With US summit planned, Russia prefers EU-Kosovo mediation

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, shakes hands with Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic after a joint press conference in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, June 18, 2020. Lavrov is on a two-day official visit to Serbia. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE – Russia's foreign minister said Thursday that Moscow will need to approve any solution reached in peace talks between Kosovo and Serbia that have gained momentum after U.S. President Donald Trump’s envoy called for a summit between the two former wartime foes in the White House next week.

Sergey Lavrov, on his first visit outside Russia after the coronavirus outbreak, said that the European Union has the mandate to negotiate in the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia, suggesting that Moscow doesn't back a meeting later this month called by Washington.

“Russia assumes that the European Union, which has the mandate of the U.N. General Assembly as a mediator between Belgrade and Pristina, shouldn’t absolve itself of its duties, should carry them out impartially and efficiently and seek those solutions that were agreed before," Lavrov said.

He said that any agreement between Serbia and Kosovo must be approved by the U.N. Security Council, the body where Russia has veto power.

Trump envoy Richard Grenell invited Kosovo and Serbian officials to meet in the White House on June 27 after getting confirmation from Serbia it would temporarily pause its campaign for countries to withdraw recognition of Kosovo, which itself agreed to pause efforts to win more international memberships.

“This White House opportunity opens the door to new economic development and investment,'' Grenell said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press on Thursday. “The U.S. hopes leaders in Kosovo and Serbia will seize this chance to return to dialogue and begin a new era of stability and prosperity. The people of this region deserve nothing less.”

It is becoming increasingly clear that the EU and the U.S. haven't always been coordinating efforts toward urging Serbia and Kosovo to reach a deal.

The EU mediator in the talks, Miroslav Lajcak, said in Kosovo on Thursday that Washington hadn't contacted Brussels on its latest summit initiative and that the EU role is necessary for any future deal.

“We communicate with our partner the U.S. on our initiatives and we expect them to do the same,” Lajcak said. “A good agreement would bring Kosovo and Serbia closer to the EU and I don’t believe that such an agreement can be reached without the EU presence there."

“The United States is a very important partner and history has shown we are successful when we work together,'' Lajcak said.

He said that the Brussels-facilitated dialogue would resume soon and the date would be set after his visit to Belgrade next week.

Kosovo was part of Serbia until an armed uprising by the ethnic Albanian majority population in 1998-1999 triggered a bloody Serb crackdown. This in turn prompted a NATO bombing campaign against Serbia to force its troops out of Kosovo. Belgrade and Moscow both refuse to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.

At the news conference in Belgrade, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Russia warned Serbia of certain “plans and ideas” regarding possible solutions for the Kosovo problem that fueled concerns about what might be on the table.

“Estimates presented by our Russian friends suggest we will have to be extremely cautious and careful in monitoring any ideas that might be presented to us," Vucic said, apparently referring to the summit in Washington.

Despite formally seeking EU membership, Serbia has been establishing close political, economic and military ties with its Slavic ally Russia.


Jovana Gec in Belgrade, and Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, contributed to this report.