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Wow: The roads in north of #Kosovo are blocked with the trucks donated from EU-funded projects.

The Western Balkans’ Euro-Atlantic future: A conversation with Deputy Assistant Secretary Gabriel Escobar

He isn’t entirely wrong
He is of course correct that the EU is a far better bet than Russia in the long term. For good reasons Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia have definitively chosen Brussels over Moscow. Albania and Macedonia are slated to begin accession negotiations with the EU.
Despite the dim immediate prospects, Kosovo intends to submit its application for membership before the end of the year. Tirana, Skopje, and Pristina have made their ambitions clear. In all three, most of the opposition as well as the governing parties support EU accession. There is more likelihood of EU reluctance to enlarge than reluctance to join in these three prospective members.

But the situation is not good elsewhere
The situation differs however in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia. I’m not seeing so many “very intelligent people” there pivoting away from Russia. In Bosnia, the de facto boss of half the country, Milorad Dodik, is a corrupt Russian asset.
Croatia, already an EU member, is cozying up to Moscow, which supports its ethnic nationalist aims inside Bosnia.
The result is a de facto alliance with Dodik that makes a mockery of Bosnia’s NATO and EU prospects. Montenegro, a NATO member, has a pro-Russian Prime Minister and governing coalition. They bend easily to Belgrade’s preferences, including recently in treatment of the Serb Orthodox Church.

Most important:

Serbia has moved definitively in the Russian direction, even during the Ukraine war. Just to cite last week’s events, Serbia refused again to align with EU sanctions on Russia, its leadership denounced Kosovo’s Albanian leaders and Serbs willing to participate in its government in racist and scatalogical terms, and Belgrade’s minions trashed an office responsible for holding municipal elections in the Serb-majority part of the Kosovo.

It is now the scene of a risky stand-off between Serbia’s gangster allies and the Kosovo special police forces. President Vucic has demanded that Serbian troops return to Kosovo. That would trigger serious violence. Vucic’s friends in Moscow are pleased.

The US needs to get real
American diplomacy has been betting on Belgrade making a definitive choice in favor of liberal democracy and the West. That isn’t happening. Serbia’s main opposition and most of its population are not pro-EU and certainly not America-friendly.

They far prefer Russia and China, in the guise of a “neutral” stance. President Vucic hedges, on most days skillfully.

A large lithium deposit in Serbia is the latest prize he is toying with. In January the Serbian government cancelled the Rio Tinto licenses to develop it. He is now trying to entice the Chinese to take over, despite European protestations. Deals with Russia and China come without transparency, allowing lots of skimming. Serbian “neutrality” has a definitively corrupt and authoritarian bent.
As does Serbia.

Freedom House now ranks it “partly free” (five years ago it was “free”). Belgrade has been slipping in a more autocratic direction throughout President Vucic’s presidency. There is limited political opposition. Media are government friendly and use hate speech on a daily basis (mainly against Kosovo Albanians). Courts are not independent.
The government has a strong hand in the economy. The political opposition is hamstrung and risible, even if the intellectual opposition is courageous and serious.

Getting real
The Americans have not adjusted their policy to take into consideration the current reality:

Serbia is lost to the West for now.

Belgrade is not really pursuing EU membership, which Vucic regards as too far off to compensate for the power he would need to give up to meet its requirements. Instead he is pursuing the “Serbian world,” an effort to bring under Belgrade’s control the Serb populations in neighboring countries.

He has succeeded at this in Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. None of these countries will be able to pursue their EU dreams so long as Belgrade uses their Serb citizens to make them dysfunctional states.
The Americans need to get real.

That means returning to a policy that energetically supports the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and state functionality of Serbia’s neighbors. Today’s Serbia threatens those goals. Placating Belgrade will get the Americans nothing. Delusions don’t make reality.

With best wishes for a quick recovery to State Department Counselor Derek Chollet, who has had to postpone a trip to the Balkans this week because of a COVID infection,

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