WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

GRENELL NEW ACTING DIR. OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: U.S. President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that Ambassador to Germany and Special Presidential Envoy to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue, Richard Grenell, is now the Acting Director of National Intelligence. Trump wrote, “I am pleased to announce that our highly respected Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, will become the Acting Director of National Intelligence. Rick has represented our Country exceedingly well and I look forward to working with him. I would like to thank Joe Maguirefor the wonderful job he has done, and we look forward to working with him closely, perhaps in another capacity within the Administration!”

ONE LAST TWEET: U.S. Envoy to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue Richard Grenell denies that the U.S. is open to a land swap between Kosovo and Serbia in a Tweet before being named Acting Director of National Intelligence.

KURTI LIED TO THE U.S.?:Kosovo news outlet Gazeta Express cited an unnamed source that “A number of US officials believe that Kurti lied to them about the tax and that he does not deserve to hold the prime minister’s post.”

PIPELINE BETWEEN BiH TO CROATIA: “Bosnia’s BH Gas state-owned gas distributor signed a grant agreement with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) on Wednesday for a project to connect the gas grid of Bosnia to neighbouring Croatia.” (N1)

BiH PRESIDENCY MEETS: The Members of the BiH Presidency held their ninth session today and discussed the visit of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic set for March 2nd to 3rd, European Border and Coast Guard Agency activities in BiH, and agreements and treaties.

ON THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT: RFE/RL writes “The Bosniak and Croat members of the multiethnic presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina say they will not agree to a Serb demand to remove international judges from the country’s Constitutional Court.Sefik Dzaferovic, a Bosniak, said on February 19 that a demand by the Serb member of the Bosnian presidency, Milorad Dodik, for the three international judges to be removed from the nine-member court could send Bosnia ‘into a downfall.'”

U.S. AMB. NELSON MEETS DODIK: The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo took to Twitter after a meeting between U.S. Ambassador to BiH Eric Nelson and Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik to show support for the Dayton Peace Accords. The message reads, “Meeting today with Member of the BiH Presidency Dodik, Ambassador Nelson underscored that the US expects nothing less than full respect for the Dayton Accords, and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of BiH…For 25 years, the U.S. has been a strong partner of BiH, fully supporting the prosperity, stability, and peace of this country. Actions that undermine those goals bear real-life consequences.”

THE PEACE IMPLEMENTATION COUNCIL (PIC) CHIMES IN: The PIC Steering Board released a statement, which was not signed by Russia, signifying its full support for the Constitutional Court, BiH institutions, and full BiH sovereignty. It noted that the term “Inter-Entity Boundary Line” does not imply there are two states within BiH.

FROM AROUND THE EU: German MP Josip Juratovic emphasized Serbia must increase media freedom to meet EU standards and functioning of institutions. But French Ambassador to Belgrade Jean-Louis Falconi said Serbia “can count on France and our embassy to stand by you in that European choice” and added, “our relations were established long before 1839, in the Middle Age, during a happy event of the wedding of Helen of Anjou and Serbian King Uros I in 1245.” Finally, German MEP Erik Marquardt (The Greens) noted Croatia’s treatment of migrants could be a factor in joining Schengen Zone.

NEW MILITARY CoS IN CROATIA: Croatian President Zoran Milanovic agrees to the government’s proposal of Rear Admiral Robert Hranj as the new military chief of staff.

CROATIAN AG STEPS DOWN: Croatian Attorney General Drazen Jelenic resigned after pressure from PM Andrej Plenkovic due to Jelenic admitted to being a Freemason.

NATO IN MARCH?: FM of N. Macedonia Nikola Dimitrov visited Spain on the invitation of counterpart  Arancha Gonzales Laya who told Dimitrov that ratifying the NATO Accession Protocol will likely be completed by the end of March.

DIMITROV DEFENDS SACKING OF MIZRAHI: FM of N. Macedonia Nikola Dimitrov defended the decision to sack the country’s first Jewish minister, Rasela Mizrahi, by stating it had nothing to do with her  “gender, ethnicity or religion.” He said the reason was “acting in breach of the Constitution she was sworn to uphold while in office, as well as the Prespa Agreement with Greece.”

KOSOVO + ALBANIA RELATIONS: Albanian FM Gent Cakaj met with Kosovar counterpart Glauk Konjufca on Tuesday in Pristina. At a press conference, they announced a joint governmental session in Shokder, Albania, and a deepening of relations. Cakaj noted, “The borders between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Albania should not exist at all, they should be removed immediately and our countries should enjoy unrestricted freedom of movement and unhindered ability to deepen economic cooperation.” He also met with Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci.

BRAJOVIC + TURKEY: Montenegrin Speaker of Parliament Ivan Brajvoic yesterday met with Turkish FM Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara. They discussed strong Montenegro’s Euro-Atlantic integration, regional developments, and mutual support. Brajvoic highlighted economic development as an area for strengthening relations.

DARMANOVIC IN LITHUANIA: Montenegrin FM Srdjan Darmanovic is visiting Lithuania today and will meet with counterpart Linas Linkevicius, Parliament Speaker Viktor Pranckietis, and Head of the European Affairs Committee  Gediminas Kirkilas. Darmanovic will open a consulate in Vilnius.

AMAZON AND SLOVENIA: Slovenia’s Ministry of Economic Development and Technology announced that Slovenian companies can now do business on Amazon Europe.

OFF TO SOUTH SUDAN:Fourteen Bosnian police officers set off to South Sudan to join the UN Peace Mission in country.

ISIS: “Kosovar prosecutors on Wednesday filed terrorism charges against an ethnic Albanian woman who allegedly joined a terror group in Syria. A statement from the special prosecutors’ office said the suspect, identified only as H.K., left Kosovo early 2014 to join her husband, who was a fighter with the Islamic State group. She went to Istanbul and then crossed into Syria to join the group.” (Reuters)

1.3 TONS OF COCAINE: Police in N. Macedonia seized 1.3 tons of cocaine on Wednesday night just outside of Skopje.The cocaine traveled from Montenegro to N. Macedonia through Albania.

MIGRANTS: Serbia arrested five people in connection to smuggling more than 140 migrants into Bosnia and Herzegovina.

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “Russia’s Attempts to Regain the Balkans Are Futile” by David Bragvadze in The Georgia Journal

CULTURE: “Skopje Fortress” in Atlas Obscura

SPORT: Seventeen-year-old Ivica Ilic transfers from FK Gracanica to KF Flamurtari in Kosovo. Additionally, he is set to become the first Serb to represent Kosovo’s U-19 soccer team. The announcement on Kosovan Footy’s Twitter page was met with mixed responses.

SPORT?: “Contain yourselves! Trampoline daredevils ‘walk up walls’ and perform breathtaking stunts as they turn shipping yard into their playground” by Bryony Jewell in The Daily Mail

ENTERTAINMENT: “Iran-Macedonia film festival opens in Skopje” in the Tehran Times