A Quick Kosovo Deal? ‘Forget About It,’ Serbia’s President Says

(Bloomberg) -- Serbia’s president abandoned his plan to forge a quick deal on repairing ties with Kosovo after German Chancellor Angel Merkel said there would be no redrawing of borders in the Balkans.

Aleksandar Vucic has pledged since last year to present a plan to tackle the issue of Kosovo, which broke away after a 1998-1999 war in an event that many Serbs refuse to accept as they see it as their historical heartland. After Merkel shot down a proposal floated this week to partition Kosovo along ethnic lines, the president said that normalizing ties with Serbia’s neighbor will now take longer than thought.

“For Germany, redrawing borders is a done deal, so how can I go against that?” Vucic told reporters in Belgrade. "It’s now obvious that this will take much longer than some had planned. The fact that some had thought that this will be done within two or three months -- forget about it.”

Almost two decades after the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in Europe’s bloodiest conflicts since World War II, redrawing borders anew would threaten to destabilize a region still simmering with tension between groups that include Serbs, Albanians, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims. In the past three decades, the European Union and NATO have expanded into the Balkans, where they compete for influence with Russia, China and Turkey.

Proposal Rejected

Merkel dismissed any plan for Serbia to take control of areas in Kosovo with majority ethnic-Serb populations, saying that the region’s borders were fixed and no changes would be discussed. Kosovo, an ethnic-Albanian majority state of about 1.7 million people that declared independence in 2008, rejected the idea and flagged a counter-proposal under which it would expand its borders into Serbia’s south to include three more municipalities.

EU officials have made clear that Serbia can’t join the world’s largest trading bloc, which it hopes to do next decade, without coming to an agreement with Kosovo. That poses a problem for the country of 7 million people. Backed by Russia and China, Serbia has vowed to never recognize its neighbor. Kosovo President Hashim Thaci has called for EU-mediated talks to conclude with recognition that would allow Kosovo to join the United Nations.

Vucic, who typically boasts of a close friendship with Merkel, has also bolstered ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has repeatedly argued that Serbia must also benefit from a compromise on Kosovo. He’s also said that any agreement will need consent from Germany, the EU, the U.S., Turkey, Russia and China.

“I will continue to go and fight for Serbia," he said. "If there is something in it for Serbia, fine. If I can do something for Serbia fine. If not, then fine again."

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.