WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

U.S. AIR FORCE IN BiH: “Airmen from U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa conducted a force development program to enhance relations and share ideas of building better air forces with the Bosnia and Herzegovina air force Feb. 10-14 in Sarajevo. ‘The force development program is a means to do defense intuition building,’ said U.S. Air Force Col. Ricardo Trimillos, USAFE – AFAFRICA deputy director of plans, programs and analysis. ‘At the end of the day, the entire focus is on interoperability, whether they are a NATO partner, an aspiring NATO partner or someone that potentially is part of a coalition of the willing. The idea is that if we all understand how each other operates, then we will be able to have an ease of communication and will be able to understand how we want to be able to work together.’ The force development program provides an opportunity for the U.S. Air Force to enhance relations, share ideas and build partnership capability in the region.” (U.S. Air Force)

VERMONT IN N. MACEDONIA: Two Vermont National Guard soldiers are heading to N. Macedonia to develop natural disaster scenarios and share best practices. The Vermont National Guard and N. Macedonia have been partners in the State Partnership Program for over 25 years.

REPUBLIKA SRPSKA RENEWS LOBBYING EFFORT IN D.C.: Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska (RS) are set to lobby in the international arena in WAshington, D.C. RS’s Minister of Economic Relations and Regional Cooperation Zlatan Klokic renewed a retainer agreement with Texas-based law firm McGinnis Lochridge.  Banja Luka will pay $80,000 each month for the next year. Read the full Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) filing here.

SISTER CITIES: Representatives from Gjilan, Kosovo were in Sioux City, Iowa to begin a partnership between the two cities. As sister cities, there will be exchanges in many areas.

RECOGNITION MIXUP: Jamaican Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson-Smith denied that Jamaica recognized Kosovo as an independent nation after Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, PM Albin Kurti, and Speaker of Parliament Vjosa Osmani claimed it had. Kosovo Ambassador to the U.S. Vlora Citaku sent information to Kosvo’s leaders that recognition had been secured and urged them to wait until a note verbale was sent.

MORE RUSSIAN WEAPONS: “Serbia has over the weekend received a delivery of Russian-made Pantsir S1 air-defense systems, despite warnings of possible U.S. sanctions against the Balkan state, which is seeking membership in the European Union. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic made the announcement on television on February 23 a day after the Defense Ministry confirmed receiving two of the six ordered short-range, rapid-fire antiaircraft systems.” (RFE/RL)

THESSALONIKI SUMMIT: FMs from around the region gathered in Thessaloniki, Greece for the “From Thessaloniki to Zagreb” event highlighting European perspectives for the Western Balkan countries. Key takeaways include: FM of N. Macedonia Nikola Dimitrov pressures the EU to open accession talks in March or else its credibility will be damaged further. Kosovo FM Glauk Konjufca asked for Kosovo to obtain visa liberalization. Montenegrin FM stressed this summit proves there is truly a European perspective for the region.

MEANWHILE IN LONDON: The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) hosted its 4th Annual Summit with the leaders from the six Western Balkans countries. The EBRD has invested upward of $13 billion. Serbian PM Ana Brnabic encouraged Kosovar counterpart Albin Kurti to drop the 100% tariffs on Serbian goods. Montenegrin PM Dusko Markovic sent a clear message to Belgrade – this isn’t about Serbian Orthodox Church debt, which President Aleksandar Vucic offered for Serbia to wipe clean, rather property law. Markovic had a meeting with U.S. Special Representative for the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer.

VUCIC FEARS AMERICAN AND GERMAN PLANS: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told TV Prva that he fears what the Americans and Germans will force him to accept regarding Kosovo. He added, “It is not a fear for my post and life, I said goodbye to that long ago,“ the president claimed… Fear for my country, fear for my people, I know that I hold the most responsibility here. I have to think about everything that others do not have to think about when they get up – how I will preserve our territory and how I will preserve our economy and how we will preserve peace.“

DODIK STEPS BACK: Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik backtracks his hardline stance for secession of Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska from Bosnia and Herzegovina. He notes, “Secession is an option we do not exclude but we do prefer the Constitution and everything it contains.”

LAVROV IN BELGRADE: Russian FM Sergey Lavrov will be in Belgrade on March 24, the day the NATO bombings began.

CROATIAN LEADERS CONDEMN ANTI-LGBT ACTION: Croatia’s president and speaker of parliament condemned the burning of same-sex manakins holding a baby at a Carnival celebration in Imotski. President Zoran Milanovic noted, “The organizers deserve the sharpest condemnation of the public, because hate towards those that are different, intolerance and inhumanity are not and will not be a Croatian tradition.” Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandrokovic added, “This is a case of representatives from a certain minority and for me it is unacceptable that those who belong to a certain minority group of any kind are treated in this manner.”

ONE BELT ONE ROAD: “Serbia has offered help to Chinese companies working on projects in the Balkan country after the coronavirus outbreak in China caused a shortage of manpower and supplies, infrastructure minister Zorana Mihajlovic said on Thursday.” (Reuters)

NEIGHBORHOOD DEFENSE: “Minister of Defense of Bosnia-Herzegovina Sifet Podzic met on Monday with Ambassador of the Republic of North Macedonia to BiH, Ekrem Ebibi, with whom he discussed the continuation of successful bilateral defense cooperation between the two countries, emphasizing the need to strengthen regional co-operation and experience on the path to Euro-Atlantic integration.” (Sarajevo Times)

JUDICIAL MARCH: “Thousands of people attended a march in North Macedonia’s capital Monday in support of landmark judicial reforms approved just before parliament was dissolved for early elections. The ‘Walk for Justice’ rally, held in Skopje a day after the reforms were approved, was organized by the outgoing Social Democrat government.The new law was a key condition in the country’s bid to join the European Union. It will hand back control of major cases of corruption and organized crime to the public prosecution office.” (AP NEWS)

DPS SHUFFLE: Montenegro’s ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) held an organizing meeting naming new officers. The President of the Political Council is Milan Rocen and head of the DPS Caucus will be Nikola Rakocevic. Milos Nikolic will be the new party spokesman.

HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL: “The MPs in Serbia’s Parliament voted on Monday in favour of the Law on Memorial Centre ‘Staro Sajmiste’ in Belgrade proposed by the Government as the “fulfilment of duty and lasting memory of the victims of Holocaust, genocide and the occupier’s terror and crime,” the Beta news agency reported.” (N1)

SOCCER + POLITICS: After 17-year-old Ilija Ivic declared to play for the Kosovo National Soccer Team, new outlets reported that his parents were fired from their positions in the school and in the municipality causing a reaction from the U.S. ambassador among others. But, N1 cites RTV KiM that Ivic’s parents did not lose their jobs. N1 writes, “Milan Dimitrijević, the headmaster of the school where Ilija’s father works as an accountant, has said he has heard about the news carried by several media.He told RTV KiM that ‘that has nothing to do with truth, and I’m not interested in that. He (Dusan Ivic) fulfils his duties, and I don’t care about his private life. No one called me, not anyone pressured me to fire him.'”

SLOVENIA AND CHINA COOL OFF: After Chinese investors failed to meet expectations, the Slovenian Ministry of Transportation is looking for a new partner to manage and modernize the Maribor airport. Slovenian Minister Alenka Bratusek stated, “The long-term options for Maribor Airport involve either finding a new operator or selling the airport.

SUING A CHINESE FIRM: Serbia’s Ministry of Ecology is taking legal measures against Chinese company Zi Jin Bor Copper for pollution and economic offenses.

CROATIAN 5G: Croatia has contracted FER to bring 5G technology to Croatia starting with the cities of Zagreb, Split, Rijeka, and Osijek.

CROATIAN ANTHEM GAFFE?: Croatian singer Josipa Lisac is facing criminal charges for her rendition of the national anthem, Our Beautiful Homeland, at the inauguration of President Zoran Milanovic. Lawyer Bosko Zupanovic believes her version was “not socially acceptable” and filed the charges.

KOSOVO SPECIALIST CHAMBERS: A prosecutor for KSC on Monday told the court’s president of his intent to begin proceedings.

TONS OF COCAINE: Bosnian police arrested two in connection to smuggling over a ton of cocaine worth up to $50 million EUR.

MIGRANTS: Police in N. Macedonia found 43 migrants in a the back of a truck. The driver was arrested.

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “Redrawing Kosovo’s foreign policy” by Aidan Hehir and Donika Emini in Prishtina Insight

ANALYSIS: “Tough border control awaits migrants attempting to reach EU from Bosnia” by Lauren Chadwick

ANALYSIS: “Kremlin propagandist equalizes the European Union and Hitler’s Nazis” in Truthmeter.mk: “Serbian portals Informer and Espreso fully transmit the text of “Russian World” Fund Director Vyacheslav Nikonov, in which he expresses a revisionist view of the international and European history during World War II.These two tabloids use sensationalist headlines to impose Nikonov’s problematic and inaccurate interpretations on their readers. The headline in Informer, for example, reads: “SERBIA, think! There is no country in the EU that did not belong to or was subjected to, Hitler’s coalition! The brutal truth that they WISH TO HIDE NO MATTER THE COST!”

ANALYSIS: “Survey in multi-ethnic municipalities: Reconciliation needed for the vast majority but the north” in KosSev

HUMAN INTEREST: “A selfless Soldier with a heart of gold” by  Spc. Lynnwood Thomas in DVIDS: “CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo – The outline of Mt. Duke is just barely visible in the night sky, and the temperature is in the lower 30s as U.S. Army Sgt. Grant Ligon straps on his 35-pound ruck sack Jan. 4. He is about to set out on a 12-hour rucking challenge he created for himself to celebrate being promoted from specialist to sergeant at a ceremony later that day. However, in addition to testing his mental and physical capacity, Ligon decided to dedicate 10 euros per mile he completed, to purchasing items for a local battered women’s shelter. He ended his challenge having completed 30.5 miles.HUMAN INTEREST: “This trio of ex-Staffordshire University students are now helping to run the govt in Kosovo!” by Kathie McIness in Stoke on Trent Live (UK)

CULTURE: “Bosnian Language Reflects The Country and Its People: Complex Yet Relaxed” in Sarajevo Times

CULTURE: “Baklava, cabbage rolls on the menu for annual Serbian dinner in Butte” in ABC Fox Montana

HISTORY: “The Last Battle Of World War II In Europe Occurred 16 Days After Germany Fell” by Robert Beckhusen in Yahoo News

HISTORY: “Under the Skies: Photos Reveal Horror of Kosovo Exodus” by Xhorxhina Bami in BIRN