Kosovo’s Comeback Premier Signals Tough Stance on Serbia Talks

Albin Kurti returned as government leader in Kosovo on Monday, a year after being ousted over mishandling the Covid-19 crisis, this time pledging a fast vaccination rollout and reiterating demands for Serbia’s recognition of his state.

Lawmakers approved an 18-member cabinet led by Kurti whose Self-Determination party won February’s elections on promises to fight graft, poverty and to win full international recognition for Kosovo. The landlocked Balkan state of 1.8 million people declared independence in 2008 when it seceded from Serbia, almost a decade after a war that ended with NATO bombing.

“Pandemic is the main challenge. We will aim to vaccinate 60% of the population” this year, Kurti said. He also ruled out normalizing ties with the Serbia unless it “recognizes the reality of an independent Kosovo.”

One of Europe’s poorest countries, Kosovo has been hit hard by high infection rates from Covid-19 while struggling to import vaccines. It has appealed for help form the European Union, which it aspires to join. Both Serbia and Kosovo need to mend ties to qualify for membership in the bloc.

Years of EU-mediated talks between Serbia and Kosovo have had limited results as Serbia relies on support from Russia and China in opposing Kosovo’s sovereignty and membership in the United Nations. Western powers have mostly recognized Kosovo, whose ethnic Albanian majority fought for independence.

Kurti, 45, is a former political prisoner whose party prevailed in the ballot over groups led by Kosovo’s war veterans. He has pledged to leverage U.S. support in Kosovo’s intractable standoff with Serbia, which insists that kosovo is its historic heartland. Five EU members are also among the countries that don’t recognize Kosovo.

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