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NATO 2020 ANNUAL REPORT – WHERE DO THE BALKANS STAND?: NATO released its 2020 annual report yesterday which highlighted NATO 2030, relations with Russia, and updates on various missions and exercises the alliance participates in or leads.
  • Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earmarked three clear goals for 2030:(1) remain a strong military Alliance, (2) make NATO stronger politically, and (3) ensure NATO adopts a more global approach.
By the numbers: NATO also released a communique on defense expenditures 2013-2020. Let’s take a look at how the region has changed in total expenditure and percent of GDP.

Total expenditure in millions of USD

  • In 2020, Montenegro, N. Macedonia, and Albania were the bottom three in total expenditure. Given their size, and Montenegro and N. Macedonia’s recent accession to NATO, this is not shocking.
  • On the other end of the spending spectrum, the U.S. spends the most ($784,952,000) followed by the UK ($61,847,000) and Germany ($58,999,000).
  • Note: the numbers for 2020 are estimates.

Defense expenditure as a share of GDP and annual real change

  • Keep in mind – at the NATO Summit in Wales in 2014, members agreed to increase defense spending to 2% of GDP by 2024.
  • Currently, Estonia, France, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, the UK, and the U.S. reach the 2% target.
  • Note: the numbers for 2020 are estimates.
U.S.-ALBANIA WEEK CARRIES ON: Events surrounding the 30th anniversary of the U.S. and Albania re-establishing diplomatic relations continued on Tuesday after a ceremony organized by the Albanian Ministry of European and Foreign Affairs.
  • U.S. Ambassador Yuri Kim in her remarks on Monday highlighted, “Thirty years ago, the people of Albania broke free from the shackles of dictatorship and communism, and the United States proudly grasped the Albanian hand that was extended, freely, and in sincerity, in friendship.”
  • She continued, “Over the years, we have worked together on a range of many shared goals and priorities, including fighting corruption, strengthening the rule of law, democratization, European security, and expanding Transatlantic ties.”
  • Albanian FM Olta Xhaçka focused on U.S. support for reforms on Tirana’s path to join the European Union. She underscored how the U.S. was by Albania’s side for the past 30 years during the democratization process that has led to NATO membership and its path to the European Union.

CONGRESSIONAL CAUCUS ON ALBANIAN ISSUES: Albania’s Ambassador to the U.S. Floreta Faber announced Congressman Jim Himes (D, CT-4) has joined as a Co-Chair of the Albanian Caucus.

CROATIA OPENS MARITIME CRISIS CENTER: U.S. Chargé d’Affairs to Croatia Victoria Taylor joined Croatia’s State Secretary Josip Bilaver from the Ministry Sea, Transportation and Infrastructure at the opening of the U.S. funded Maritime Crisis Coordination & Training Center. In a Tweet, Chargé Taylor highlighted U.S. European Command assistance in setting up the center. This is the latest project between the U.S. and Croatia at the port in Rijeka.

BiH PRESIDENCY IN TURKEY: The tripartite Members of the Presidency of BiH yesterday met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara. They discussed increasing the construction of the Belgrade-Sarajevo highway, increasing trade, Covid-19, and NATO.

  • Presidency Chairman Milorad Dodik said, “Erdoğan’s care for everyone is the best example of how we should all behave in BiH trying to build a tolerant society.”
  • Presidency Member Šefik Džaferović noted, “It is our goal to increase the trade exchange between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey to one billion dollars.”
  • Turkey’s Erdoğan expressed support for Bosnia’s Euro Atlantic integration “especially in NATO.” Erdoğan pledged to donat 30,000 Covid-19 vaccines to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

BACK IN SARAJEVO…: Hungarian FM Péter Szijjártó met with Bosnian counterpart Bisera Turković. The interlocutors discussed Bosnia’s Euro Atlantic integration, the migrant crisis, and Covid.

  • FM Szijjártó underscored Hungary’s support for Euro Atlantic integration. He said, “We know exactly that this requires the acceleration of Euro-Atlantic integration. Because your security and development are also the guarantees of our security and development. This is why the support to the region of Western Balkans will always be in the focus of Hungary’s foreign policy.”
  • He also offered support to BiH for the migrant crisis. He said, “Hungary is ready to send a unit of 15 border police officers to Bosnia and Herzegovina, to help the country protect its borders.”
  • On the trip, the Hungarian FM brought 43,000 PCR tests.

SZIJIÁRTÓ ALSO IN BELGRADE: Hungarian FM Péter Szijjártó also stopped in Belgrade with counterpart Nikola Selaković. The two discussed Covid-19 vaccines and vaccine passports, the “historically highest possible level of relations,” and trade between the the two countries.

DJUKANOVIĆ ON LOSS IN NIKŠIĆ: Montenegrin President Milo Djukanović responded to his party ( Democratic Party of Socialists – DPS) losing municipal elections in his hometown of Nikšić. He said, “DPS scored better than in the general election and showed it will play a stabilizing role on the political scene and a leading position in advocating Montengro’s’ European future.” He added, “And, I believe, it (DPS) will soon return into the power at the state level.”

CROATIA RECEIVES SURE FUNDS: “The European Commission handed out 9 billion Euros from its SURE Instrument on Tuesday, of which 510 million went to Croatia. However, a survey conducted by AmCham shows that almost 40% of companies operating in Croatia are looking to increase employment in the coming period.

“SURE is the EU’s temporary Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency, and is available to Member States that need to mobilize significant financial means to fight the negative economic and social consequences of the coronavirus outbreak. This is second installment of SURE funds for Croatia, totaling 1.02 billion.” (Voice of Croatia)

FORMING A GOV’T IN KOSOVO: Likely next PM of Kosovo Albin Kurti and Acting President Vjosa Osmani yesterday met with Serb List President Goran Rakić and Vice President Dalibor Jevtić as a part of ongoing consultations with political parties to form a government. Kurti and Osmani are set to meet with new leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) Lumir Abdixhiku on Friday. Kosovo Parliament will meet on March 22 when it is likely that Kuti will be nominated.

PETKOVIĆ IN KOSOVO: Serbia’s Director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Petar Petković is on a two-day visit to Kosovo. Yesterday, he visited a health center in Zvečan and families in the north. He will be in Gračanica/Graçanicë today for a mass at the monastery.

SLOVENIA DITCHES ASTRAZENECA, CROATIA TO CONTINUE USING: Slovenia’s Health Minister Janez Poklukar announced the country will temporarily stop administering the AstraZeneca vaccine pending a review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) over concerns that it could produce blood clots. Slovenia joins the growing list of EU countries that have halted the use of the vaccine. It will continue to administer the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Meanwhile, Croatian PM Andrej Plenković said his country will continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine.

NEW PARTY IN SLOVENIA: Former President of the Pensioners Party (DeSUS) and Minister of Agriculture, Aleksandra Pivec, announced she is founding a new party called For People Movement. The first meeting of the new party will take place on Saturday in Maribor.

EX-KLA ARRESTED IN BELGIUM: Former KLA commander Pjetër Shala was arrested in Belgium on an indictment from the Kosovo Specialist Chambers.

GOING GREEN: “The Infrastructure Ministry has launched a public consultation on the draft national strategy to phase out coal and restructure the country’s two coal regions. The document applies to Savinja-Šalek, which has coal-fired power station TEŠ and a coal mine, and to Zasavje, where there are no longer any active mines or thermal plants.”For the Savinja-Šalek region, the ministry has proposed the most ambitions of the three scenarios, which sets down 2033 as the deadline to phase out coal.

“For Zasavje region, the ministry was also choosing between three scenarios, opting for the one which entails balanced investments, it said in Monday’s release.” (Slovenia Times)


ANALYSIS: “Kosovo Seeks ‘Reset’ of Decade-Old Dialogue with Serbia” by Përparim Isufi in Balkan InsightHUMAN INTEREST: “‘Nobody Can Say It’s Not a Great Tragedy’: Sinologist on Uyghur Poet Fleeing Xinjiang to France” by Jilil Kashgary and Joshua Lipes in Radio Free Asia: “Merdan Ehet’éli, a young Uyghur who was stuck in Serbia without travel documents for the past two years, arrived in France and was granted asylum earlier this month with the help of the French embassy in Belgrade. A French society for authors and the European Uyghur Institute played an important role in the passage to France of Ehet’éli, An accomplished poet whose poems ‘Country”’and ‘Common Night’ have been well received.”

HUMAN INTEREST: “A Day in the Life of a Balkan EMS Crew (Photos)” in Direct Relief

CULTURE: “How African hip-hop and Balkan jazz helped save a local bowlo” by Nick Galvin in The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

SPORT: “Bosnian Football Federation elects new leader, UEFA promises support” in N1

SPORT: “Zdravko Mamic says willing to serve his prison term only in BiH” in N1

TRAVEL: “No Croatian Mass Tourism in 2021, Though Some Destinations Will Prosper” by Lauren Simmonds in Total Croatia News