo’s minister of defence, Armend Mehaj, said that “accelerating Kosovo’s membership in NATO and having a permanent base of American forces is an immediate need to guarantee peace, security and stability in the Western Balkans”. In a 10 March letter to US President Joe Biden, Osmani stressed that Kosovo’s NATO membership “has become an imperative” and requested Washington to “use its leadership and influence to actively support and advance the complex process of NATO membership for Kosovo”.
The EU’s united position against Russia has reignited momentum for granting EU membership to Western Balkan countries. On 11 March, Lajčák said on Twitter that “the current geopolitical situation confirms the urgency and importance of full EU integration in the Western Balkans”. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock recently visited the Western Balkans, including Kosovo, on 10 March, and underlined her resolve to convey a message that Europe will not allow the region to fall under Russian influence.
From 13 to 16 March, Borrell visited the Western Balkans. In a 20 March blog post titled “Time to move forward on EU integration in the Western Balkans”, Borrell maintained that “Russia’s insidious and well-documented disinformation campaigns” have increased substantially since Russia launched its military offensive in Ukraine. He also recognised frustrations in the region “at delays in moving forward on the EU path” and reaffirmed “the EU’s commitment to support the Western Balkans even more and to take forward the region’s future in the EU”.
Key Issues and Options
The Council’s main priority is to maintain stability in Kosovo. It will continue to monitor diplomatic efforts to advance the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, as well as obstacles and potential roadblocks to that end.
The delay in implementing existing agreements within the framework of the EU-facilitated dialogue, including the establishment of an association of Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo, remains a key issue for the Council.
Another important issue is curtailing the spill-over of geopolitical tensions stemming from the war in Ukraine into Kosovo. Given the lack of progress in the EU-facilitated dialogue, Council members could consider pursuing a presidential statement urging both parties to re-engage in diplomatic talks and to consider a joint peace declaration that would renounce the threat or use of force against one another.
Council members are united in supporting the EU-facilitated dialogue to establish conditions for the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Members also share the expectation that both sides will engage without preconditions and in good faith, implement existing agreements, and refrain from actions and rhetoric that may increase tensions.
Nevertheless, deep divisions among permanent members have continued to characterise the Council’s approach to the issue. While Kosovo has typically remained a low-intensity issue for the Council, heightened geopolitical tensions from the war in Ukraine, especially between Russia and the US, are likely to raise its profile in the Council. Among the five permanent Council members, France, the UK and the US recognise Kosovo’s independence and tend to be supportive of its government; China and Russia do not recognise its independence and strongly support Serbia’s position and its territorial integrity. Five elected members (Albania, Gabon, Ireland, Norway and the United Arab Emirates) recognise Kosovo’s independence, while five (Brazil, Ghana, India, Kenya, and Mexico) do not.
As a neighbouring state, Albania has a particular interest in the situation in Kosovo. Ethnic Albanians account for over 90 percent of Kosovo’s population. The unification of Albania and Kosovo has been a widely discussed topic that enjoys considerable support from both sides. According to a poll conducted by the Open Society Foundation in 2019, about 75 percent of Albanians and 64 percent of Kosovo’s citizens support unification.
UN DOCUMENTS ON KOSOVO
|Security Council Resolutions|
|10 June 1999S/RES/1244||This resolution authorised NATO to secure and enforce the withdrawal of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia forces from Kosovo and established UNMIK.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|15 October 2021S/PV.8880||This was a meeting on the situation in Kosovo|