US to support Serbia amid tensions with Kosovo if Belgrade joins Russian sanctions

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By Euronews
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaks during a press conference after meeting with European Union envoy Miroslav Lajcak, in Belgrade, Serbia, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaks during a press conference after meeting with European Union envoy Miroslav Lajcak, in Belgrade, Serbia, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023.   -   Copyright  AP Photo

The international community expects Serbia and Kosovo to make efforts to defuse tensions between Kosovans and Serbs and help secure a reconciliation agreement after envoys from the European Union and the US visited the region last Friday.

The territorial dispute between the two former war foes remains a source of instability in the Balkans as Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine rages on.

But Washington is ready to offer Belgrade economic and diplomatic support on the condition that Serbia joins Western allies in sanctions against Russia.

Euronews Serbia spoke to the US special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo, Gabriel Escobar.

"Serbia has an important choice to make, they could signal it, if they want to, by sanctions [against Russia]," he explained. "Now, I think that they should impose sanctions, I think that everybody in Europe should impose sanctions, based on what's happening in Ukraine. 

"But that's a choice for Serbia to make. I just think that it looks bad for Serbia to be outside of mainstream Europe [on this matter]", he added.

If Serbia fully participates with the West then Washington and Brussels may ask Kosovo to meet Serbia's demand in establishing "communities of Serb majority municipalities" in northern Kosovo.  

In turn, the US wants Brussels to do its part and press ahead with EU integration and speed up the accession process.

Serbia officially applied for European Union membership in December 2009 but accession negotiations are still ongoing. 

Kosovo formally submitted an application for membership in December 2022.

"At the end of this process, I want to see that the EU is committed to the enlargement in the Western Balkans and that the countries of the Western Balkans are on a track to fully integrate into the EU in a reasonable period of time. By 'reasonable' I don't mean 20 years, I mean much sooner" said Escobar.

For Escobar, one of the best solutions to help both sides integrate would be the introduction of standardised Western Balkans vehicle license plates. 

Last November tensions between Serbia and its former province mounted again over the Kosovo government’s decision to ban Serbian-issued license plates, matching Serbia’s earlier ban on Kosovo license plates.

Kosovo unilaterally broke away from Serbia in 2008. The Serbian government, with support from China and Russia, has refused to acknowledge Kosovo’s statehood. The US and most of its European allies recognise Kosovo as an independent country.