Expected Council Action
In October, the Security Council is expected to hold its second briefing this year on the situation in Kosovo. Special Representative and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Caroline Ziadeh will brief on recent developments and the Secretary-General’s latest report. Serbia is expected to participate under rule 37 and Kosovo under rule 39 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
Key Recent Developments
While the EU-facilitated talks remain at an impasse, relations between Belgrade and Pristina have been generally stable since the Council’s last briefing on 20 April. On 21 June, Kosovar and Serbian officials agreed on a roadmap to implement energy agreements made in 2013 and 2015. The roughly 50,000 Kosovo Serbs living in the northern part of Kosovo have never paid for electricity, causing Kosovo’s electricity provider (KOSTT) to declare financial hardship in recent years. The roadmap stipulates that after Pristina issues a licence allowing Drustvo Elektrosever—a subsidiary energy company of the Serbian state-run Elektroprivreda—to operate in Kosovo, Drustvo Elektrosever will assume distribution services in the four northern Serb-majority municipalities of Kosovo. While the roadmap did not provide a specific implementation timeline, its adoption was welcomed by EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák, who described the agreement as “a major step forward”.
Despite this achievement, tensions on the Kosovo-Serbia border escalated in July over the long-standing dispute over license plates. From 2011 to 2021, Kosovo and Serbia had an arrangement under which Kosovo admitted vehicles displaying either KS (Kosovo) license plates, which are acceptable to Serbia, or RKS (Republic of Kosovo) plates, which are not. After the agreement expired on 15 September 2021, Pristina began enforcing a new policy requiring all vehicles in Kosovo to display the RKS license plate, leading hundreds of Kosovo Serbs to protest at the border. After two days of EU-facilitated negotiations in Brussels, the sides reached a provisional agreement on 30 September 2021 under which special stickers would replace national symbols on vehicle license plates.
On 29 June, however, Pristina officials announced that they would move forward with implementing the license plate policy they had postponed in September 2021, and that from 30 September, vehicles with Serbian licence plates would be required to bear RKS plates. They also decided that, as of 1 August, all Serbians entering Kosovo would be issued a temporary Kosovo identification card, valid for 90 days, in place of Serbian-issued identification documents. On 31 July, over tensions between Kosovo police and Kosovo Serbs near the Jarinje and Bernjak border crossings and following consultations with EU and US officials, Pristina again postponed the policy’s implementation, now until 31 October. Prime Minister Albin Kurti of Kosovo and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić met twice in August, under the auspices of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and Lajčák, to discuss the license plate dispute and Pristina’s identification card policy.
On 27 August, the two leaders reached an agreement allowing all citizens to travel freely between Kosovo and Serbia using either Belgrade- or Pristina-issued identification cards. Three days later, Belgrade issued a “general disclaimer”, saying that “enabling the use of identity cards by Pristina…cannot be interpreted as recognition of unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo”. While a settlement was reached on the issue of identification cards, the leaders were unable to break the license plate impasse.
Kosovo and Serbian authorities have since taken steps to ease tensions along the border. On 5 September, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić visited Kosovo for the first time since assuming office in 2017. During her visit, she expressed willingness to “compromise in the interest of peace and stability”. On the same day, Kosovo ministers visited areas in southern Serbia where ethnic Albanians make up the majority of the population. Nonetheless, anticipating a potential escalation of friction along the Kosovo-Serbia border leading up to the 31 October license plate deadline, on 21 September NATO reportedly called up for training reserve soldiers assigned to Kosovo Force (KFOR), numbering the size of a battalion, which can include up to 1,000 soldiers. KFOR is currently composed of approximately 3,700 troops.
Key Issues and Options
The Council’s main priority is to maintain stability in Kosovo. A key issue for the Council in this regard is how to prevent escalation of tensions along the Kosovo-Serbia border arising from the enforcement of Pristina’s license plate policy. Council members could consider pursuing a presidential statement urging both parties to re-engage in diplomatic efforts to advance the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and to renounce the threat or use of force against one another.
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, also remains a key issue for the Council. Members may wish to convene an informal interactive dialogue (IID) or a private meeting to discuss this issue with representatives from Kosovo and Serbia and the participation of Borrell and Lajčák.
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. 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 claim to 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.
The issue of modifying UNMIK’s mandate and its possible drawdown is another point of contention among Council members. The US has been the most vocal proponent of ending UNMIK’s mandate as well as reducing the frequency of briefings, citing the level of stability in Kosovo. Similarly, the UK has called for a review of UNMIK’s mandate, arguing that conditions on the ground have completely changed since UNMIK was established 22 years ago. At the Council’s last briefing on 20 April, Albania also questioned UNMIK’s raison d’être, noting that its “competencies and responsibilities have been gradually transferred to the Kosovo authorities”.
UNMIK’s mandate, established in 1999, is unique among the missions routinely addressed by the Council in that it is open-ended. Any attempt to change the mandate and draw down the mission would require a new resolution, which Russia would most likely strongly oppose.
UN DOCUMENTS ON KOSOVO
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|20 April 2022S/PV.9019||This was a meeting on the situation in Kosovo.|