Tomorrow afternoon (8 February), the Security Council will convene for a briefing on Kosovo. Citing article 35 of the UN Charter, Serbia requested the meeting, with Russia’s support, to discuss rising tensions in Kosovo following Pristina’s decision to make the euro the only valid currency for conducting cash payment transactions. Article 35 permits any member state to bring to the Council’s attention any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute. Special Representative and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Caroline Ziadeh is the anticipated briefer. Serbia is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure and Kosovo will participate under rule 39.
In a 5 February letter to the Security Council president, Serbia requested an urgent meeting to discuss the situation in Kosovo, arguing that Pristina’s “unilateral acts” represent a “blatant violation of [Security Council resolution] 1244” of 1999, which established the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), and “a serious threat to regional peace and security”.
On 18 January, the Central Bank of Kosovo announced a new policy on cash operations that aims to control of the amount of money in circulation, protect the integrity of the financial system, prevent counterfeit money, ensure consumer protection, and tackle money laundering and terrorist financing activities. The policy, which entered into force on 1 February, also made the euro “the only valid currency for conducting cash payment transactions”, effectively suspending the use of the Serbian dinar in Kosovo. Since declaring independence in 2008, Kosovo has adopted the euro as its currency. However, in municipalities with a Serb majority, particularly in the northern region, residents have continued to use the Serbian dinar and accept financial assistance from Belgrade, which is provided in dinars. In a national address on 2 February, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić described Kosovo’s new policy as an attempt to “ethnically cleanse” Kosovo Serbs, adding that Serbia will continue to send pensions and salaries to Kosovo Serbs in Serbian dinars.
Kosovo’s move was criticised by several international interlocutors. The Quint—comprising representatives from France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the US—issued a joint statement on 28 January expressing concern about the impact of the policy on the Serb-majority communities, in particular on schools and hospitals “for which no alternative process seems viable at the moment” and concerning payments and financial assistance provided by Belgrade. The statement called on Kosovo to suspend the policy’s enforcement to allow a sufficient transition period, adding that the issue should be discussed within the framework of the EU-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.
During a press conference on 31 January, Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo Besnik Bislimi addressed international concerns about the policy on cash operations. Bislimi assured the international community of Kosovo’s commitment to facilitating “an easy transition” for Kosovo Serbs. He said that the policy does not prohibit financial transfers from Serbia, nor does it impose “financial repercussions” on individuals possessing currency from another country.
On 2 February, Kosovo police reportedly closed several “parallel institutions” in multiple northern municipalities. Parallel institutions refer to a network of administrative, education and healthcare structures in Kosovo administered and funded by Serbia that operate alongside structures affiliated with Pristina, often in areas with a significant ethnic Serbian population. On 3 February, Kosovo police seized a vehicle transporting Serbian dinars to distribute social benefit payments from Serbia.
The US Embassy in Pristina issued a statement on 3 February expressing concern that Kosovo’s policy and the recent operations conducted by Kosovo police “are unnecessarily raising ethnic tensions and as a consequence limit the options for the US to serve as an effective advocate for Kosovo in the international arena”. The statement called on Pristina to postpone the policy’s implementation until “satisfactory procedures in line with European standards are in place and until the population has been sufficiently informed about how the transition of their benefits will proceed”.
Similarly, while the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo welcomed on 4 February Pristina’s “readiness to provide for a transition period”, it acknowledged that “the sudden closure of facilities offering social or health services to members of non-majority communities risks having a negative impact on individuals and families by restricting their access to some essential services”. The OSCE Mission in Kosovo emphasised that the rights of non-majority communities should be fully respected.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Ziadeh is expected to provide an update on recent developments in Kosovo, describing how these events have affected the social and economic rights of Kosovo Serbs and other non-majority communities. In a 6 February press release, Ziadeh called for “outstanding issues”, including the “appropriate time to allow for effective communication and adequate outreach communities”, to be discussed within the EU-facilitated dialogue framework.
Several Council members are expected to call for the de-escalation of tensions and discourage further unilateral actions, urging Pristina to postpone the implementation of the policy on cash operations until pending issues are resolved under the auspices of the EU-facilitated dialogue. These members may also call on Pristina to ensure that the rights of Kosovo Serbs are protected. Some members, including China and Russia, are likely to accuse Pristina of violating Security Council resolution 1244 and emphasise that Serbia’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity should be fully respected.
Council members are united in supporting the EU-facilitated dialogue to establish conditions for the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Deep divisions among permanent members, however, 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. Six elected members (Guyana, Japan, Malta, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Switzerland) recognise Kosovo’s independence while three (Algeria, Ecuador, and Mozambique) do not. According to Kosovo, Sierra Leone officially recognised its independence in June 2008. According to media reports, in March 2020, Serbia claimed that Sierra Leone had withdrawn its recognition, citing a note verbale on the matter from Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Kosovo disputes the validity of the withdrawal.*
Post-script (20 February): The story was amended to reflect that Kosovo disputes the validity of Sierra Leone’s withdrawal of its recognition of Kosovo’s independence.