Nikola Mikovic reports on how the US could be just as interested in the energy reserves of the Balkan Nations as boosting Benjamin Netanyahu
Last week in Washington, Serbia and Kosovo signed a “historic” deal on economic normalization, although the document looks more like a list of the US demands that was addressed to its Balkan client states.
The US President Donald Trump’s special emissary Richard Grenell, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner have created an unusual mix of commitment to Belgrade and Pristina, from a ban on Huawei’s 5G technology, decriminalization of homosexuality, energy diversification, to the designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
There is speculation that the United States is not allowing these countries to join the EU, as Washington wants to have full control over this energy-rich territory, especially when oil and gas become scarce
The most interesting, and probably the most important aspect of the agreement is a clause that obliges Serbia to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, while Kosovo has agreed to mutual recognition with Israel.
The Jewish state did not recognize the independence of Kosovo, which was unilaterally declared in 2008. However, after the “normalization of diplomatic relations”, Israel will recognize Kosovo whose Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti agreed not only to recognize Israel in return but to open an embassy in Jerusalem, becoming the first Muslim-majority nation to do so.
This gesture to Israel is part of the Trump administration’s push to support the Jewish state and is also part of Trump’s re-election campaign. However, as Richard Grenell pointed out in his recent tweet, “not a single US news outlet has reported on the content of the historic Serbia-Kosovo deal”, which means that President Trump can unlikely play on this card in an attempt to get reelected in November. Still, this unorthodox outcome of a summit between Balkan nations underlines the administration’s push to help Israel build deeper diplomatic links around the world, and its desire to score wins where it can before November’s election.
It has not gone unnoticed in Belgrade that the country’s President Aleksandar Vucic was sitting in the Oval Office like an oversized schoolboy in a tiny desk with an illiterate headmaster. It is worth remembering that late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, during a meeting with the US President Richard Nixon 1971 in the White House, lit a Cuban cigar he got from Fidel Castro.
“Mr President, we do not smoke here in the White House”, said astonished Nixon. Tito looked at him, continued to smoke, laughed and said coldly: “Lucky you!”
Such a symbolic gesture was a clear message that Yugoslavia, unlike modern Serbia, was a sovereign and respectable country. There are, however, indications that, decades after the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia, the US is interested in creating another multi-ethnic union in the Balkans.
In early October 201, in Novi Sad, Serbia, leaders from Albania, Serbia, and North Macedonia signed onto an initiative that’s been dubbed “mini-Schengen” – after the European Union’s passport and duty-free zone. Trump’s envoy Richard Grenell strongly backed the initiative as a way to jump-start the free movement of people and commerce. Whether it is coincidence or not, but the Balkan leaders signed the document shortly after the meeting they had with the American diplomat.
Since the three countries, as well as Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, are all energy-rich, it is likely that they will stay in the US sphere of influence. The agreement that was signed last week in Washington, particularly the energy diversification segment, clearly demonstrates that Russia will gradually be pushed away from the region.
According the European Energy Community Secretariat analysis, lignite-fired power plants constitute between 50 and 97% of electricity generation in all of the so called Western Balkan countries. Albania is the only exception, as it produces virtually all of its electricity from hydropower.
There is speculation that the United States is not allowing these countries to join the EU, as Washington wants to have full control over this energy-rich territory, especially when oil and gas become scarce. In addition to that, last year Richard Grenell urged Serbia and Kosovo to resume railway service, which they did. According to Grenell, direct railway connection is important for both sides, but also for the US companies that could benefit from normalizing commerce.
It is no secret that the United States is heavily involved in Kosovo’s coal business. Kosovo is estimated to be home to the world’s fifth-largest reserves of brown coal, or lignite, and its authorities gave the Canadian-based energy firm Envidity Energy the right to search for coal on more than a third of Kosovo’s total territory. It is worth mentioning that the company is chaired by retired US General Wesley Clark, the commander of the 1999 NATO bombing campaign that helped lead to Kosovo’s independence from Serbia.
Even though President Vucic de facto recognized Kosovo’s independence by signing economic normalization deal in Washington, more than 20 years after the bloody conflict Serbia and Kosovo could again live in the same country – a “mini-Schengen”. In the long term, the main beneficiary of this deal will likely be the United States, although talks between Belgrade and Pristina will continue under the auspices of the European Union.