By Biagio Carrano*
For Donald Trump, economic interests are the essence of politics and signing economic normalization agreements also implies the political normalization of the parties involved.
The Washington Agreements of 4 September between Serbia and Kosovo therefore represent the mutual political recognition of the two countries. After more than two decades of soft ambiguity and constant uncertainty from European side, the pax americana arrived. In a single move, the Trump administration has cornered the European Union, Germany, Russia, China and Turkey, emptying and de-legitimizing agreements and commitments that these countries had patiently built up in recent years. Thus, the US, which a certain liberal vulgate believed would have withdrawn into itself during the Trump era, has regained total control of the Western Balkans.
An act of strength and authority on the part of the Americans who pushed Serbia and Kosovo to accept commitments and impositions they had avoided for decades. And all this in the face of generic economic commitments: it is not known when the construction of the infrastructures to be built between the two countries will start, how many resources the DFC, the US economic development arm for low and middle income countries, will commit, how many US companies will decide to invest in this part of Europe. The deepening of some points of the agreement was left to the European Union where on Monday 7 the delegations of the two countries will meet with Josef Borrell: a role for the Union almost only as a technical partner. If this is not a diplomatic humiliation, after more than twenty years of direct EU management of the Kosovo issue, we are close to it.
At the political level, Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence is little less in form than complete in substance. The common management of the Merdare border crossing, the mutual recognition of degrees and qualifications, the management of Lake Gazivoda, the exchange of information between them and with the USA for the tracing, including electronic and biometric, of all the people who pass in Serbia and Kosovo: these are not agreements between a state and its rebel province, but between two independent states. Moreover, as structured, this agreement also definitively closes any prospect of exchange of territories between Serbia and Kosovo.
China suffers a decisive setback, since Serbia will be forced to renounce the 5G developed by Huawei, effectively emptying all the most meaningful developments, in terms of control and data analysis, of the agreements signed on the subject by Xi Jinping during his visit to Serbia of the June 2016.
Russia finds itself displaced with respect to its geopolitical strategy in the Balkans by a single sentence of the agreement: “the parties will diversify their energy sources”, that is, they will not have to rely on TurkStream, whose Balkan arm, the oil pipeline, not surprisingly named Tesla, was to carry Russian gas from Greece to North Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary, reaching Austria. On this Richard Grenell, Trump’s special envoy for peace between Serbia and Kosovo, had already been categorical with Vucic in previous meetings.
Turkey, historical sponsor of Kosovars and Albanian irredentists, must accept the opening of diplomatic relations between Kosovo and Israel, while Serbia has been forced to go further and move the diplomatic representation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, weakening the European position of “two peoples, two states”, definitively renouncing the historical affinity with the Palestinian cause and aligning itself even more with the United Arab Emirates, which just a week ago signed the peace agreement with Israel.
The Netanyahu government seems to be almost the fourth part of these agreements, since it not only collects recognition from Kosovo, the Serbian diplomatic seat relocated in Jerusalem, the return of Jewish properties stolen during the Holocaust, but even an entire point is dedicated to commitment that Serbia and Kosovo must demonstrate against Hizbollah in order not to have the Shiite organization operate in their territories.
In many ways it is a diplomatic masterpiece, if by diplomacy we mean a form of use and imposition of power in international relations and not a smooth postponement of problems through generic declarations.
Richard Grenell, the true architect of the agreement, who also wanted to include a commitment against the discrimination of homosexuals by the two countries, is preparing to become a global reference figure for the Republicans as Richard Holbrooke was for the Democrats. It is not even risky to imagine for him the role of Secretary of State if Mike Pompeo were replaced. Grenell played hard, also claiming a strategy of real impositions on the parties: “Surprises are good. They press the sides to do more. We had some surprises but I don’t think either side was that surprised. They like to pretend before the media that they are more surprised than they actually are””, he told television Newsmax Adria.
Naturally, a minute after the signing of the agreement the ballet of declarations by the Serbian and Kosovar politicians began to try to reduce its historical significance. For his part, Grenell was very shrewd in giving Aleksandar Vucic the possibility of refusing to sign point 10 in the first draft which explicitly required the recognition of Kosovo: the Serbian president was thus able to claim this refusal before his people, but then had to accept almost everything. It was clear to the Americans that point 10 would never be accepted, but inserting it showed great negotiating skills on the part of the Americans. Of course, there will be clashes and protests in Serbia, but today Vucic is the only one who can guarantee the keeping of these agreements: perhaps they will try to weaken it, but none of the countries affected by this agreement has an interest in bringing him down.
This agreement, like the one between Israel and the Emirates and others that are likely to arrive in the coming weeks, will lead Trump to win the presidential elections in November, despite the human devastation caused by his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. And this not so much because in some US states the Serbian or Albanian components can be electorally crucial, but above all in function of the framework of global powers that he is activating in function of his re-election thanks to these peace agreements.
Many tend to belittle, if not denigrate, the successes of those who do not appreciate. It is a typical cognitive bias that causes them to fall into two mistakes: not learning from the ability of others and getting entangled in the cognitive bias that will lead them to further misunderstandings and defeats. We should all remember with Machiavelli that the laws of morality are very different from the laws of politics: accusing Donald Trump of being “amoral” would be an insult in any cultural gathering, but it is recognizing him, willingly or not, to possess the prerequisite to acquire, hold and to impose power. It is typical of the ferocious irony of history that a chatted real estate developer succeeded where experinced diplomatic and politicians of great intellectual finesse failed. (Serbian Monitor, September 7, 2020)
*Biagio Carrano, director and founder of Serbian Monitor and eastCOM Consulting Belgrade