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Kosovo backs EU fast-track for Ukraine despite Dutch Balkan warning

Kosovo Foreign Minister Donika Gervalla-Schwarz disputed Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s warning that Ukraine’s rapid accession to the European Union would create frustration and instability in the Western Balkans.

Gervalla-Schwarz says Newsweek that Pristina “wholeheartedly” supports kyiv’s request to fast-track its EU bid, even as fierce fighting between Russian invaders and Ukrainian defenders stretches into its second month.

Rutte warned last week that a fast track for Ukraine could undermine stability in the Western Balkans. “There are countries that also want [accession]”, Rutte said.

“EU membership is a process. There is no fast-track procedure for membership. If we did that, we would turn the membership process into a political process, and that shouldn’t happen. “

But Gervalla-Schwarz said Kosovo – recognized by Brussels as a potential candidate for EU membership – believes the bloc should adopt a new accelerated process and extend it not just to Ukraine, but to all the Balkan countries which are committed to European integration.

“The current situation is very complex and dangerous,” she said. “This applies not only to the situation in Eastern Europe and Ukraine, but also to the deteriorating situation in the Balkans.

“Therefore, we advocate ‘accelerating’ not only Ukraine, but also Kosovo and other Balkan countries that are genuinely committed to EU principles.

“We are not only doing this in our own interest, but also in the interest of the EU itself: it is about preserving peace in the geography of the EU.”

Gervalla-Schwarz said Kosovo “constantly repeats that the EU can never be whole without the Western Balkans” and “believes that the EU should be open to all European countries that are genuinely committed to EU values such as democracy and the rule of law”.

“For us, the EU is first and foremost not an economic bloc, but the best European answer to guarantee peace. And Ukraine is certainly part of Europe and deserves to be a future member of the Union European,” she said.

“Early warning” for the EU and NATO

Ukrainian soldiers stand in front of a destroyed Russian armored vehicle on the frontline in the northern part of the Kyiv region on March 28, 2022.

Gervalla-Schwarz says Newsweek earlier this month that the EU and its NATO allies, including the United States, must pay more attention to political tensions in the Western Balkans.

Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and others have warned that Russia could open a second front against its Western adversaries in the region, perhaps facilitated by its Serbian partners.

“In the case of Kosovo, it is certainly in the EU’s greatest interest to secure peace before conflict breaks out,” Gervalla-Schwarz said.

“With Ukraine, the EU made mistakes and did not take the right steps before war broke out in order to support Ukraine enough to prevent it.

“Too much appeasement encouraged the would-be aggressor to become a real aggressor. This mistake should not be repeated twice. As Ukraine, Poland and our partners in the Baltics have done, we are committed to the ‘early warning.’

Kosovo’s foreign minister urged the EU and national governments “to recalibrate in order to avoid the next conflict”.

“They have to do something they don’t like to do: they have to listen first instead of talking. They have to coordinate, with Ukraine and with us,” she said.

“The world is not as some bureaucrats in Brussels or some diplomats describe it to themselves, the world is a much different and more dangerous place. Everyone should have learned this hopefully in order to avoid the next ones. Conflicts.”

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and since then has been locked in a tense diplomatic confrontation with its northern neighbor. Sometimes it even threatened to escalate into a new conflict.

Serbia is also a candidate for EU membership and, together with Montenegro, is furthest along in the ascent process of all Western Balkan nations. But Belgrade’s traditional ties with Moscow have destabilized some. President Alexander Vucic’s decision not to join the West’s sanctions offensive against Russia has only heightened concerns over Belgrade’s loyalty.

Kosovo leaders have repeatedly accused Serbia of intentionally undermining Western unity. Belgrade, they say, could yet become a Russian Trojan horse inside the EU.

The Serbian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly dismissed such concerns. Deputy Foreign Minister Nemanja Starovic said Newsweek earlier this month that such an allegation is a “deliberate misrepresentation aimed at achieving certain short-term political goals”.

Belgrade, Starovic said, fully supports Ukraine’s application for EU membership. “The recent tragic events in Ukraine only underline the need to accelerate EU enlargement in our region”, he explained.

Gervalla-Schwarz, however, urged officials in Brussels to be vigilant and skeptical: “From what we can see, read and get from reports from our contacts in — and our close observation of — Serbia , we constantly warn the bureaucrats in distant Brussels and diplomats in EU and NATO capitals that we know a lot better because we are much closer.

“What for them might just be a diplomatic problem might turn out for us to be an existential threat to our citizens.”

The foreign minister dismissed Rutte’s warning of frustration and instability if Ukraine’s EU membership is accelerated. “Not only would we not be frustrated, but we would be very happy if the EU partners quickly took up this historic challenge,” she said.

“The EU must…recognize the new reality much faster and more deeply in order to stabilize the situation and set a clear perspective for the new European peace order.

“Europe must act to ensure not only stability, but also to guarantee sovereignty, democracy, the rule of law, territorial integrity and borders as fundamental principles in Europe and beyond.”

Protesters with Ukraine and EU flags Brussels
People hold the flags of Ukraine and the EU during a demonstration against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on March 13, 2022 in Brussels, Belgium.
Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

NATO Fast Track

Kosovo has already called for its application to join NATO to be accelerated and for the alliance to establish a permanent military presence in the country. Serbia has warned that such a move could trigger a new regional conflict.

Five EU members still do not recognize Kosovo: Spain, Slovakia, Greece, Romania and Cyprus. Until they do, Kosovo cannot join the bloc. All but Cyprus are members of NATO, which will also block Pristina’s ambitions to join the alliance.

“We are redoubling our efforts to accelerate our accession to the EU and NATO, but at the same time to convince the five remaining partners of the EU to follow the vast majority within the EU and to quickly end to insecurity in southeastern Europe by recognizing our country’s borders,” said Gervalla-Schwarz.

“It would send a strong signal not only to Vucic but also to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that questioning or even violating borders and sovereignty is simply forbidden in politics,” added Gervall-Schwarz, calling the Russian president a “war criminal”.

“As long as Vucic and Putin can rely on the EU remaining divided and not closing this chapter, every disputed border in Europe will continue to present a risk not only of provocation, but of violent action and even war.

“Our people are truly European, and we sincerely believe that the EU is the historical answer to end wars on our continent, as has been proven with Germany and France and many other historical examples.”

Parallel between Ukraine and Kosovo

Ukraine’s successful defense has inspired nations around the world. President Volodymyr Zelensky has become a national hero among Ukrainians and a symbol of resistance for foreigners.

Gervalla-Schwarz said Kosovo sees parallels with Ukraine’s history and current situation. “As Ukrainian identity has been nurtured by a brutal war against a peaceful and democratic neighbor, the case of Kosovo is closed for any change,” she said.

“But in stating the obvious, everyone needs to point out to the renegades that there’s no chance of opening Pandora’s box again.

“The situation in Ukraine, which was brutally attacked by its aggressive northern neighbor, is remarkably similar to the situation in Kosovo, which was also attacked by its northern neighbor,” Gervalla-Schwarz said, referring to the 1998 attack. Kosovo War between Kosovo separatists and the former Yugoslavia (since split into Serbia and Montenegro)

“As we defended our country and our people with all available means in the 1990s, today we greatly admire the courage and civility of the Ukrainian people and Ukrainian leaders.

“There is therefore no frustration, only respect and admiration. We hope that Europe will understand what needs to be done now, both for Ukraine and for South Eastern Europe. .”