Don’t repeat the same mistakes with Vucic

By Harry Bajraktari

The recent crisis in the northern part of Kosova has the fingerprints of Serbia’s President Vucic all over it. He orchestrated it and now he wants to take credit for ending it. This has been obvious to anyone who has paid attention to the recent events.

His minions in northern Kosova have openly said that Vucic word was enough for them to begin dismantling the barricades. Indeed, as soon as Vucic called for their removal, they began to take them down.

So why is the international community unable and unwilling to name and shame Vucic? Why do they continue to appease him like they did with Putin?

Why are they still stuck at “both-sides”-statements, while it is clearly only one side which is using violence and illegal actions?

And we have been here before. The barricades go up in the north, whenever Vucic wants to foment a crisis. Whether because he has an election coming up or he is not liking a document the internationals want him to sign.

The West has learned from its experience with Vladimir Putin of Russia that making concessions to a leader who threatens with escalating a crisis of his own making, is wrong and counterproductive. That is how we got the war in Ukraine.

Just like with Putin, appeasing Vucic will only make him bolder. He knows he cannot match NATO forces on the ground, but he needs a situation of ongoing crisis as a negotiating tool. Vucic will keep creating new crises because they pay off. Instead of facing sanctions because of them, he is redeemed with more grants and resources from EU, trade agreements with US, and dubious clauses in the proposed agreements between Kosova and Serbia.

The West should have cut all the normal ties with Vucic the moment that he refused to join the sanctions against Russia. He should have been treated like a pariah until the loophole he created for Russians to evade the sanctions, was closed.

Not only they did not do that, but he has continued to be treated in the same footing as Albin Kurti, although the Kosovar leader is only trying to establish the rule of law in the entire territory of his country.

It is important that Kurti and Kosova act only in coordination with the international community and especially with the United States and the NATO command in Kosova (KFOR). Any rushed, unprepared move can be used by Serbia to sow disunity among our allies and justify its aggression.

However, we should be telling Washington and the European Union that “enough is enough” when it comes to Vucic. He is not just endangering Kosova and the region. He is also provoking a new conflict to please his ally in Moscow. He is endangering American lives and will do it again unless he sees clearly that this kind of maneuvers don’t work.

Only under real pressure would Vucic or any Serbian leader agree to a long-term normalization with Kosova. And there will never be true normalization for as long as Serbia is allowed to think that not recognizing Kosova is an option.

Straight talk and real punishing measures should have been taken more than a decade ago. Yet, better late than never, it is time to tell Vucic that if he wants to continue to benefit from the European Union resources and avoid international sanctions he should stop interfering in the internal affairs of other neighbors, namely Kosova, Bosnia, and Montenegro.

The United States should downgrade its relations with Serbia, until justice is finally done for the three US citizens, the Bytyci brothers, who were executed in 1999; until Serbia reveals the bodies of more than a thousand of murdered Albanian civilians, whose bodies remain hided in Serbia more than 20 years after the war; and until Serbia recognizes the new political reality in the Balkans.

The United States has spent too much energy and resources over the last three decades to establish peace and stability in the Southeast Europe. This important security investment will remain in real danger unless Serbia is brought to line by the Western allies. Vucic like Putin will only understand the language of force.

The West must act now!

Harry Bajraktari is founder and publisher of Illyria newspaper (1991-1998), an Albanian-American community leader, philanthropist, and recipient of many awards, including the Honor of the Nation Order by the President of Albania, Kosovas Presidential Medal for Merits & the White House Presidential Call to Service Award.