Serbia has been given an ultimatum from powerful Western nations to normalise ties with Kosovo or face measures that would do “great damage” to the country, the president has said.
On Monday evening, President Aleksandar Vucic said he had been presented with a proposal, as part of a Western push to solve long-simmering tensions with Kosovo, during a meeting last week with representatives of the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States.
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“[They] said – you must accept this plan, or you will face the interruption of the process of European integration, the halting and withdrawal of investments and comprehensive economic and political measures that will cause great damage to the Republic of Serbia,” Vucic said.
Speaking during a televised press conference, Vucic said Serbia’s parliament would have to discuss the proposal, and hinted at a possible referendum. He underlined that without the EU, Serbia would become “isolated”.
The new Western plan for normalising Serbia-Kosovo relations has not been officially made public. Vucic said in his televised address that the plan stipulates that Serbia would not object to Kosovo’s membership in international organisations, including the United Nations.
The US and EU want to push forward an EU-mediated dialogue that has been stalled for months because they fear Russia, a Serbia ally, could try to stir instability in the Balkans to divert attention from the war in Ukraine.
“These talks were among the toughest in the past decade,” Vucic added, describing the meeting. “It was never like this.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Monday that the meetings in Kosovo and Serbia had focused on “discussions on the proposal on normalisation of relations. We stressed that advancing on this proposal would bring considerable benefits for both sides”.
Serbia has been a candidate to join the EU for more than a decade, and normalising ties with Kosovo has been a key condition to advance its application.
“Serbia must remain on its EU path … because we would be lost without it, economically and politically. If we were to be alone and isolated, that is not something I would accept as a president,” Vucic said.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, after a bloody war in the late 1990s between an ethnic Albanian armed uprising and Serbian forces ended with a NATO intervention that forced Serbia to pull out of the territory.
Belgrade and its key allies Russia and China refused to recognise the move, effectively denying Pristina a seat at the UN.
Vucic previously said Serbia would never recognise the independence of Kosovo, which many Serbs consider the country’s historic heartland, and the dispute between Serbia and Kosovo has remained a source of instability in the Balkans.
Last month, Western officials mediated in resolving a tense situation in northern Kosovo, where Serbs erected barricades on the main roads to protest the arrest of a former Serb police officer. In the latest incident, Serb officials said Kosovo police wounded a Serb man on Monday in the Serb-dominated north of the country.
Serbia has often drifted from Brussels’ foreign policy line, most recently when Belgrade refused to sanction Moscow after the invasion of Ukraine. However, it has condemned Moscow’s aggression at the UN.
Vucic said he believes that the pressure to resolve the Kosovo issue is a result of “changed geopolitical circumstances”.
“They [the West] have their own agenda, which is Russia’s defeat, and everything that stands in the way of that agenda will be crushed,” Vucic said.
“Europe is de-facto in war, whatever they may say,” said Vucic. “They [EU] want everything in their back yard – and Balkans is their back yard – to be the way they want it.”