Ambassador Konuzin is at it again. Twenty seven trucks of Russian humanitarian aid to Kosovo Serbs are being held up by EULEX at the Jarinje checkpoint. This convoy is led by Ambassador Konuzin and he claims that as the Russian diplomatic representative to Serbia, his jurisdiction include the province of Kosovo and Metohija. EULEX requested to escort the convoy to Kosovska Mitrovica, which Konuzin refused. Serbs in Mitrovica, in turn, blocked the path of a convoy of EULEX SUVs heading north towards Jarinje to purportedly serve as the escort. Thus, an impasse was created, a stalemate to be resolved at the highest level, between Moscow and Brussels.
Without going into who’s right – read the related posts – I want to talk about the surrounding effects of this Russian move. To be clear, Aleksandr Konuzin has a boss, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who in turn is an underling of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Konuzin is not acting on his own, but following orders. Kosovo Serbs brought Russian attention onto their plight by submitting 22,000 Russian citizenship requests, a seemingly desperate move that resulted from the feeling of abandonment by official Belgrade. Putin’s power came under a slight duress in the form of post-election street protests directed at his perceived autocratic ways. Way overblown in the Western media and nothing that doesn’t happen in London, New York or Oakland. More importantly, nothing that Putin and Medvedev can’t manage. It is not important for this discussion as an internal matter of Russian politics, but it is important in lieu of Putin’s accusations that Western government’s orchestrated the protests and the electoral manipulations through the international election monitoring services. Russian commentators predicted these events months ago and even drew parallels with the Arab Spring regime changes, bringing forth the notion that Russian regime change attempt was also imminent. Couple these accusations with the failed attempt at a “reset” of Russo-American nuclear relations and the American insistence to place a missile shield at Russia’s border, and you notice a pattern of progressive deterioration of Russo-Western relations. Germany had played a double agent of sorts, cozying up to Putin in many respects and ostensibly distancing the continent from Great Britain, United States’ most natural ally in Europe. That plot is yet to fully unfold, but Russo-German relations might have had something remote to do with Germany’s refusal to grant the EU candidacy status to Serbia on December 9th. In any case, Russia will try to show teeth and Kosovo may be the softest place and the most opportune moment to start.
Konuzin is becoming a sort of a folk hero to Serbs. His stout persona and his willingness to mouth off what Serbia’s leaders shy away from seem to Serbs as the second coming. Readers of Vuk Draskovic the writer remember fondly one Ivan Jastrebov, consul of the Russian Empire to South Serbia under Ottoman rule in the second half of the 19th century. Jastrebov symbolized an active and overpowering presence of a Serbian protector against Albanian terror. Konuzin, in real life, is approaching that status, at least among Kosovo Serbs.
I don’t know what is in the trucks, but the North Kosovo Serbs are not facing a humanitarian crisis – their very existence and their hold over their homes is under a threat. Why would anyone stop a humanitarian convoy, still? If EULEX suspects a gun-running operation, do they think Serbs had to turn to the Russians for arming them when their access to Serbia is wide open? No, it’s not that. Kosovo Serbs know they would be wiped out by NATO at the first inclination to turn violent. Instead, Russians are testing NATO and EULEX’s resolve and much more. Since Russia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state, its ambassador is within his jurisdiction when delivering humanitarian aid to a province of Serbia. Well, NATO, EULEX and Kosovo Albanians disagree – curiously, Albanians are quiet these days, other than attempting to kill Mitrovica’s mayor – and they feel within their rights to control what they perceive as borders of the Republic of Kosovo. If Putin felt that the Americans came to his doorstep to shake his hold on power, he was sure to retaliate in a way that at least sends signals. I won’t speculate any more, but a whole series of questions must be asked. How far is Putin willing to go in Kosovo? What do the eventual letup of the created tension and the passing of the convoy mean for Kosovo Serbs and more importantly, for Serbia between the East and the West? One could see this as an insignificant episode, but in international relations, there are no insignificant episodes. Is this Putin’s unexpected response or a segway into a larger plan of action? Could my theory that the EU has never planned to accept, but to weaken and drop Serbia into Russia’s or Turkey’s lap be true? And is Russia moving in to outpace Turkey? Too many speculations, I know. Then there are those gas streams that somehow find their way into every geostrategic political conversation.
December 9th has changed a lot of dynamics, but it’s way too early to be a judge of a degree and of a direction. Konuzin does represent the official Russia and he’s standing at Jarinje. He’s not about to present his diplomatic accreditations to what’s-her-name and he’s bolstering Serbian hopes and emboldening those Serbian leaders who have been looking for Russia’s protection and guidance. Polls in Serbia show a rapid decline in popular support for the EU and for the party that beat the drums of EU fallacy: Boris Tadic’s DS.