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The Anniversary of Kosovo’s Independence: Results and Prospects

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This year marks a decade since Kosovo proclaimed its independence, and that independence has by now become a hard fact. The country has been recognized by 106 UN members (according to Serbian data, or by 114 countries according to Kosovo itself), including 23 EU members (with the exception of Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Slovakia and Romania) and all its regional neighbours (with the exception of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina; the latter refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence because of Republika Srpska’s position). Kosovo’s international status was further strengthened by the UN International Court of Justice, which officially recognized the republic’s independence on July 22, 2010. The court’s fairly controversial verdict reads that Kosovo’s declaration of independence does not breach international law. Brussels contributed in the form of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the EU and Kosovo, which was signed on October 27, 2015 and came into force on April 1, 2016. However, it will take Kosovo a long time to prove that its statehood is tenable.

The new-fangled state is facing the same old structural problems that were caused by the territory’s socioeconomic and sociocultural underdevelopment, rather than by the fact that it was not an independent state. Kosovo’s archaic economy spawns skyrocketing unemployment, mainly among the youth, which in turn nurtures socio-political radicalism, international crime and growing Islamic extremism. Getting rid of Kosovo’s established reputation as a pan-European mafia transit hub for drugs, human trafficking and contraband goods will also require huge efforts. The territory’s reputation will not benefit from the findings of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office, which is starting to look in the crimes perpetrated by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in 1998–1999. Although Serbia, with the backing of Russia and China, has thus far refused to formally recognize Kosovo’s independence, there are many things indicating that this firm stance may not last for long.

Kosovo and Serbia

Serbia has already de facto recognized Kosovo’s independence – under Aleksandr Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party and Ivica Dacic’s Socialist Party of Serbia, both of which are viewed as nationalist and pro-Russian parties – in accordance with the 2013 Brussels agreement on the normalization of relations. Belgrade transferred the Serb-populated northern portion of Kosovo to Pristina in order to be able to begin negotiations on accession to the European Union. All Serbia received in return from Kosovo was a promise to set up a fairly notional Community of Serb Municipalities, which never materialized.

Belgrade also made significant concessions to Brussels with regard to other aspects of its Balkan policy. Seeing as the Serbian leadership continues to make one self-detrimental compromise after another in the talks with Pristina under the aegis of Brussels, we may assume that Belgrade is prepared to do virtually everything in order to be accepted into the EU. The “intra-Serbian dialogue” on the Kosovo problem initiated by President Vucic and the draft amendments to the Constitution of Serbia (which currently describes Kosovo as part of Serbia) are aimed at dismantling the last remaining legal obstacles to Belgrade’s recognition of Kosovo. No other outcome is to be expected, given that accession to the EU is Belgrade’s declared foreign policy priority, and it is supported by both the ruling parties and the majority of the opposition. For Brussels, a legally binding treaty on the comprehensive normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina is a mandatory condition of Serbia’s accession. In an attempt to further stimulate Vucic to speed up the process, the EU has announced that Serbia might become a member in 2025, provided that Belgrade completes the pre-accession talks and normalizes relations with Kosovo by 2019 at the latest. The Serbian leadership will hardly have the political will and diplomatic skills required to withstand the pressure being applied by Brussels and Washington.

Many rational arguments may be offered in support of the resolution of the Kosovo issue. The preservation of de jure sovereignty over Kosovo will keep Serbia hostage to a frozen conflict in the foreseeable future, leaving it surrounded by active and potential EU and NATO members. Serbia has been unable to recover control over the territory which it effectively lost back in 1999.

At the same time, a rational analysis of the situation indicates that Serbia does not really need such an outcome due to a number of unsolvable demographic, economic and political problems. Should the territory become part of Serbia again, the high birth rate among Kosovo Albanians (a constant source of demographic expansion) would seriously threaten to change Serbia’s ethnic composition, which is something that has already happened in Kosovo itself. Kosovo, which used to be described as the most economically backward and subsidised territory in Yugoslavia, would be too heavy a burden for Serbia’s economy. Indeed, Kosovo was a constant source of ethno-political conflicts in Yugoslavia – under the royal dynasty, then during the Tito regime and finally under Slobodan Milosevic. Given the plethora of internal socioeconomic problems, Serbia does not have the capacity, need or indeed incentive to spend its limited resources on Kosovo. This much was recognized in the proposal made by Serbia during the 2007 talks on the status of Kosovo to grant the region broad autonomy – essentially independence – on the condition that this autonomy would not be enshrined in international law, and that neither Kosovo nor the Kosovo Albanians would be represented in Serbian government institutions.

It is true, however, that the idea of abandoning a relic of national history, the birthplace of the medieval Serbian state and the site of the historic Battle of Kosovo against the Turks, is extremely unpopular. It encroaches on the legend of Kosovo as enshrined in the country’s folklore, the cornerstone of Serbian mythology. The influential Serbian Orthodox Church is also extremely unhappy with the government’s policy on Kosovo, although there is no unity of opinion within the church itself. Furthermore, history demonstrates that the church leaders are not prepared to enter into an open confrontation with the state. The political forces demanding that Serbia choose Kosovo over the EU are extremely weak and represent a negligent minority in parliament.

International Repercussions

The recognition of Kosovo by a significant number of UN members, in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the fundamental documents of the OSCE and the principles declared by the EU with regard to the newly independent post-Soviet and post-Yugoslav states set an international legal precedent that could be applied in other conflict zones [1]. This precedent gives separatists forces in similar situations elsewhere in the world additional incentives, pretexts and legal grounds to either demand the Kosovo scenario or oppose it. The list of EU countries that abstained from recognizing Kosovo indicates these European states wanted to safeguard themselves against similar developments, and not without good reason.

Just as Russia had warned, the first talks about the possibility of Kosovo’s independence elicited a lively response in the “unrecognized” post-Soviet territories of Transnistria, Nagorny Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. For their part, the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development member states (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) were quick to declare that, irrespective of the result of the final Kosovo settlement, it must not set a precedent. The subsequent developments in Georgia and Ukraine proved that Russia had been correct in its predictions.

It would be naive, of course, to expect an automatic domino effect in all the regions in which separatist movements are present. Each separate conflict has its own causes, effects, development dynamics and unique balances of forces. Not a single separatist movement in Western Europe has used Kosovo as a precedent in its cause. The Catalan separatists find the example of Slovenia more fitting, and the Spanish government has been stressing that the Catalan case has nothing in common with Kosovo. Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly obvious why Spain did not recognize Catalonia’s independence.

Kosovo might prove a more relevant example and, therefore, a precedent, for Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and for the Macedonian proponents of a Greater Albania. Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik periodically threatens Washington and Brussels with a referendum on the republic’s secession from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and cites Kosovo as a precedent for doing so. The National Assembly of Republika Srpska issued the threat twice in 2008, in light of Kosovo’s declaration of independence. The threat was never implemented, for obvious reasons. Republika Srpska’s secession is impossible and senseless without the active support of Belgrade, something that will not happen given Serbia’s EU aspirations. For this reason, the latest escalation in such rhetoric was nothing more than a way to increase the popularity of Dodik party’s on the eve of the local elections in Republika Srpska held on October 2, 2016. The results of the election confirmed the effectiveness of the tactic: Dodik’s Alliance of Independent Social Democrats increased the number of local self-administration bodies under its control by a third. There appears to be no reason to give up on this successful rhetorical tool in the 2018 Bosnian general election. It is also the most effective instrument in the fight against restrictions on Republika Srpska’s rights and the continuing attempts to centralize Bosnia-Herzegovina. Dodik made it clear, however, that a secession referendum is not on the agenda just yet.

It would appear that the political crisis in Macedonia, which lasted for one year, created a very favourable environment for the implementation of the long-standing nationalist idea of a Greater Albania. However, the Albanian leaders in both Albania and Macedonia resisted the temptation to avail of the situation, limiting themselves to strengthening their institutional and political positions in the Macedonian political arena. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama invited the leaders of Macedonia’s Albanian parties to visit Tirana (their positions following the snap parliamentary election held on December 11, 2016 were critical in terms of which of the two rival Macedonian parties would ascend to power). Rama consolidated these forces on a single platform, thus playing a key part in identifying the winning party in the protracted political crisis in Macedonia. Rama’s electoral motives are easy to explain: Albania was readying itself for presidential and parliamentary elections. The Democratic Party, the main rival of the ruling Socialists, had boycotted parliament since February 2017 and is threatening to boycott the elections. They followed through with the threat during the presidential election. In this situation, Rama desperately needed a success story, something that would promote him to the role of the leader of all Albanians. It was only US intervention that forced Albania’s two main parties to strike an agreement on the parliamentary election. Rama’s rhetoric abated somewhat after he won the election and in the run-up to the launch of talks on Albania’s accession to the EU.

The Political Situation in Kosovo

The forced coalition of Kosovan President Hashim Thaci’s Democratic Party of Kosovo and its main rival, Prime Minister Isa Mustafa’s Democratic League of Kosovo, was inconvenient for the former. Pressure from the radical nationalist opposition grew. Major breakthroughs in relations with the EU were looking remote (unlike its neighbours, Kosovo does not yet have EU candidate status, nor does it enjoy visa-free travel to EU countries). Brussels insisted that Pristina adhere to the unpopular commitments it had made to ratify the border delineation treaty with Montenegro that had already been signed, set up the Community of Serb Municipalities and resume the dialogue with Serbia that had been suspended by Kosovo. The upcoming Special Tribunal in Kosovo is an additional irritating factor both for Thaci, who commanded the KLA, and for his former brothers in arms. It was the ideal time for the president to strip the opposition of its monopoly on patriotism and remind everyone who was actually running the country. This required an intricate political manoeuvre: during the vote of no confidence in the government initiated by the opposition on May 10 2017, the pro-government Democratic Party sided with the opposition. The Mustafa cabinet was overthrown and a snap parliamentary election was set. Thaci’s main concern was to configure political power in such a way as to guarantee immunity to former militants who had taken part in conflicts across the former Yugoslavia. This is why the Democratic Party entered the parliamentary campaign in a so-called ‘pistol coalition’ with the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo led by the infamous Ramush Haradinaj and nominated the latter for prime minister. Haradinaj, a former field commander accused by Serbia of war crimes who has been acquitted on two separate occasions by the Hague Tribunal due to lack of evidence (witnesses for the prosecution would either be intimidated into recanting their statements or die under unclear circumstances), and who already served as Prime Minister of Kosovo in 2004–2005, is known for his harsh nationalist statements.

The snap parliamentary election held on June 11, 2017 demonstrated the population’s low confidence in the ruling political elites, and the popularity of bellicose nationalism. The ‘pistol coalition’ won 39 out of the 120 parliamentary seats. For the first time in history, the radically nationalist opposition party Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) came second with 32 seats (against 16 in the previous convocation). The Democratic League of Kosovo, which had led the previous cabinet, won 29 seats. The so-called Serb List of Belgrade-backed candidates got nine out of the 10 seats contested, gaining significant political weight in parliament. The young leader of Self-Determination, who had sided with the Democratic League, was being tipped for premiership, but the situation played out differently in the end. Haradinaj won the sympathies of the New Kosovo Alliance and offered its leader and Kosovo’s biggest businessman, Beghjet Pacolli, the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Serbian government endorsed the Serb List’s support for the ‘pistol coalition’, and other nationalist minorities followed suit. Representatives of the Serb List even made it into the Haradinaj cabinet, despite the fact that mere weeks prior to that, Belgrade had demanded that Kosovo’s new prime minister be extradited as a war criminal. As a result, Kosovo received a fragile coalition majority with 61 seats in parliament and a government that can be ruined by any of the members at any moment. Under pressure from Washington and Brussels (the new prime minister was initially denied visas to the United States (US) and the United Kingdom), Haradinaj gradually began to go back on his hot-headed election campaign promises.

Kosovo and Albania

On January 22, 2014, Kosovo and Albania signed an agreement on cooperation and strategic partnership. The governments of the two countries have been holding regular joint sessions ever since (once each in 2014 and 2015, and two in 2017). The sides have voiced the intention to unite their diplomatic missions in a number of countries “for the sake of economy.” Albania has granted Kosovo Albanians and Serbian Albanians the right to apply for jobs without work permits. In April 2017, the Albanian leaders once again joined efforts to directly blackmail Brussels and Washington: Hashim Thaci and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama were joined by the leader of Albanians in Serbia, Jonuz Musliu, to issue virtually simultaneous statements to the effect that, should the prospect of the integration of the Western Balkans into the EU continue to decline, then the possibility that Albania and Kosovo will merge into an all-Albanian state cannot be ruled out. Rama explained that his country would prefer EU membership to this Greater Albania. Nevertheless, he and other Balkan leaders have repeatedly stated that the EU’s foot-dragging on the accession issue was threatening the region’s stability. This tactic has proved effective in the past, and will certainly be resorted to in the future for the purpose of stimulating European integration processes. Even though politicians actively employ the idea of uniting all Albanians in their election campaigns, and as a way to apply pressure on their Western patrons, they are unlikely to dare implement this scenario without the approval of the US and the EU. It is clear that Washington and Brussels will be against the idea, because in such a case the integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina would be difficult to preserve.

Kosovo and the EU

In an attempt to repair its shaky influence in the region, Brussels has been forced to revise its strategy and make EU expansion to the Western Balkans a priority for 2020–2025. Serbia and Montenegro are the primary two candidates. The other contenders, which have been watching their rivals with jealousy, will try to jump the queue. The competition is aimed at making them more loyal to Brussels, enabling the latter to manage the region more efficiently and strengthen regional stability. However, local leaders have realized by now that the threat of destabilization is an effective lever of influence on the EU. This is another reason why Kosovo will remain a weak link in terms of local stability. The pace and timeframe for European integration will be a hot topic in discussions between Brussels and the candidate countries, or between the old and new EU members. We can expect the relatively latent political confrontation to continue, with the candidates trying to persuade Brussels to expedite their accession to the EU, including by way of periodic fits of “non-EU” behaviour, which are particularly characteristic of Albanian politicians in both Kosovo and Albania. That said, the regional elites will remain firm in their commitment to joining the EU, which has sent them a positive signal in its new strategy for the Western Balkans.

The US has no plans to leave the region either. Kosovo still has much to do in order to be accepted into the EU, and there is no point in even guessing at when that might happen. However, the country may get a coveted UN seat much sooner. This would not help solve Kosovo’s fundamental problems, but there are plenty of countries in the world whose tenability is dubious.

First published in our partner RIAC

[1] Guidelines on the Recognition of New States in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union // Bulletin of the European Communities Commission. 1991. Vol. 24. No. 12, p. 119.

Ph.D. (History), Head of the Department of Ethno-Political Conflict at the Institute of Europe under the Russian Academy of Sciences, RIAC expert

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EU: The stalemate in negotiations brings Serbia ever closer to Russia and China

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Serbia has been waiting since 2012 for the European Union to respond to its application to become a full member of the EU.

In spite of exhausting negotiations, this response is slow in coming and the main cause of the stalemate has a clear name: Kosovo. Before accepting Serbia’s application for membership, the EU requires a definitive solution to the relations between Serbia and that region that broke away from it after the 1999 conflict – when NATO came to the aid of the Kosovo Albanians – and proclaimed its independence in February 2008.

Serbia has never recognised the birth of the Kosovo Republic, just as many other important countries have not: out of 193 UN members, only 110 have formally accepted the birth of the new republic, while the rest, including Russia, China, Spain, Greece and Romania – to name just the most important ones – refuse to recognise the independence of the Albanians of what was once a region of Serbia.

The European Union cannot accept that one of its members is in fact unable to guarantee control over its borders, as would be the case for Serbia if its membership were accepted.

In fact, since the end of the war between Kosovo and Serbia, there is no clear and controlled border between the two countries. In order to avoid continuous clashes, Kosovo and Serbia have actually left the border open, turning a blind eye to the ‘smuggling economy’ that thrives on both sides of the border.

In this situation, if Serbia were to become a full member of the European Union, it would create a gap in the borders of the entire Schengen area, as anyone passing through Kosovo could then move into all EU countries.This is not the only obstacle to Serbia’s accession to the European

Union: many European chancelleries are wary of Serbian foreign policy which, since the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation, has maintained a privileged relationship with Russia, refusing to adhere to the sanctions decided by Europe against Russia after the annexation of Crimea to the detriment of Ukraine.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Serbia even agreed to produce the Russian vaccine ‘Sputnik V’ directly in its own laboratories, blatantly snubbing EU’s vaccine offer.

For the United States and some important European countries, Serbia’s formal accession to the European Union could shift the centre of gravity of Europe’s geopolitics towards the East, opening a preferential channel for dialogue between Russia and the European Union through Serbia.

This possibility, however, is not viewed unfavourably by Germany which, in the intentions of the CDU President, Armin Laschet, the next candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor, has recently declared he is in favour of a foreign policy that “develops in multiple directions”, warning his Western partners of the danger resulting from “the interruption of the dialogue with Russia and China”. In this regard, Laschet has publicly stated that ‘foreign policy must always focus on finding ways to interact, including cooperation with countries that have different social models from ours, such as Russia, China and the nations of the Arab world’.

Today we do not know whether in autumn Laschet will take over the leadership of the most powerful country in the European Union, but what is certain is that Serbia’s possible formal membership of the European Union could force Europe to revise some of its foreign policy stances, under the pressure of a new Serbian-German axis.

Currently, however, Serbia’s membership of the European Union still seems a long way off, precisely because of the stalemate in the Serbia-Kosovo negotiations.

In 2013 Kosovo and Serbia signed the so-called ‘Brussels Pact’, an agreement optimistically considered by European diplomats to be capable of rapidly normalising relations between Serbia and Kosovo, in view of mutual political and diplomatic recognition.

An integral part of the agreement was, on the one hand, the commitment of Kosovo’s authorities to recognise a high degree of administrative autonomy to the Kosovo municipalities inhabited by a Serb majority and, on the other hand, the collaboration of the Serbs in the search for the remains of the thousands of Kosovar Albanians presumably eliminated by Milosevic’s troops during the repression that preceded the 1999 war.

Neither of the two commitments has so far been fulfilled and, during the meeting held in Brussels on July 21 between Serbian President Alexander Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, harsh words and reciprocal accusations were reportedly exchanged concerning the failure to implement the ‘Pact’, to the extent that the Head of European foreign policy, Josep Borrel, publicly asked the two parties to ‘close the chapter of a painful past through a legally binding agreement on the normalisation of mutual relations, with a view to building a European future for its citizens’. This future seems nebulous, to say the least, if we consider that Serbia, in fact, refuses to recognise the legal value of degrees and diplomas awarded by the Kosovo academic authorities also to members of the Kosovo Serb minority.

Currently, however, both contenders are securing support and alliances in Europe and overseas.

Serbia is viewed favourably by the current President of the European Union, Slovenian Janez Jansa, who is a supporter of its membership because “this would definitively mark the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation”. The vast majority of European right-wing parties, ranging from the French ‘Rassemblement National’ to the Hungarian ‘Fydesz’, also approve of Serbia’s membership application and openly court the Serbian minorities living in their respective countries while, after the years of US disengagement from the Balkans under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, the Biden administration has decided to put the region back on the list of priority foreign policy commitments, entrusting the ‘Serbia dossier’ to the undersecretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Matthew Palmer, an authoritative and experienced diplomat.

With a view to supporting its application for European membership, Serbia has also deployed official lobbyists.

Last June, Natasha Dragojilovic Ciric’s lobbying firm ND Consulting officially registered in the so-called EU ‘transparency register’ to promote support for Serbia’s membership. ND is financed by a group of international donors and is advised by Igor Bandovic, former researcher at the American Gallup and Head of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, by lawyer Katarina Golubovic of the ‘Committee of Human Rights Lawyers’ and Jovana Spremo, former OSCE consultant.

These are the legal experts deployed by Serbia in Brussels to support its application for formal European integration, but in the meantime Serbia is not neglecting its “eastern” alliances.

Earlier this month, the Head of the SVR, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergey Naryshkin, paid an official visit to Belgrade, a few weeks after the conclusion of a joint military exercise between Russian special forces (the “Spetznaz”) and Serbian special forces.

In the Serbian capital, Naryshkin not only met his Serbian counterpart Bratislav Gasic, Head of the ‘Bezbednosno Informativna Agencija’, the small but powerful Serbian secret service, but was also received by the President of the Republic Alexander Vucic with the aim of publicising the closeness between Serbia and Russia.

The timing of the visit coincides with the resumption of talks in Brussels on Serbia’s accession to the European Union and can clearly be considered as instrumental in exerting subtle diplomatic pressure aimed at convincing the European Union of the possibility that, in the event of a refusal, Serbia may decide to definitely turn its back on the West and ally with an East that is evidently more willing to treat the Serbs with the dignity and attention that a proud and tenacious people believes it deserves.

A piece of news confirming that Serbia is ready to turn its back on the West, should Europe continue to postpone the decision on its accession to the European Union is the fact that China has recently signed a partnership agreement with Serbia in the field of pharmaceutical research, an agreement that makes Serbia one of China’s current largest commercial partners on the European continent.

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NATO’s Cypriot Trick

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UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw Pact died, there was much speculation that NATO would consider itself redundant and either disappear or at least transmogrify into a less aggressive body.

Failing that, Moscow at least felt assured that NATO would not include Germany, let alone expand eastwards. Even the NATO Review, NATO’s PR organ, wrote self-apologetically twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin wall: “Thus, the debate about the enlargement of NATO evolved solely in the context of German reunification. In these negotiations Bonn and Washington managed to allay Soviet reservations about a reunited Germany remaining in NATO. This was achieved by generous financial aid, and by the ‘2+4 Treaty’ ruling out the stationing of foreign NATO forces on the territory of the former East Germany. However, it was also achieved through countless personal conversations in which Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders were assured that the West would not take advantage of the Soviet Union’s weakness and willingness to withdraw militarily from Central and Eastern Europe.”

Whatever the polemics about Russia’s claim that NATO broke its promises, the facts of what happened following the fall of the Berlin wall and the negotiations about German re-unification strongly demonstrate that Moscow felt cheated and that the NATO business and military machine, driven by a jingoistic Cold War Britain, a selfish U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex and an atavistic Russia-hating Poland, saw an opportunity to become a world policeman.

This helps to explain why, in contrast to Berlin, NATO decided to keep Nicosia as the world’s last divided city. For Cyprus is in fact NATO’s southernmost point, de facto. And to have resolved Cyprus’ problem by heeding UN resolutions and getting rid of all foreign forces and re-unifying the country would have meant that NATO would have ‘lost’ Cyprus: hardly helpful to the idea of making NATO the world policeman. Let us look a little more closely at the history behind this.

Following the Suez debacle in 1956, Britain had already moved its Middle East Headquarters from Aden to Cyprus, while the U.S. was taking over from the UK and France in the Middle East. Although, to some extent under U.S. pressure, Britain was forced to bring Makarios out of exile and begin negotiating with Greece and Turkey to give up its colony, the U.S. opted for a NATO solution. It would not do to have a truly sovereign Cyprus, but only one which accepted the existence of the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) as part and parcel of any settlement; and so it has remained, whatever the sophistic semantics about a bizonal settlement and a double-headed government. The set of twisted and oft-contradictory treaties that have bedevilled the island since 1960 are still afflicting the part-occupied island which has been a de facto NATO base since 1949. Let us look at some more history.

When Cyprus obtained its qualified independence in 1960, Greece and Turkey had already signed, on 11 February 1959, a so called ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’, agreeing that they would support Cyprus’ entry into NATO.1 This was, however, mere posture diplomacy, since Britain—and the U.S. for that matter—did not trust Cyprus, given the strength of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and the latter’s links to Moscow. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote: ‘Membership of NATO might make it easier for the Republic of Cyprus and possibly for the Greeks and Turks to cause political embarrassment should the United Kingdom wish to use the bases […] for national ends outside Cyprus […] The access of the Cypriot Government to NATO plans and documents would present a serious security risk, particularly in view of the strength of the Cypriot Communist Party. […] The Chiefs of Staff, therefore, feel most strongly that, from the military point of view, it would be a grave disadvantage to admit Cyprus to NATO.’2 In short, Cyprus was considered unreliable.

As is well known, the unworkable constitution (described as such by the Foreign Office and even by David Hannay, the Annan reunification plan’s PR man), resulted in chaos and civil strife: in January 1964, during the chaos caused by the Foreign Office’s help and encouragement to President Makarios to introduce a ‘thirteen point plan’ to solve Cyprus’ problems, British Prime Minister Douglas-Home told the Cabinet: ‘If the Turks invade or if we are seriously prevented from fulfilling our political role, we have made it quite clear that we will retire into base.’3 Put more simply, Britain had never had any intention of upholding the Treaty of Guarantee.

In July of the same year, the Foreign Office wrote: ‘The Americans have made it quite clear that there would be no question of using the 6th Fleet to prevent any possible Turkish invasion […] We have all along made it clear to the United Nations that we could not agree to UNFICYP’s being used for the purpose of repelling external intervention, and the standing orders to our troops outside UNFYCYP are to withdraw to the sovereign base areas immediately any such intervention takes place.’4

It was mainly thanks to Moscow and President Makarios that in 1964 a Turkish invasion and/or the island being divided between Greece and Turkey was prevented. Such a solution would have strengthened NATO, since Cyprus would no longer exist other than as a part of NATO members Greece and Turkey. Moscow had issued the following statement: ‘The Soviet Government hereby states that if there is an armed foreign invasion of Cypriot territory, the Soviet Union will help the Republic of Cyprus to defend its freedom and independence against foreign intervention.’5

Privately, Britain, realising the unworkability of the 1960 treaties, was embarrassed, and wished to relieve itself of the whole problem. The following gives us the backstage truth: ‘The bases and retained sites, and their usefulness to us, depend in large measure on Greek Cypriot co-operation and at least acquiescence. A ‘Guantanamo’6 position is out of the question. Their future therefore must depend on the extent to which we can retain Greek and/or Cypriot goodwill and counter USSR and UAR pressures. There seems little doubt, however, that in the long term, our sovereign rights in the SBA’s will be considered increasingly irksome by the Greek Cypriots and will be regarded as increasingly anachronistic by world public opinion.7

Following the Turkish invasion ten years later, Britain tried to give up its bases: ‘British strategic interests in Cyprus are now minimal. Cyprus has never figured in NATO strategy and our bases there have no direct NATO role. The strategic value of Cyprus to us has declined sharply since our virtual withdrawal from east of Suez. This will remain the case when the Suez Canal has reopened.8

A Cabinet paper concluded: ‘Our policy should continue to be one of complete withdrawal of our military presence on Cyprus as soon as feasible. […] In the circumstances I think that we should make the Americans aware of our growing difficulty in continuing to provide a military presence in Cyprus while sustaining our main contribution to NATO. […]9

Britain kept trying to give up the bases, but the enabler of the Turkish invasion, Henry Kissinger, did not allow Britain to give up its bases and listening posts, since that would have weakened NATO, and since Kissinger needed the bases because of the Arab-Israel dispute.10

Thus, by the end of 1980, in a private about-turn, Britain had completely succumbed to American pressure: ‘The benefits which we derive from the SBAs are of major significance and virtually irreplaceable. They are an essential contribution to the Anglo-American relationship. The Department have regularly considered with those concerned which circumstances in Cyprus are most conducive to our retaining unfettered use of our SBA facilities. On balance, the conclusion is that an early ‘solution’ might not help (since pressures against the SBAs might then build up), just as breakdown and return to strife would not, and that our interests are best served by continuing movement towards a solution – without the early prospect of arrival [author’s italics]11.

And so it is today: Cyprus is a de facto NATO territory. A truly independent, sovereign and united Cyprus is an anathema to the U.S. and Britain, since such a scenario would afford Russia the hypothetical opportunity to increase its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

From our partner RIAC

[1] Ministry of Defence paper JP (59) 163, I January 1960, BNA DEFE 13/99/MO/5/1/5, in Mallinson, William, Cyprus, a Modern History, I.B. Tauris (now Bloomsbury), London and New York, 2005, 2009, 2012, p.49.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Memorandum by Prime Minister, 2 January 1964, BNA CAB/129/116, in ibid, Mallinson, William, p.37.

[4] British Embassy, Washington, to Foreign Office, 7 July 1964, telegram 8541, BNA FO 371/174766, file C1205/2/G, in ibid.’, Mallinson, William, p. 37.

[5] Joseph, Joseph S., Cyprus, Ethnic Conflict and International Politics, St Martin’s Press, London and New York, 1997, p. 66.

[6] In 1964, Cuba cut off supplies to the American base at Guantanamo Bay, since the US refused to return it to Cuba, as a result of which the US took measures to make it self-sufficient.

[7] Briefing paper, 18 June 1964, BNA-DO/220/170, file MED 193/105/2, part A. Mallinson,William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p. 127.

[8] ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, draft paper, 11 April 1975, BNA-FCO 46/1248, file DPI/515/1.

[9] Cabinet paper, 29 September 1976, in op. cit. Mallinson, William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p.134.

[10] Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2011, and Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2020, pp. 87-121.

[11] Fergusson to Foreign Minister’s Private Secretary, minute, 8 December 1980, BNA-FCO 9/2949, file WSC/023/1, part C.

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Belarus divorces from the Eastern Partnership: A new challenge for the EU Neighborhood Policy

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The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is the Eastern dimension of the EU Neighborhood Policy adopted back in 2009 aimed at deepening relations between Brussels and six Eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The EaP has been regarded as a strategic initiative based on mutual interests and common values with a goal of strengthening political and economic relations with those countries, helping them enhance their institutional capacity through sustainable reforms. While increasing stability and paving the way for the sustainable development of those societies, the EU’s overall goal has been to secure its Eastern borders.

Since the very beginning the EaP has been suspiciously viewed by Russia as an attempt of expansion of the sphere of influence and as a first step of EU membership of these countries. Russians point to the EU and NATO ambitious expansion eastward as the main reason for complicated relations and in this context the EaP has been regarded with traditional fears and paranoic perceptions. The Russian hard power approach causes serious problems for the EaP which fails to mitigate security concerns of partner countries and to come up with serious initiatives for conflict settlement. Being a laggard in terms of soft power, the Russian ruling elite has continuously used all hard power foreign policy instruments at its disposal trying to undermine the coherence of the initiative. And the very recent démarche of Belarus to withdraw from the EaP should be seen in this context of confrontation.

On 28th of June, the ministry of foreign affairs of Belarus announced a decision to halt its membership in the EaP as a response to the EU sanctions imposed on Minsk accompanied by the recalling ambassadors from both sides. Actually, this isn’t the first case of the EaP walkout blackmailed by Lukashenko. The first escape was attempted in September-October 2011, but the difficulties were soon resolved and Lukashenko revised his decision. This time situation seems very complicated and these far-reaching tensions may have tough consequences for Lukashenko’s regime. This new group of sectoral sanctions which target banking, oil, telecommunication spheres and also ban the export of potash, is a harsh response from the EU against Lukashneko’s scandalous hijacking activity in May to detain a Belarusian opposition journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich.

Lukashenko’s administration not only challenges the EU Neighborhood Policy and shows no retreat, but also goes forward escalating the situation. Minsk takes high risks freezing the Readmission Agreement signed by the EU. This document is a legal basis for bilateral cooperation aimed at struggling against irregular migration flows. It’s not a secret that the territory of Belarus has been used for illegal migration for the groups from the Middle East to penetrate into neighboring EU member states such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Moreover, Belarus territory has served as a transit route for smuggling circles going from East to West and vice versa.  And now closing eyes on all these channels, Minsk hopes to increase the bargaining power vis-à-vis Brussels. However, given the Western reactions, it seems that this time the EU is resolute.

Despite the fact that Charles Michel, the President of the EU Council, described this withdrawal as “another step backwards” and even threatened that “this will escalate tensions having clear negative impacts”, the EU wants to continue working with the Belarusian society  as Josep Borrel stated. The EU’s determination to keep the bridges alive with the Belarusian people, in spite of Lukashneko’s radical stance, is aimed at preventing further isolationism of Minsk which would benefit only Russia.

In contrast to the increasing level of tensions with the EU, the Russian authorities continue to support Lukasheno’s administration, thus trying to deepen the gap and to bring Belarus under their total influence. Russia uses Belarus in its chessboard with the EU and the USA in Eastern Europe. Last year’s fraud elections and brutal crackdown by Lukashenko left him alone with the only source of power stemming from the Kremlin. Thus the withdrawal from the EaP should be understood not only as a convulsion of the Belarusian authorities in response to the sanctions, but also Russia’s employment of the Belarus card to respond to the recent joint statement of the EU-US summit in Brussels, when both parties declared their intention to stand with the people of Belarus, supporting their demands for human rights and democracy simultaneously criticising Lukashenko’s regime and his reckless political behavior and also criticising Russian’s unacceptable behavior.

So, Lukashenko’s step to quit the EaP can be seen as a well-calculated adulatory sign towards Moscow sacrificing the last remnants of sovereignty in order to receive financial and political lifebuoy amid the increasing crisis in the result of sanctions.  And the recent visit of N. Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, to Minsk right after the withdrawal decision shows Russian inclination to strike while the iron is hot and to abuse the vulnerable situation of Belarus. Patrushev stated that the ultimate goal of foreign powers is to change the power in Belarus and he suggested instead of focusing on internal issues, to bring their forces together against external threats as their influence affects internal developments. For this reason, deeper integration of security and military services of both countries are on the table.

The reaction of opposition leader S. Tikhanovskaya was very rough, stating that this suspension will cut the opportunities of ordinary citizens who benefit from the political and economic outcomes of the EaP. Moreover, she claims that Lukashenko doesn’t have a right to represent Belarus since August 2020 and his decisions don’t have legal consequences for Belarus. This kind of approach is shared by the leadership of Lithuania too, whose president and minister of foreign affairs not only refuse to recognize Lukashenko as a legitimate president, but also highlight the role of the Kremlin in supporting the dictatorial power of Lukashenko in exchange for decreasing sovereignty.

The blackmail of Lukashenko to challenge the EU Eastern Neighborhood Policy  in order to have the sanctions lifted may bring about such kind of precedents with other partnering countries as well. First of all, this concerns Azerbaijan which continues to face serious problems related with human rights, freedom of expression, the problem of Prisoners of War and other traits of authoritarian power. It’s well-known that  human rights issues have been the underwater stones in the EU and Azerbaijan relations and they continue to pose new challenges for Aliyev’s non-democratice regime. Another weak ring of the EaP chain is Armenia. Even though reelected N. Pashinyan is eager to pursue a balanced foreign policy, post-war Armenia still faces serious limitations given its vulnerable dependence on Russia. Besides, Pashinyan’s main rival and the former President R. Kocharyan, whose alliance will be the second largest faction in the newly elected Parliament has recently stated that this new parliament can last up to one and half years and nobody can exclude the possibility of new snap elections. His pro-Russian attitude and anti-Western stance are well-known and in case he becomes a prime-minister, there is no guarantee that he will follow the path of Lukashenko. 

Therefore  the statement of the Austrian MFA, that ”we cannot leave South Caucasus to others” during the  recent official visit of the Austrian, Romanian and Latvian MFA under the mandate of the EU High Representative to the South Caucasus, reminds  about the EU presence in the region and also the fact that the ‘normative power’ can be a source of balance and a status quo changer.

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