Red lines, ultimatums, threats, and promises

The DSS has deliberately taken steps which make it far more possible that the next President of Serbia will be from the Radical Party. They are sending a message to the International Community that this is one of the potential downsides of unilateral recognition of Kosovo Independence.

William Montgomery

G17 Plus wants to improve the country’s international financial position and its overall economic underpinnings.

DS is trying to move Serbia towards full integration in the Euro-Atlantic institutions and more importantly, have Serbia perceived as a normal European country, sharing a common system of values.

DSS remains focused on Serbian national questions such as Kosovo and Bosnia. The rivalries and animosity among these three parties is far stronger and more evident than towards either the Socialist or Radical Parties, which would logically be their political and philosophical opposition.

The end result is a government with major internal contradictions; “fiefdoms” exclusively controlled by individual parties; a patronage system where party loyalty rates far higher than competence, honesty or effectiveness; stalled reforms; and lack of coordination in public statements which results in contradictory messages to the outside world.

Despite all of above, the government under normal conditions could most likely stumble along, because none of the participating parties are eager for new elections. They have adeptly avoided confronting any issue which would make a split inevitable.

That is probably about to change. At least twenty members of the EU now seem prepared to join the United States in recognizing a unilateral declaration of independence by the Kosovo Albanians.

It is unclear exactly when various steps will take place, but the starting date will certainly be around December 10, the date when the troika of negotiators is due to submit their report to the UN. Serbian politicians are confronted with two fundamental and related questions.

The first is what additional last-minute steps can be taken to either delay or discourage key members of the EU from supporting this unilateral action. The second is what steps Serbia should take in the event that the worst case scenario actually happens and Kosovo in December starts down the independence road.

The DSS is prepared to take far stronger measures both in advance of December 10 to prevent any declaration of independence and also far stronger reactive measures if it does happen. The problem, however, is that many of the measures would adversely impact on the key goals of their coalition partners. The result is that the gap between the coalition partners is growing and will continue to do so as the DSS raises the ante on Kosovo.

The DSS has already taken steps to demonstrate that there will be serious regional repercussions in the event of Kosovo independence. A major initiative in this regard was to link the date of elections for the Serbian President to events in Kosovo.

In other words, the DSS has deliberately taken steps which make it far more possible that the next President of Serbia will be from the Radical Party. They are sending a message to the International Community that this is one of the potential downsides of unilateral recognition of Kosovo Independence.

This is a fascinating gambit in a number of ways. It shows clearly the actual state of relations between Prime Minister Koštunica and President Tadić. Secondly, as in the case of the DSS vote for a Radical as President of Parliament during the coalition negotiations several months ago, it shows that the DSS does not have the same degree of discomfort with the Radical Party that other parties in the governmental coalition and much of the International Community share.

Thirdly, it magnifies once again the issue of Kosovo on the Serbian political scene, as the DSS wants to do. Fourthly, it could have the tactical impact of delaying action in Kosovo. This however, would only be for a short period and only if there was a date certain for the Serbian elections within the next two months.

But finally, it has to raise questions about what sort of future the DSS envisions for Serbia if it is willing to facilitate a Radical as President with the implications this would have for Serbia’s image in much of the world. The strong reaction of the EU to the potential for a Right Wing Nationalist Party sharing power in Austria a few years ago comes to mind in this regard.

The second step which the Prime Minister and his party has taken is to support aggressively the Bosnian Serb leadership in its protests over measures taken by the High Representative to facilitate the work of the Bosnian Parliament and Council of Ministers.

This was accompanied by a coordinated media campaign reminiscent of the Milošević years. This was intentionally done to present a case of the International Community mistreating Serbs not only in Kosovo, but also in Bosnia.

The end result was to solidify, at least in the minds of the Serbs, a definite linkage between the two cases. It raises the possibility that any unilateral declaration by the Kosovo Albanians of independence could lead either to further Bosnian Serb challenges to the authority of the High Representative or even an effort to stage a referendum on independence for the Republika Srpska.

The intent, once again, is to convince the International Community that supporting unilateral independence for Kosovo will create more problems than it would solve.

Thirdly, the DSS has taken the lead in visibly cozying up to Russia. This includes claims that the West’s purpose in supporting Kosovo Albanian independence is to create a “NATO State” in the Balkans and other NATO bashing. The obvious intent is to show that the end result of Kosovo independence would be a Serbia far, far closer to Russia and more distant from the EU.

Finally, even though the government has been careful to avoid any overt signs of support, the announced formation of a “St. Tsar Lazar Guard” composed of Serbian volunteers to fight to defend Kosovo in the event of an unilateral declaration of independence is obviously designed to raise the possibility of paramilitary units going into Kosovo as they did in Bosnia and Croatia in 1990-95.

The hope of the DSS is that these threats and actions will be sufficient to scare key EU countries such as Germany so that they defer any action on Kosovo. At least as of today, however, it appears as if the majority of EU countries (including all of the “heavy hitters” with the support and encouragement of the United States has decided to proceed regardless of the potential consequences.

In fact, it unfortunately seems that many in the West are beginning to view Serbia, as during the Milošević years, as a destabilizing factor in the region. The “honeymoon” following the downfall of Milošević is definitely over.

The question then becomes, exactly what will Serbia do in the event of unilateral independence. My best guess is as follows:

a) A contingency plan has already been worked out with Kosovo Serbs so that they will react immediately in rejecting any unilateral declaration of independence. Serbian-controlled areas will be established in Kosovo similar to those set up in Bosnia and Croatia sixteen years ago.

b) At least some “volunteers” from Serbia proper will go to help the Kosovo Serbs. The government will take a hands-off position and claim that it had nothing to do with it.

c) The Bosnian Serbs will be encouraged to further challenge the High Representative, possibly even with a referendum initiative.

d) Large protest rallies will be staged in many cities in Serbia.

e) Efforts will be made in Parliament and in the media to significantly downgrade relations with countries which recognize Kosovo independence.

f) Serbia will renounce any responsibility for its debts in Kosovo with international financial institutions.

g) Serbia will close its boundaries with Kosovo for all traffic other than those with Serbian license plates and review its transit agreements with KFOR/NATO.

h) Serbia will consider cutting off its supply of electrical energy to Kosovo.

i) Serbia even now will encourage Russia to use the renewal of the EUFOR Mission in Bosnia in the UN Security, which is scheduled for December, to extract unacceptable concessions in exchange for its support.

j) Serbia will do some “saber-rattling” by ostentatiously moving military units closer to the boundary with Kosovo and reinforcing the police units currently there.

k) There may well be some highly-publicized departure of Kosovo Serbs, primarily from the more southern enclaves.

As these events unfold, the potential for violence and pressure for additional measures will be very high. Relations with the United States and the EU will deteriorate sharply.

The coalition partners of the DSS will see much of their work and their goals evaporating in front of them and will be confronted with either leaving the government or accepting responsibility for actions which will take them further from their professed reasons for joining the government in the first place.

The problem is that although I see this train wreck comely clearly down the line, I just don’t see how it will be stopped.

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