WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

  • An alleged Russian GRU officer was filmed meeting with Serbian officials and handing over bags. Investigative journalist Christo Grozev identified the GRU officer as Russian Deputy Military Attache Georgiy Kleban.
  • US Presidential Envoy to the Kosovo-Serbia talks Richard Grenell said that the “mini Schengen” should include Kosovo.
  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was hospitalized on Friday with a cardiovascular issue.
  • Vucic will not be attending the Congress of the European People’s Party (EPP) meetings in Zagreb on November 20-21. He sent a letter instead.
  • The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe named German MP Peter Beyer as its special rapporteur for Kosovo.
  • Croatia commemorated yesterday the victims of the Battle of Vukovar. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic lit a candle at a memorial for the victims. There is a full program of events today for Vukovar Remembrance Day.
  • Croatia Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced that Sunday, December 22nd will be the country’s Presidential election. The latest opinion polling has incumbent President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic with 29%  of support followed by Social Democrat Zoran Milanovic at 24%. Popular singer Miroslav Skoro has 17% and a former judge running as an independent, Mislav Kolakusic, has 14%. If no candidate wins a majority, a run off will be held on Sunday, January 5th.
  • Kosovo’s likely next prime minister, Albin Kurti, will seek to meet with Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic to revisit the 2015 border demarcation deal that passed Kosovo’s parliament in March 2018. Kurti’s party held up the vote in parliament by releasing tear gas in the building four times. The dispute was over 8,000 hectares, or 30 sq. miles, of land.
  • Prime Minister of N. Macedonia Zoran Zaev is hopeful that Spain and France will ratify his country’s NATO accession protocol by January. He noted, “Spain will form a government very soon and ratify the NATO protocol which we are expecting. At the end of November, France will ratify it in Parliament because the Senate has already done so. All NATO countries will ratify the protocol.”
  • “Greece offered words of encouragement to North Macedonia and Albania on Thursday as the two countries’ efforts to open accession talks with the European Union continue to be frustratedGreek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that ‘despite reservations” the EU is ‘keeping its doors open.’ Mitsotakis said Greece wants both its neighbors in the EU and said their efforts will come to fruition ‘at some point.”” (Deutsche Welle)
  • Meanwhile, President of N. Macedonia Stevo Pendarovski spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron who insisted there would be a new methodology for EU enlargement by March 2020. Pendarovski noted, “I am a moderate optimist, not a radical one. We did not get a 100-percent guarantee from President Macron that the Zagreb summit would produce a positive decision. The guarantee we got was that the methodology would be adopted as soon as possible, by March at the latest. So we can be certain in this part. Further developments depend on political decisions.”
  • Pendarovski continued, “I hope the situation will resemble the current one, when there are no additional requirements. Europe, as Macron said it himself, asked for some time to streamline the methodology for admission of new members, not saying there are additional conditions for us. Therefore, we will wait and see how fast can the EU restructure on the inside regarding this very important issue.”
  • And concluded, “I told him that all relevant politicians and political parties of ethnic Albanians in North Macedonia, including those in the highest Government positions, have said it is not their wish for this to happen, but North Macedonia should not be punished or put in the same position, because the entire process is merit-based.”
  • “Russia’s top EU envoy has applauded Emmanuel Macron’s opposition to enlargement of the union, in a sign of how the Kremlin has seized on the French president’s “disruptive diplomacy” to highlight divisions among European allies.  Vladimir Chizhov, the Kremlin’s veteran ambassador to the European bloc, said Mr Macron “has a point” when he argues the EU needs to deal with tensions between its members before starting talks for North Macedonia and Albania to join. ” (Financial Times)
  • Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin said on Saturday that his country  “may be the only country in the region that has no territorial claims against its neighbours.”
  • “After media reports that Croatia asks Serbia to give it back $148.5 million, which is part of the total succession fund formed after the break-up of Yugoslavia, and which Belgrade reportedly unlawfully spent, a senior foreign ministry official said on Wednesday that Croatia “demanded explanations” on how the funds went missing. The State Secretary Andrea Metelko-Zgombic told reporters that Croatia would insist on the compensation of those funds. The Zagreb-based Vecernji List daily reported on Wednesday morning that at the time of its dissolution Yugoslavia had more than $645.5 million deposited in foreign currency accounts in banks abroad.” (N1)
  • “Serbia’s central bank bought nine tons of gold in October, raising its reserves of the precious metal on the advice of President Aleksandar Vucic. The biggest former Yugoslav republic is following Hungary and Poland, where officials boosted gold reserves in 2018 to create a bulwark against crisis. Central Bank Governor Jorgovanka Tabakovic, a member of Vucic’s Progressive Party, said the October 9-11 purchases raised the bank’s gold holdings to 10% of total reserves and made good on a suggestion from the president in May.” (Bloomberg)
  • KOSOVO SPECIALIST CHAMBERS: Former Kosovo Liberation Army member Sejdi Berisha has been summoned to appear before The Hague.
  • CRIME: A Bosnian immigrant, Ramiz Zijad Hodzic, was sentenced to eight years in prison for providing material support to terrorists in St. Louis over the weekend.
IN OTHER NEWS…
  • EURO 2020 QUALIFYING RESULTS: Croatia tops its group and is qualified for Euro 2020. Meanwhile, Bosnia, Kosovo, N. Macedonia, and Serbia can still qualify through the playoffs. Albania, Montenegro, and Slovenia cannot qualify for the tournament.
  • KOSOVO EURO 2020: Kosovo’s week was not without controversy, though. In Plzen, Czech supporters chanted “Kosovo is still Serbia.” There was a joyous atmosphere yesterday as England played in Pristina. Unfortunately, a video appeared on Twitter with the English and Kosovars chanting an anti-Serbian song.
  • ENTERTAINMENT: Two time Academy Award winner, and Holocaust survivor, Branko Lustig, passed away at the age of 87 in Zagreb.
  • TRAVEL: Sarajevo-based Fly Bosnia broke a long term lease and has returned an Airbus A-319 after just four months of use. This comes on the heels of laying off over 50% of employees.