MOSCOW, May 30. /TASS/. Tensions flare again between Belgrade and Pristina over Kosovo; Azerbaijan and Armenia no closer to peace treaty; and Moscow’s top diplomat talks economic ties on visit to Kenya. These stories topped Tuesday’s newspaper headlines across Russia.
In Kosovo, the confrontation continues between the Serbian population in the four municipalities of Zvecan, Leposavic, Zubin Potok and Severna Mitrovica and the Kosovo police and KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. The Serbian army has been put on the highest level of combat alert and deployed to the border with Kosovo, where three ethnic Albanian mayors were sworn in on May 25. However, the Serbs are questioning the legitimacy of the vote, in which slightly less than 3% of the local population took part. Serbian politicians warn that the developments may spark an active conflict, while lawmaker Ivan Kostic expects Serbian President Alexander Vucic to ask Russia for help.
It is noteworthy that, this time around, Great Britain, Germany, the United States, France, the EU and NATO, all of which had traditionally supported Pristina in the Serbia-Kosovo conflict, have condemned Pristina’s actions and called for an immediate de-escalation. Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, known as the EP Rapporteur for Kosovo and Metohija, rebuked Pristina for its use of force to install the three mayors in office.
Vucic said that Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti is seeking to be the next Vladimir Zelensky, the Ukrainian leader; the Serbian leader did not exclude the possibility of a major conflict erupting in Kosovo and Metohija. Against the backdrop of clashes, Vucic addressed the Serbian people on Monday evening.
In general, the situation could be seen as part of a campaign to put pressure on Vucic, Oleg Bondarenko, head of the Progressive Policy Foundation and editor-in-chief at balkanist.ru, told Izvestia. "This appears to be an effort to bait and entrap Vucic. The West has decided to exert more pressure on him, with opposition protests taking place in Belgrade, on the one hand, and the situation in Kosovo, on the other." According to the expert, Western countries are sending a message to the Serbian leader that he is persona non grata and they will create major problems for him. And such an approach could help escalate the conflict, bringing it to a hot phase, he warned.
Brussels is indeed dissatisfied with Vucic’s position, as Belgrade refuses to adhere to the pan-European course, Bondarenko maintains. However, if Vucic makes concessions to Brussels, he would, in fact, be signing his own death warrant, since the Serbs are very critical of European policies: They realize that no one wants them in Europe, and they are reluctant to join anti-Russian sanctions or recognize Kosovo. This annoys the West, Bondarenko says, and, therefore, Vucic is under pressure from both the Serbian public and the West.
Meanwhile, Goran Rakic, leader of the Serb List party, has called on Belgrade to suspend dialogue with Pristina. This, too, makes finding a potential settlement in Kosovo problematic.
Judging from the latest statements by Baku and Yerevan, negotiations over the past month have not brought the two sides much closer. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that no peace treaty was ready, shattering hopes that he and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev would potentially sign an agreement in Moldova on June 1. In turn, the Azerbaijani leader demanded that the government and armed units in Karabakh be dissolved, warning that otherwise the situation may take a different turn.
On Thursday, almost 50 heads of state and government from the EU and other countries, including senior EU officials, will gather in Bulboaca, a village outside of Chisinau, the Moldavan capital, for the Second European Political Community Summit. There, Aliyev and Pashinyan are due to hold talks that will be attended by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and European Council President Charles Michel.
Commenting on the prospects for signing a peace agreement at the coming talks, Pashinyan told the Armenian parliament on Monday that Yerevan had not received any response from Baku to its proposals on a draft treaty.
Sergey Markedonov, senior researcher at the Center for Euro-Atlantic Security at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), pointed to inflated expectations on the part of observers in the wake of the recent spurt of negotiations. "Pashinyan has been showing a fantastic level of flexibility and acquiescence, but that was not in evidence today. And this does not mean that the Armenian elites and society are ready for concessions, especially if they concern Armenian territory," the expert told Kommersant.
Even as the two sides may be getting closer on certain aspects of the talks, this only tends to highlight the importance of other nuances, and plenty of nuances remain, Markedonov says. "Karabakh is a major issue, albeit not the only one. Other issues will emerge, as this is an overarching conflict," he explains. As for Azerbaijan, where officials do not conceal their irritation with the slow progress and the lack of decisions across the board, Markedonov warns that Baku is highly unlikely to be willing to use force, like in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020. "Baku feels confident now that [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has won [re-election], and their confidence is growing stronger. However, Baku is not seeking any confrontation with either the West or Russia," the expert believes.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced on Monday in Nairobi, the first stop on his visit to African countries, his third tour this year, that Russia will soon send 30,000 metric tons of fertilizers to Kenya for free. This marked Lavrov’s first visit to the East African country in the past 13 years. He held negotiations with Kenyan President William Ruto, who was elected last year, as well as with the Kenyan foreign minister and parliamentary speaker.
Following talks with the Kenyan leader, Lavrov announced that an intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation will be established later this year. However, trade between the two countries leaves much to be desired: In 2021, Kenya ranked sixth in exports to Russia with $140 million, while Russia sold products worth $220 million to Kenya. Lavrov said that Moscow and Nairobi were ready for cooperation in energy, finance, telecoms, education and other areas.
Natalia Piskunova, an expert on Africa and associate professor at Moscow State University, said Kenya was an important international trade partner in terms of seaborne transits. The country is also a major intercontinental banking hub now. "A huge number of various bank transactions are currently processed via the Kenyan offices of European, American and Chinese lenders. In this regard, those are very convenient. I guess there were a host of reasons [for Lavrov] to visit Kenya. There were primarily economic reasons, followed by all the rest," the expert told Izvestia.
According to Andrey Maslov, head of the Higher School of Economics (HSE University) Center for African Studies, Kenya is a key African country, and it would be a mistake to describe it as a pro-Western nation. The incumbent leadership takes a balanced position and favors expanding economic and humanitarian ties with Russia, he said. "Lots of Kenyans like our country. Relations with Kenya will always matter for expanding and strengthening positions in East Africa," the expert maintained.
However, it is critical to understand that African nations generally tend to be rather neutral on European affairs or events occurring outside of the continent, Piskunova added. Africans differentiate between political and economic stories, and therefore they will continue to do business with Russia, the United States, the EU, China, India and other partners unless their economic interests are harmed, the expert concluded.
On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has held power continuously in Turkey for two decades now, was re-elected to another five-year term. Before the final vote count, the leaders of Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Libya, Algeria, Hungary and Iran congratulated him on his re-election. Vladimir Putin lauded Erdogan’s strong, independent foreign policy course and placed much emphasis on the implementation of projects to build the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant and a natural gas hub in Turkey.
Addressing thousands of his supporters who gathered in front of the presidential palace in Ankara, Erdogan proclaimed a golden age for Turkey and unveiled his program for the next few years. He assured the nation that combating inflation will be one of his priority tasks. Secondly, he will handle the aftermath of the recent earthquake that claimed 50,000 lives. The Turkish leader also promised to pursue a new economic path. However, he did not say whether he will tweak the country’s accommodative monetary policy.
Pavel Shlykov, associate professor at Moscow State University’s Institute of Asian and African Studies, told Vedomosti that leading Turkey out of the economic crisis will be Erdogan’s key priority in the next five years. "He will primarily tackle inflation and push Turkish industries into the global market," the expert said. However, the Turkish government will find it difficult to address those problems with the central bank still depending on the government for its low-rates policy. Nor is Erdogan likely to start liberalizing the political system, Shlykov noted, and he could press on with a clampdown on the opposition.
Political analyst Andrey Chuprygin, senior professor at the HSE University’s School of Asian Studies, expects that Ankara will soon somewhat soften its relations with the West. "I expect that the Turkish authorities will finally allow Sweden to join NATO. Also, I assume that Turkey will revive negotiations to return to the US program for the joint production of the F-35 fifth-generation fighter jets," the expert said.
As for relations between Russia and Turkey, those will hardly see any major changes, Chuprygin continues. "Russia plays a very important role in Turkey’s energy security, and nowhere else does Ankara buy so much energy as from our country. Therefore, the economic dimensions of our relations will not change," he argues. And yet, tensions may rise in a number of regions between the two nations in the future, he warned.
In 2022, 10,420 immigrants from Russia obtained American citizenship, the highest number in the past decade. Also, 97 Russians were granted investor visas last year, according to estimates from Second Wind based on data from the US State Department and US Citizenship and Immigration Services, as seen by Vedomosti.
Alexander Zakharov, a partner with Paragon Advice Group, told the newspaper that the higher number of Russians receiving US citizenship and investor visas last year was not directly related to the situation around Ukraine. He attributed the visible rise in numbers to the effect of delays in processing applications submitted at least between 2017 and 2019. Meanwhile, US immigration agencies have been quite receptive to Russian arrivals since the start of Russia’s special military operation and mobilization, he added.
US immigration policy has been uneven over the past 30 years due to a lack of consensus between Republicans and Democrats, Viktoria Zhuravleva, head of the Center for North American Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, told Vedomosti. The Biden administration has been trying to reinstate the milder policies of the Barack Obama era, which may also help account for the higher number of approved applications, she said.
As for the EB-5 Visa, or so-called investor visa, although the program has attracted Russian nationals in the past decade, the number of Russian applicants was lower than those from the Caribbean or the EU, Denis Karasev, vice president of LCP Group, told Vedomosti. However, he sees a certain connection between Russia’s special operation and the number of Russian applications for the investor visa, which grew four-to five-fold in 2022, he said.
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