WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN THE BALKANS TODAY

DAS PALMER, U.S. AMB KOSNETT SPEAK TO KOSOVO’S LEADERS: U.S. State Department DAS and Special Representative to the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer and U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Philip Kosnett yesterday spoke with Kosovo’s likely next PM Albin Kurti and leaders of the Serb List.

  • Leader of Vetëvendosje Kurti wrote on Twitter, “I had a virtual meeting today with DAS Matt Palmer & Amb. Kosnett. We discussed Kosova’s urgent need for vaccines, importance of 🇺🇸 investments and coordination between US & EU on the dialogue. Mr. Palmer congratulated us on the landslide victory and expressed his support.”
  • Serbia’s Politika news outlet reports that the Serb List’s Goran Rakić, Dalibor Jevtić, and Igor Simić joined the meeting. Rakić said after the meeting that they discussed the February 14 parliamentary election results. In addition, Rakić highlighted that “Continuing the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and implementing earlier agreements is of vital interest to the Serb people.”
  • In an interview with Dukagjin TV in Kosovo, DAS Palmer noted, “Kosovo needs a government, president and a path to Europe.”

CROATIAN PM IN BRUSSELS: Croatian PM Andrej Plenković yesterday met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, European Parliament President David Sassoli, President of the European Council Charles Michel, President of the European Commission Ursala von der Leyen, and Belgian PM Alexander De Croo in Brussels.

  • NATO wrote in a press release that the organization welcomed Croatia’s diverse commitments including supporting missions in Kosovo, Iraq, the Baltic Sea Region, as well as to NATO’s Readiness Initiative and NATO’s Standing Naval Forces. It underscored Croatia’s increase in defense spending to get closer to the 2% of GDP goal by 2024 is a positive development. The interlocutors, Sec. Gen. Stoltenberg and PM Plenković, also discussed the NATO 2030 strategy.
  • EP President Sassoli wrote on Twitter, “Constructive talks with 🇭🇷Prime Minister @AndrejPlenkovic. Among our topics were Croatia’s progress towards joining Schengen and the importance of the Western Balkans. We also spoke on how the Conference on the #FutureofEurope can be a unique chance to reconnect with citizens.”
  • PM Alexander De Croo wrote on Twitter, “We discussed important European topics, such as the EU vaccination certificate that will secure safe travel in Europe. For Belgium, the certificate should also be a test certificate. We cannot discriminate on the basis of vaccinations.”

DEFENDER EUROPE 2021 PREPARATIONS UNDERWAY: The U.S. Embassy in Albania announced that Major General Christopher Mohan of the U.S. Army’s 21st Theater Sustainment Command and a team visited the Albanian port city of Durrës ahead of the U.S.-led multinational Defender Europe 2021 military exercises. Back in 2019, NATO made it clear that Albania is a staunch ally. NATO announced a $58 million upgrade to the Kuçova Air Base to bring it to NATO standards.

VUČIĆ IN UAE: Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić met with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan yesterday in the UAE. They discussed increasing cooperation in agriculture, investments, and vaccinations.

BiH PRESIDENCY MEMBERS REACT TO DODIK’S SECESSIONISM: Bosniak Member of the BiH Presidency Šefik Džaferović and Bosnian Croat Member of the Presidency Željko Komšić called for the international community to react strongly after Chairman and Bosnian Serb Member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik called for the abolition of the Office of the High Representative and for the Republika Srpska entity to secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  • President Džaferović said, “Their threats of disintegration and separation remind of the messages of war criminal Radovan Karadžić that he once sent from the Assembly of the Republic of BiH, and this is how they should be understood. My message to them is not to play with fire. BiH existed long before Dayton and will exist even without Dayton. Those who threatened today with the unilateral demolition of Dayton should know that in that case, only what was created in Dayton will be broken, more precisely the entities”
  • “I call on the Peace Implementation Council and the state witnesses of the Dayton Peace Agreement to take the situation in BiH very seriously after today’s announcements from Banja Luka because this is a strike to the foundations of BiH which can seriously endanger peace and stability,” added Džaferović.
  • Meanwhile, Komšić said, “If he wants to see the disappearance of RS, let him try to implement what he mentioned. Since I am sure that he does not want that, it would be better for Dodik to get back to solving the real problems of the citizens, and not for us to have to discuss his outbursts.”
  • The Quint countries – France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States – and EU Special Representative issued a joint statement that underscores entities do not have a right to secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

BiH FM MEETS BORRELL: Bosnia’s FM Bisera Turković yesterday met with the EU’s top foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Brussels. They discussed the European Commission’s 14 key priorities in the Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU membership application, burden sharing with the migrant crisis, Covid-19, and the need for the country to reform to move from Dayton to Brussels.

CROATIA AIMS TO JOIN CLUB MED: Croatian FM Gordan Grlić Radman said during a visit to Cyprus that Zagreb hopes to join the MED7, also known as Club Med which includes Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, and Spain. He told Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides that Croatia hopes to contribute to discussions on Mediterranean issues.

“EUROPE AT HOME” AGENDA IN N. MACEDONIA: The Government of N. Macedonia adopted the “Europe at Home” agenda at a government session. The goal is to implement European standards in every aspect of society.

  • PM of N. Macedonia Zoran Zaev said, “‘Europe at home’ Agenda translates the principles and commitments set as a priority in the government’s Action 21′ plan, which reaffirmed our determination to implement European standards and values ​​in every segment of our society. Through that, the citizens should receive better services and a better life and once again prove that North Macedonia deserves its place in the European Union and that it naturally belongs to the European family of nations”
  • Deputy PM Nikola Dimitrov noted, “The document we have gives a clear picture not only of all the tasks set in our reform plan and that we have an obligation to fulfill, but also accurately delegates competencies and responsibilities.”

U.S. PRESSURES ALBANIA ON ELECTIONS: U.S. Ambassador to Albania Yuri Kim reiterated the U.S. stance that criminals and politicians linked to criminals should not be allowed to run in the April 25 parliamentary elections. She called on the parties to self filter but warned the Central Election Commission (CEC) should also take up the task. Amb. Kim said, “There are three people that the US Secretary of State has designated. I will not put their names in my mouth, but you can find the record for yourself.” She added, “I think we would not be surprised if some candidates are disqualified after that process.”

ABAZOVIĆ IN N. MACEDONIA: Montenegro’s Deputy PM Dritan Abazović yesterday met with First Deputy PM and Minister of Political System and Inter-Community Relations of N. Macedonia Artan Grubi. Abazović called for citizens of N. Macedonia to visit Montenegro for summer holidays, spoke about establishing a “green corridor” during the tourist season, and agreed better regional cooperation could lead to more efficient procurement of Covid019 vaccines.

SINOPHARM FACTORY IN SERBIA: Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić announced that Belgrade will work in cooperation with the UAE and China to build a Sinopharm vaccine factory in Serbia. President Vučić said, “From October 15, we will have large quantities of vaccines for us and the entire region. We will have to give them to the region, at least at the production price. I hope Serbia will not bother anyone in that way. I want to believe that people understand that it is for the health of the entire region. Serbia will be drastically and incomparably bigger than today.”

VUČIĆ WIRETAPPING TO BE INVESTIGATED: Serbia’s Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin announced that evidence has been turned over in the wiretapping scandal that shook the president and his family. Minister Vulin said, “It’s done. We submitted all evidence to the prosecutors and her, and other Ministry’s officials’ role in the illegal wiretapping of the President and his family’s members is explained.”

ERJAVEC LEAVES PENSIONER’S PARTY: Slovenian politician Karl Erjavec has resigned as the President of the Pensioner’s Party (DeSUS) and left the party. There was speculation he was leaving the party after he accepted an advisory role at telecommunications company Iskratel. Most recently, Erjavec failed to garner enough votes in a motion of no confidence against PM Janez Janša. Erjavec served as Slovenia’s FM (2012-2018), Minister of Defense (2004-2008, 2018-2020), and Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning (2008-2010).

KOSOVO COMMEMORATES STUDENT PROTESTS: “A new exhibition has been opened in the student canteen at the University of Prishtina, where historic protests broke out on March 11, 1981.
“A new exhibition was opened on Thursday to commemorate the 40th anniversary of historic protests by Kosovo Albanians, which began at the student canteen at the University of Prishtina on March 11, 1981.”The ‘Vullkani i Republikes’ (“Volcano of the Republic”) exhibition was opened by the Kosovo State Archives Agency and features photographs from the protests and other memorabilia. It will be on display at the student canteen until March 13.” (Prishtina Insight)

LEO DI CAPRIO CALLS ON ALBANIA TO PROTECT RIVER: In a Tweet on Thursday, actor Leonardo Di Caprio called on the Albanian government to protect the Vjosa River. He tweeted, “The Vjosa River, its species, and the livelihoods that depend on them are under constant threat of destruction from dams. Watch Vjosa Forever with @Patagonia and sign the petition to ask the Albanian government to support #VjosaNationalParkNow: http://bit.ly/307bWpl

IN OTHER NEWS

OP-ED: “Montenegro is center stage in Balkan conflict” by Janusz Bugajski in The Washington ExaminerOP-ED: “The EU Is a Dishonest Broker on Western Balkan Demographics” by Allison Carragher in Carnegie Europe

OP-ED: “The EIB supports the long-term recovery of the Western Balkans” by VP of the European Investment Bank Lilyana Pavlova in bne Intellinews

ANALYSIS: “Kurti’s Kosovo Win Puts Spotlight on Tensions with Albania’s Rama” by Fatjona Mejdini in Balkan Insight

HUMAN INTEREST: “From Miami Beach villa, man with alleged mob ties builds business empire ⁠— in Albania” by Shirsho Dasgupta, Meghan Bobrowsky, and Lindita Cela in The Miami Herald