Western Balkan groups call for US engagement to counter Serbia

Leaders of Albanian, Bosnian, Montenegrin communities say a return to US leadership is needed to counter Serbia’s ‘growing militancy’.

NATO soldiers patrol near the border between Kosovo and Serbia in Jarinje as Serbs remove trucks and cars that used to block the border [Armend Nimani/AFP]

Leaders and advocacy organisations from Albanian-American, Bosnian-American and Montenegrin-American communities have called on the US to commit to a stronger presence in the Western Balkans region amid “growing militancy of the government of Serbia”.

In an open letter published on Monday – addressed to the US Senate and House committees on foreign relations, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan – the signatories expressed alarm about what it called Serbia’s growing aggression towards Kosovo, but also increasingly towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro.

“This is a matter of utmost concern to the US because it directly imperils the peace and stability of the Western Balkans region and … in Europe as a whole,” the letter said.

The signatories said the “most alarming scenes” took place in Kosovo in late September, when the Serbian government of President Aleksandar Vucic deployed tanks, combat aircraft and armoured vehicles close to the border, after “Serbia reneged on a licence plate agreement which the EU negotiated with Serbia and Kosovo almost a decade ago”.

Earlier in September, a security crisis unravelled in Montenegro over the enthronement of the new Montenegrin Metropolitan of the Serbian Orthodox Church. It was conducted by the Church and the government in Podgorica, “whose close ties to Belgrade are well-known, in an inflammatory fashion, provoking ethnic tensions across the country”, it said.

In Bosnia, Vucic’s “closest regional collaborator”, the Serb member of Bosnia’s presidency, Milorad Dodik, has continued to threaten that Bosnia’s Serb-run entity of Republic Srpska will secede and has threatened to reform the “Army of Republic Srpska” to accomplish this goal, “whose leadership orchestrated the Srebrenica genocide”, in which Serb forces systematically killed more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys during several days in 1995.

Meanwhile, the Serbian government has been calling for the formation of a “Serb World,” which, according to its interior minister, aspires towards the “formal political and institutional ‘unification’ of all ethnic Serbs in the Western Balkans”.

The call has alarmed many in the region as it is seen as a reboot of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s “Greater Serbia” project which led to the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II.

All of Serbia’s “expansionist activities to date have come with the explicit support and backing of the Russian Federation”, the letter said.

With EU enlargement prospects for the Western Balkans having “all but disappeared … a return to US leadership in the Western Balkans is urgently needed,” it said.

The US played a key role in securing Kosovo’s sovereignty and implementing the Dayton Peace Agreement to end the war in Bosnia in December 1995.

“A strong signal must be sent to Belgrade that the use of force will never again be allowed to dictate the nature and direction of Western Balkan politics,” the letter said.

The signatories also called on congressional leaders to reinvigorate NATO enlargement as a priority for Bosnia and Kosovo.

Source: Al Jazeera