The current Kosovo’s issue
As from January 14 until a few days ago, a Serbian train was stationing on the Kosovo border. The train is decorated with letters that read “Kosovo is Serbian” in various languages, as well as with a series of figures and insignia of the Orthodox religion and Serbian nationalism. Kosovo’s authorities have so far blocked the train march along the 213 km line from Belgrade to Mitroviça, a city with a Serb majority located within Muslim Kosovo.
The political and military tension is already very high: Serbia can count on an armed force of about 60,000 well-trained and armed soldiers, while the Kosovo security forces can reach a maximum size of 6,000 units. As is well-known, the peace agreement between Serbia and Kosovo dates back to twenty years ago: it was reached after the NATO bombing of the Serbian capital, Belgrade. Today, almost all Western countries recognize Kosovo’s independence, with the exception of Russia and China, which believe that the region is an integral part of Serbia.As, indeed, is still enshrined in the current Serbian Constitution.
It is worth recalling that the Dayton Agreements (or, more precisely, the General Framework Agreement for Peace) of November 1995 envisaged a strategic architecture foreboding countless problems, as often happens when you build States and even peoples in a bureaucratic way.
The Dayton Agreements provided for the establishment of a Croat-Muslim Federation, accounting for 51% of the pre-agreement national territory, as well as 92 municipalities and Republika Srpska, which is sovereign over the remaining 49%.
The two entities are largely autonomous but, as the Agreements read, they are placed “within a unitary State framework”.
A vague phrase and, once again, foreboding strategic and geopolitical dangers we can easily imagine.
The Presidency rotates every eight months by alternating a Serb, a Croat and a Muslim Head of State.
As often happened – and this applies also to Italy – the peace reached after the US victory led to fully dysfunctional political and constitutional systems, with internal mechanisms of block and overrepresentation not even allowing the normal functioning of the institutions.
Obviously this weakens forever the State that lost the war or the nation which is “engineered” in such a way as to block any decision or postpone it indefinitely.
Republika Srpska is also equipped with an autonomous single-chamber Parliament, while the Croat-Muslim Federation is characterized by a two-chamber legislative Assembly.
Therefore, every four years, 42 members are elected, 28 of whom are voted by the Federation and the remaining 14 by the Serbs, while the “House of Peoples” counts 5 Serbs, 5 Croats and 5 Muslims.
Hence clear overrepresentation of Balkan Islam and an equally clear political mechanism punishing the Serb population, as well as a State political apparatus made on purpose to be ineffective and dysfunctional.
Furthermore, between 2012 and 2015, at least 250 Muslims from Bosnia-Herzegovina alone moved to the Middle East to wage the jihad – a significant number considering that the total population amounts to 3,800,000 people.
Weapons of war are still widespread and Islamist and jihadist terrorist groups are mostly concentrated in mountain villages.
Bosniac media speak of at least 64 paradzemate, namely autonomous jihadist and terrorist groups spread over peripheral villages and mountains.
Furthermore the President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodic, is currently under investigation on charges of money laundering, but he has scheduled a referendum in 2018 to declare the Serbian side’s independence.
Kosovo is a country with one of the highest rates of political corruption in the world, while the Serbs present in the Kosovo Republic have recently been authorized to have large territorial autonomy from EU supervisors.
With the Western winners’ silly nationalistic engineering, the crazy Balkan wars of the 1990s have created a powder keg which is bound to burst at any moment.
In Macedonia, a notoriously corrupt government has exacerbated tensions with the local Albanian minority, accounting for approximately 25% of the population, who wants to achieve independence through the federalization of Macedonia and, in the future, of all the Balkan States created by the ill-omened Dayton Agreements.
Albanians, as well as Muslims, are everywhere in the Balkans.
Applying the criterion of ethnic or religious status means no longer set logical or territorial limits to the Balkan hyper-fragmentation.
In Croatia, the United States has supported the local armed forces against the Serbian Krajina’s military, in a geopolitical cupio dissolvi that – instead of rebuilding a strong Serbia, capable of acting as a bulwark against jihadist Islam – has generated a long series of small and irrelevant ethnic republics – often religion-based – thus creating the tension which is currently emerging in the Balkans.
The same holds true for Kosovo, where the US support was in Albanians’ favour.
Why? If the United States had blocked the smuggling of weapons on the border between Kosovo and Albania, by condemning the violence of Kosovo’s forces and the equally harsh violence of the Serb forces, the agreement would have been easier and more stable.
Once the US threat to bomb the region had become clear, the Serbian population of Kosovo was left alone and unarmed, in the grip of violence perpetrated by KLA and the other Kosovo-Albanian paramilitary organizations.
Pain and fear are still a recent memory, embedded in the minds of many Serbs and other groups that have been inevitably underrepresented in the mad Western post-Yugoslav system of divide and rule.
Therefore, the first and – we could say – the last war, waged by the United States in their new role as single global superpower, has led to an irrational and unstable situation.
It seems that today “humanitarian” wars are no longer fought to define a new strategic balance, but to perpetuate instability and military conflicts in the places in which they occur.
Just think of the Lebanon – which is now a long-standing case of “geopolitical usucapion” – or of Central Africa.
Where we reason in terms of “stabilization forces”, certainly stabilization is reached, but it is the stabilization of the military, humanitarian and geopolitical crisis we initially wanted to solve.
Hence making the Balkans porous, pervious and unstable – possibly to destabilize also the EU in the future and give the whole region to Islamism – was certainly not a good idea.
Furthermore, at the time, although being opposed to ethno-religious separatism, Russia did not want to fully support the Orthodox and Slavic Serbia, for fear that the separation of Serbs from the rest of former Yugoslavia favoured the application of the same principle to Chechnya.
Conversely, Turkey fully supported the US stabilization of the region, which favoured the Islamists and, in particular, brought peace to Turkey’s main economic axis to penetrate the EU.
Certainly, after Daesh-Isis’ siege of Mosul, many jihadist foreign fighters will go or come back to the Balkans, namely the closest, most Islamized and most unstable Eurasian region, as well as a buffer between a weak and listless European Union and the new great Islamic political-military ummah which is being built.
Salafism is also increasingly widespread in the Balkans, lavishly subsidized by Saudi Arabia. Until the late 1990s, thousands of jihadists went to fight, in Kosovo and Croatia, to defend their fellow Islamists in many post-Yugoslav wars.
So far approximately 900 Albanian, Croat and Bosnian jihadists have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq and about 300 of them have already come back and – as we can easily imagine – will not stand with their arms folded.
Last year a video developed by Daesh-Isis “advertised” a Balkan “regional caliphate”, calling Albanian and Bosniac militants for the jihad.
The reduction of rights and territories of the Serbian and Slavic Orthodox Christians – namely the target of many recent Balkan wars – was only aimed at reducing the Russian influence in the region, but gave us the Bosnian-Albanian jihad.
In my opinion, it is not a brilliant result.
Reverting to the Serbian train, in all likelihood, if it gets across the Kosovo border, it will be attacked by Kosovo security forces. Hence the casus belli – that the Serbs are seeking to redefine borders to their advantage, as well as to take back Albanian Republic’s regions which, inter alia, are traditionally Serbian – will materialize.
It should also be noted that Kosovo’s Parliament is currently discussing whether and when to build a real army.
Currently its Security Forces consists of 2,500 soldiers with light weapons and 800 reservists.
On the contrary, Kosovo’s politicians think of a real armed force with 5,000 soldiers and 3,000 reservists.
Certainly Kosovo’s new military will not stay idle and will undoubtedly facilitate the Salafist penetration and help the networks of jihadists coming back from Syria and Iraq.
Hence, after ending operations in Syria, the next permanent destabilization region will be the Balkan Islamic, Kosovo, Bosnian and Croat region.
This will lead to currently unimaginable pressures on the EU, which will have a huge reservoir of jihadists at its side, who will surely close the buffer area between the European Union and Central Asia, as well as definitively destabilize the continuity between Europe and the Russian Federation.
Moreover, China itself will be locked in its “passage to the West” with the Belt and Road Initiative, which will stop where desired by the jihadists who occupy the “middle region” between the EU and Eurasia.
It is currently hard to imagine the economic, strategic and geopolitical impact of the Balkans’ future destabilization, but I fear it will be huge, thus distorting Europe’s military and strategic posture, as well as its economic development.
Meanwhile, instead of blindly following the US “policy line” in the Balkans – well remembering Bill Clinton’s big statue in the Kosovo’s capital, Pristina – the EU should think about a strategy, including a military one, to face the current crisis of all Balkan countries.
EU’s Energy and Politic Approach to Indonesia: Between Hate and Love
Authors: Akhmad Hanan and Mayora Bunga Swastika
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Europe has been forced to seek alternative energy sources other than Russian gas. Previously, Russia supplied around 40% of Europe’s gas needs through pipelines owned by Russia’s Gazprom. However, Russia decided to cut their gas supply to Europe as a counter action of US and its ally economic sanction. As a result, Europe has left no choice but to buy expensive LNG, optimize renewable energy sources, and tap other coal-producing countries.
Winter came, and it tormented Europeans even more. The energy scarcity due to the absence of Russian gas put many European countries into crisis. They had to pay higher for alternative energy sources as a domino effect of the Russia-Ukraine war. They also decided to utilize coal, contradicting their robust commitment towards energy transition goals and the Paris Agreement. Europe’s decision to turn back on coal has also altered the global energy transition’s geopolitical landscape. Europe is seen as a region supporting accelerated energy transitions and encouraging countries outside the region to follow suit. However, currently, Europe is taking steps contrary to efforts to accelerate the energy transition.
At the same time, Indonesia got their windfall profit through the European situation due to the rising coal price in the market. Europe has been one of Indonesia coal exporters, and following the disruption in Europe’s energy supply, Indonesia attempted to capitalize on the situation by increasing export quotas to Europe. This strategy was taken since Indonesia is one of the world’s largest coal producing countries.
Indonesia’s Ministry of Trade reports coal exports to Europe reached 6.6 million tons in December 2022. Previously, Indonesia only exported less than 1 million tons per year to the same region at the same time. The main reason was some European countries such as Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Poland, the Netherlands, and Germany increased their demand for Indonesian coal significantly.
Additionally, Indonesia became the top global coal exporter in 2022, with a total of 469 million tons, 9% higher than the previous year. Indonesia used to export coal to developing countries, mainly in Asia. As a result, Indonesia’s state revenue exceeded the targets by almost three times higher than expected. The Indonesia’s ministry of finance calculated the realization of state revenue reached 7.8 million USD, 2.8 million USD higher, and it was highly contributed from the coal trading.
Relations between Indonesia and Europe regarding energy commodities are indeed often tug-of-war. Hitherto, the European Union’s relationship with Indonesia was strained due to Indonesia’s decision on palm oil and nickel commodities. Indonesia’s decision to utilize palm as a biofuel source was feared to increase land use change in tropical forests and reduce its capacity to be a natural based solution in climate change mitigation.
Indonesia’s decision to ban nickel export was also being challenged by the European Union at the WTO in November 2019. The EU claimed this decision was unfairly harming its stainless steel industry. However, Indonesia insisted this decision was made for national development. From Indonesia’s point of view, Indonesia’s decision is one of the efforts to protect its national interests to fulfill domestic supply. Indonesia’s downstream plans will be threatened if Indonesia lifts the nickel export ban as desired by the EU. The Indonesian government has a target to build a nickel smelter in Indonesia. However, Indonesia lost the EU lawsuit regarding the nickel export ban.
Indonesia-Europe relations and Indonesia’s defeat in the nickel export ban lawsuit show that the issue of international relations is still closely interdependent. A country cannot only pay attention to its domestic interests but also pay attention to common interests. In this case, Indonesia and EU benefit from each other when conducting economic cooperation, especially export-import. This can be seen from the benefits when coal exports to the EU increase. Of course, the benefits of this cooperation will not be obtained if the two countries do not cooperate.
Apart from Indonesia’s interest in securing domestic supply, Indonesia should be able to take opportunities to cooperate with other countries, including the EU, in the energy sector. Cooperation between countries that cannot be avoided in the era of globalization should be the foundation for Indonesia in making and carrying out foreign policy. Indonesia must find a win-win solution in its relations with other countries because doing protection in this era is not a solution.
Europe’s relations with Africa and Asia are on the brink of collapse, and Russia is benefiting
More than one year since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the world remains caught in the middle. Against a backdrop of high energy and food prices, ravaging inflation, social unrest and fears of another global recession, Western and Russian blocs are once again vying for support from nations of the developing world.
Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz, Sergei Lavrov, Qin Gang, and Anthony Blinken are just some of the names that have made high-profile visits to Africa in the last 12 months. All have largely focused on cooperation and trade, yet each has done so with a discourse reflecting a kind of Cold War reboot, with Ukraine as one of its most prominent symptoms.
Each in their own way, armed with their respective propaganda, these superpowers wish for nations of Africa and Asia to pick a side. Yet, unlike the previous century, those nations cannot so easily be made to choose, nor should they have to. Russia understands this. The West does not.
It’s no secret that Africa has been reluctant to overtly condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine, or to participate in Western efforts to sanction and isolate the warring country. Instead, African and Asian nations have continued to welcome these longstanding partners with open arms – widely condemning the war, but not Russia.
In Malawi, for instance, Russia’s deliveries of tens of thousands of tonnes of fertiliser amidst global shortages are seen as a gift from heaven by struggling farmers. Malawi’s minister of agriculture shook hands with the Russian ambassador, describing Russia gratefully as “a true friend”. Russia’s announced plans to send 260,000 tonnes of fertiliser to countries across Africa, is certain to spread similar sentiments.
In my country Congo-Brazzaville, the government signed five major cooperation agreements with Russia in the midst of its war with Ukraine, including for the construction of a new oil pipeline and to enhance military cooperation.
This charm offensive, prominently led by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who has visited South Africa, Eswatini, Angola, Eritrea, Mali, Sudan and Mauritania just since January, is already nourishing pro-Russian sentiment throughout the continent, and stands in sharp contrast to the damp squib that was President Emmanuel Macron’s recent African adventure.
In his press conference with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President, Felix Tshisekedi, in what was perhaps the most deaf-tone faux pas of his entire trip, President Macron was repeatedly asked to condemn Rwanda’s support for M23 rebels causing havoc in eastern DRC – a situation that closely resembles Russia’s covert support for Donbass separatists in recent years. For all intents and purposes, he failed to do so.
Instead, when a French journalist quizzed him on former Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s disparaging mention of an “African-style compromise” in relation to President Tshisekedi election in 2019, Macron proceeded to lecture the Congolese President on freedom of the press – much to the disbelief of those witnessing the scene.
Despite President Macron’s effusive rhetoric about ‘new relationships’ and ‘new starts’, his outburst was yet another bitter reminder of Europe’s longstanding paternalistic and dissonant attitude towards the continent. This is the same attitude whereby decades of European political and military influence on the continent have failed to generate meaningful progress when they did not actively undermine those efforts. Africans are wise to this and refuse to take it anymore, as evidenced by the growth in anti-French sentiment in West Africa. Russia, China and others, though far from being without reproach, are merely seizing the presented opportunities.
Just as the share of EU aid going to Africa has declined significantly, similar problems are afoot with Europe’s relations in Asia. Its share of Southeast Asian merchandise trade, excluding China, fell by over a third over the last two decades. Western Europe was the destination for less than a tenth of Malaysian, Singaporean, South Korean and Taiwanese exports in 2021. Russia is again moving fast to fill the gap, adopting China as its main trading partner, and consistently exporting oil and gas to eager Asian buyers, rather than to the West. When Russia suspended its double taxation treaties with “unfriendly” countries around the world in mid-March, most Southeast Asian countries were exempted from this measure.
Moreover, Russia has over the last decade become the largest arms supplier to the region, recently running joint naval exercises with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia have all rejected imposing sanctions on Moscow, whilst Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia to improve agricultural trade earlier this year.
One cannot fault these nations for engaging in partnerships and cooperation with international partners, in the interest of addressing their most urgent societal priorities. Nor can one fault African and Asian countries for taking with a pinch of salt a discourse on international values and change, when this supposed change stems not from recognition of current flaws, but from the impositions of emergent global trends.
What lessons can be given about territorial integrity and justice, when the events of 2011 in Libya, as well as their enduring consequences, remain traumatically fresh in African minds, or when the posture of African countries relative to the war in Ukraine is almost identical to that of Europe relative to the conflict in the eastern provinces of the DRC?
What lessons should be drawn from European courts proceeding to the seizure of Malaysian assets and properties worth $15 billion – including lucrative oil and gas assets – based on a questionable arbitration authorised by a Spanish arbitrator facing criminal prosecution from the Spanish authorities? And who will really benefit, given that this claim on sovereign territories, derived from a mid-nineteenth agreement between a long-vanished Sultanate and a colonial-era British company, is funded by unknown third-party investors?
The willingness of European courts to confiscate the resources and assets of a sovereign Asian nation on such flimsy grounds is not lost on observers in Africa and across the developing world.
Whatever the answer to these questions may be, it is evident that relations between the old and new worlds will continue to strain as long as underlying assumptions and beliefs do not evolve. Specifically, change is needed in those attitudes that continue to consider developing nations as oblivious to the many contradictions of rhetoric and practice that characterise the world as we know it – whether in terms of: a system of aid and trade that nourishes the imbalances and ills it purports to address; a discourse on international law and values that crumbles in the face of past transgressions and current drives for reforms; or even negotiations on climate finance in which urgency stops when economic interests begin.
The Western world can only reverse this trajectory by seeking out a genuinely new footing in its relations with the countries of Africa and Asia – challenging its own assumptions and understandings about what a respectful partnership between equally legitimate nations truly means. This is not about paying lip-service to ideals struggling to remain convincing, nor is it about entirely conceding these ideals on the altar of economic pragmatism.
Rather this means accepting a due share of responsibility for the current state of affairs, understanding expectations for the future, being willing to make real concessions, and aligning discourse with dollars and deeds. In doing so, the Western world will reassure those of us that continue to believe in the promises of the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that these were not merely pretences to maintain hegemony in the face of existential threats, but rather an enduring vision for a better world that remains worth fighting for today.
A Muscular U.S. Foreign Policy and Changing Alliances
Imagine a country rich in fossil fuels and another nearby that is Europe’s premier industrial power in dire need of those resources — is that a match made in heaven?
Not according to Joe Biden who quashed it as if it was a match made in hell. Biden was so much against any such rapprochement that to end all prospects of a deal, he ordered the bombing of the Nord Stream pipelines. Two out of four lines were severely damaged, about 50 meters of them and Russia chose not to conduct repairs. Instead,it is pumping its gas up through Turkey.
So far, Russia has not responded to this act of war but a leader can not afford to lose face domestically or internationally, and one may not be surprised if an American facility or ship suffers an adverse event in the future.
In the meantime, Russia has become fast friends with China — the latter having its own bone to pick with Biden. China, a growing industrial giant, has almost insatiable energy needs and Russia stands ready to supply them. An informal deal has been agreed upon with a formal signing ceremony on March 20, 2023.
So who won this fracas? Russia gets to export its gas anyway and China, already generating the world’s highest GDP on a purchasing-power-parity basis, has guaranteed itself an energy source.
Of course there is Ukraine where Biden (like the US in Vietnam) is ready to fight to the last Ukrainian. Despite a valiant resistance, they are not winning, for Russia continues to solidify its hold on Ukraine’s east, most recently by taking Soledar and capturing parts of the transport hub Bakhmut itself.
And then there is Saudi Arabia: hitherto a staunch U.S. ally, it is now extending a hand of friendship to Iran, which its previous king used to call the snake in the Middle East. But Saudi Arabia is keenly aware of the vassal-like manner in which the U.S. has treated Germany, its ally with the largest economy in Europe, over its desire to buy cheap gas from Russia. The deal was nixed and observers estimate it cost Germany a couple of points of GDP growth. Such a loss in the U.S. would translate to almost zero growth.
India used to be a neutral country between the great powers. In fact, its first leader after independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a leading figure in the non-aligned movement. It is now being tugged towards the US.
The latest tug is ICET or the initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies. Its purpose is to find ways to engage through “innovation bridges” over the key areas of focus. This coordination between the two countries is to cover industry, academia and government.
On the other hand, India’s arch rival Pakistan used to be in the US orbit for decades. Now it is virtually a Chinese client state even though for a time, particularly during the Afghan war, it was a source of much help for the US.
Such are the vagaries of alignments in a multi-polar world, particularly when under pressure from major powers.
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