Is Richard Grenell Serbia’s Trump Card?

President Trump assigned the Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, as his envoy to be included in the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, as the latest move in Trump’s surprise interest in the matter. The US State Department stated that Grenell will work along with the current US representative, Matthew Palmer, to further the hope and potential of “bringing the region closer to the West”. Under normal situations, that would presumably mean farther away from Russian influence, but given the reality of the current US administration, that is a very ambiguous statement.

Grenell is a publicity and public relations expert. However, most importantly, he possesses one of Trump’s most favored characteristics; a Fox News contributor. One of the first things the new Ambassador did in Germany was appear on Fox News to opinionate about German affairs. Within a relatively short time of being appointed to his post in Germany, Grenell had been accused of inappropriately attempting to influence Europe’s business affairs; the sort of thing which the Kosovo-Serbia issue also tends to represent.

For Grenell to do the job which needs to be done, meaning achieve the mandated result, as a personal appointment and representative of the US President, it should be made crystal clear that, absolutely nothing except Serbia’s public and official declaration of recognizing and acknowledging Kosovo’s sovereign existence must be made. Nothing less can be accepted of Serbia, or for that matter expected by a US President, in regards to a resolution which is paramount and a direct result of Serbia’s heinous atrocities which necessitated American military intervention and resulted in both the causality and fatality of US lives.

The Kosovo-Serbia dialogue has been strung out for years

At times, it appeared to represent nothing more than a charade. The required resolution of the talks mandates that Serbia recognize the sovereign nation of Kosovo. As the talks are, supposedly, a foundation for Balkan and European stability, arguably, Serbia’s public recognition of Kosovo should be the mandated primer for the talks.

The prospect of resolving the issue has continued to evolve; to include the introduction of a land swap among the two nations, essentially creating two new countries which both parties would recognize. Presently, the two primary issues, as stated by the Quint (the five-nation committee of France, Germany, Italy, UK, and the US which govern the dialogue) are Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo and Kosovo’s elimination of 100% tariffs on Serbian goods. Both sides have been responsible for derailing the efforts. The most recent round of negotiations ended in December 2018.

Grenell’s appointment to the talks, could amount to nothing more than the newest variable to be introduced into an already convoluted calculus of issues; most of which represent absolutely no legitimate bearing on Serbia’s public statement of recognition of Kosovo’s sovereign status.

Over the past year, Kosovo has been denied, for the third time, INTERPOL membership; an event both Russia and Serbia supported and agreed with, calling it a “victory”. Serbia and Russia’s opposition is solely premised upon the fact that it can be used to prosecute Serbian officials responsible for the heinous atrocities committed during the Kosovar Revolution.

Following Serbia’s public display of “victory”, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on Serbian goods. Along with the anger which had been festering in Serbia following Kosovo’s move to strengthen its security apparatus, brought a stalemate to the dialogue. Though the tariffs, in no way, alter the status of Kosovo’s sovereignty, and thus have no bearing on the recognition of that fact, Serbia now uses the tariffs as their excuse for refusing to step to the table for resolution; essentially weaponizing the dialogue as a means of controlling Kosovo’s government.

In a move which surprised nearly all involved, President Trump jumped into the issue. In December, as talks were failing, Trump forwarded letters to both leaders, Kosovo’s Thaci and Serbia’s Vucic, encouraging them to reach a “historic” deal, which Trump stated was “within reach.” The resolution, according to Trump, could be rewarded with a trip to the White House.

While both letters conveyed virtually the same message, Trump’s letter to Kosovo, posted to Facebook by Thaci, appeared to reference or accuse Kosovo of bringing division to the issue and creating the problems which threaten peace:  “I urge you and the leaders of Kosovo to seize this unique moment, speak with a unified voice during the peace talks, and refrain from actions that would make an agreement more difficult to achieve,”.

Contrastingly, Trump’s letter to Vucic, published on the official Serbian Government site, states a more neutral exclamation of refrainment:

I also urge both parties to reach a normalization agreement as soon as possible and to refrain from actions that make one more difficult to achieve

After Trump initiated his dialogue, both leaders reciprocated with their letter to Trump. Thaci affirmed to Trump that Kosovo is not seeking a temporary, but only a permanent resolution, which admittedly will involve “maximum effort of both parties”, but is “within reach” as Kosovo is open “to make compromises”. Vucic, on the other hand, seized the opportunity to emphasize and re-enforce Trump’s sentiment that Kosovo must eliminate the tariffs as the only means of re-starting the talks; stating, “Belgrade is prepared to continue the dialogue as soon as Pristina abolished the unreasonable and detrimental measure.”

Grenell has already met with Kosovo and Serbian leadership. However, the results of Kosovo’s October 6 election could, again, represent another variable into the mix. The next Kosovar Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, has stated that he will spearhead the dialogue, essentially replacing Thaci, the President of Kosovo, who has been in front of the matter. While Grenell’s most consistent public statement is Trump’s belief that a quick resolution is near and necessary; Kurti has stated that “the content and the process of reaching the agreement (with Serbia) are more important for its sustainability than the timeline.”

Kosovo, is arguably, the most important country in the world; for a myriad of reasons.

Russia’s alliance with Serbia, is much more than historic, as Belgrade represented the capital of communism’s final stand in Europe

Russia’s interest, influence, and alliance with Serbia is unwavering, undeniable, and, presumably, unconditional. Serbia could represent Russia’s final inside-man in Europe and the EU in the future. Especially, since the alliance with Russia as opposed to the EU triggered the Ukrainian revolt which essentially rendered the nation lost to Russia. Europe cannot permit Russian influence in Serbia to render Kosovo the next Crimea.

Thus, with Russia playing such an influential role in Serbian affairs, it is legitimate to question why Trump personally involved himself in the matter, as opposed to simply communicating through the State Department. Kosovo has recognized that Trump’s new interest is the most significant US move in years. While at the same time, Serbia has also relished in Trump’s surprising move. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic stated, “No one was as happy as the Serbs to see Donald Trump win the presidential election …”

Trump’s mentality as it relates to the nexus of Russia and Serbia, as well as the stability of the Balkans can be analyzed by his opposition to NATO expansionism into the region. First a Putin policy, but now Trump’s. Trump stated that the requirement to defend Montenegro would be “catastrophic” and presumably something he would not allow; remarking, illogically, that it represents a “very aggressive people” and nation.

Montenegro’s admission to NATO was and is opposed by Putin. Interestingly though, is the possibility that this statement could have had nothing to do with NATO but was directed to Putin. Montenegro was the country the CIA used to extricate their asset from Russia which Trump allegedly compromised. Nevertheless, protecting the Balkan region was the premise of the statement.

Over the past year and a half, Kosovo as imposed ridiculously and unreasonably high tariffs on Serbian goods. A matter that in no way affects the reality of the sovereignty of Kosovo, and thus Serbia’s ability to recognize it, but is now the crux of Serbia’s reasoning not to talk. In reality, Serbian accession into the EU would render those tariffs void, as they then would be in effect to the totality of the EU. However, to achieve that ‘victory’, Serbia would first have to recognize the facts. Also, Kosovo’s decision to create an army not only antagonized Serbia’s stance on Kosovo’s legitimate status, but resulted in threatened it; as in response Serbia warned of another war.

Consistent with that threat, Serbia, a longtime customer of Russian made weapons, began an infuse of Chinese made weaponry, to include state-of-the-art, drones. Why Serbia, one of the least developed nations on the European continent needs the addition of some of the world’s most advanced aerial weapons and surveillance systems is unknown; as is their intentions. Serbia’s Defense Minister, Aleksandar Vulin, simply remarked that the drones will afford Serbia “capabilities it has not had in the past.” Given what atrocities Serbia has been able to inflict in the past with their current capabilities, the remark is somewhat apocalyptic.

Grenell or Trump have not commented on that issue yet, or any of the other pertinent issues; to include the over-arching fact that after a decade of autonomy, a factual reality which Americans died to achieve, the only thing which Serbia needs to do is publicly state that Kosovo is Kosovo has not been done.  For reasons unknown, those American lives represent no consideration at all to Trump or Grenell, as only the economic issues seem to be what Trump is selling.

Which leads to a different set of reasoning of why Trump is getting involved. As demonstrated by the transition from the USSR to Russia, new democracies with a surge of international capitalism can be a windfall to fortunes for those strategically placed. Add to that mixture, that Kosovo’s is already a Euro nation, and that windfall grows exponentially. While that was most probably Trump’s consideration for opening up North Korea, now that he has failed there, his future business considerations could have been diverted.

Trump’s desire for a quick resolution in Kosovo, and thus making its market very fertile ground, could connect to a possibility of Trump returning to business and leaving politics next year. Though speculative at best, would tend to lend to both of Grenell’s appointments, ambassador and envoy, more for concreting future business partnerships than political ones.

However, none of this is really good for Kosovo in regards to the dialogues, as most likely, Grenell’s number one mission would be to convince Kosovo to retreat on the tariff issue, thus providing Serbia and Russia a win.  While this would presumably get the talks started again, it does not guarantee anything else. Other than of course, if a new surge of international products were to enter Kosovo from Serbian soil due to a newly created sense of confidence and security by the increased US interest in the region,  a greater Kosovo/Euro reliance on the imports could be created, rendering the ability to impose the tariffs again in the future nearly eliminated.

The next few months will provide the details necessary to establish Trump’s, as well as Grenell’s, personal involvements in the matter. While everything at this stage is pure speculation, and nothing regarding the future is ever carved in stone, one thing is for sure. The Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, while essentially rotating around a singular issue, is a web saturated in politics, economics, and egos. Three things which have come to epitomize President Trump.