Russia has slammed Kosovo’s reciprocity measures with Serbia, and called for the unconditional, indefinite and complete lifting of tariffs and reciprocity principle.
In a statement by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday, they approve of the US administration’s opposition to Kosovo government’s two-step lifting of tariffs before April 1, and introduction of reciprocity measures with Serbia. At the same time, Russia criticized the EU support on the matter for being one-sided.
“It is telling that even Washington, which thoroughly supports Kosovo’s “independence,” was critical of Pristina’s latest move which deliberately delays the prospect of resuming the dialogue with Belgrade. In this context, the EU’s ecstatic reaction seems odd since, as one of the mediators the EU should respond with a sober assessment of the situation without favouring either party.”
The tariff on Serbian goods were introduced in November 2018 by Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj in reaction to Serbia’s lobbying with states to withdraw Kosovo’s recognition and block its membership in international organizations.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti lifted the tariff on raw materials on March 20, about one and a half months after gaining power. On April 1, the tariff was lifted completely, and reciprocity measures were introduced, meaning that Kosovo would implement the same requirements Serbia has put in place for goods imported from Kosovo.
In the middle of June, the government will review its decision, if Serbia stops its international campaign against the country’s statehood and removes non-tariff trade barriers with Kosovo.
The Kurti government was, however, ousted in between the two decisions, despite the EU support for the move. The US administration, who has been trying to engage itself in mediating a final agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, opposed Kurti’s plan to replace tariffs with reciprocity. It asked instead for immediate, complete and unconditional removal of tariffs. As a result, junior governing coalition partner LDK brought a no-confidence vote against Kurti, alleging that he had jeopardized relations with the US. It gained 82 votes in the 120-seat parliament, and the government fell.
In their statement, Russia accused the government of Kosovo of “manipulating” the topic of tariffs, and Prime Minister Albin Kurti of “demagoguery”, claiming that he has lifted the tariff only “temporarily and with restrictions that contain many preconditions.”
The ministry explained that Kurti’s “reciprocity principle” forces Serbia to mark their goods exported to Kosovo according to Kosovo’s standards. This would mean for Serbia to agree to insert “Republic of Kosovo” into documents, “which would imply the indirect recognition of this quasi-state,” according to Russian government.
“We believe these anti-Serbia steps by Kosovo’s authorities need to be completely and unconditionally reversed,” they concluded.
One week since tariffs were lifted and reciprocity measures introduced, €1.6 million in goods were imported from Serbia in 263 trucks. All export documents referred to Kosovo according to government requirements under the reciprocity principle, according to Kosovo Customs’ spokesperson Adriatik Stavileci.
When asked by journalists on Tuesday morning about Russia’s statement, outgoing Prime Minister Albin Kurti said that “reciprocity stems from the concept of equality, and they surely wouldn’t like it.”
Serbia is Russia’s strongest ally in the Western Balkans. It maintains a policy of non-alignment with NATO – the only country in the region to do so – and close military ties to Russia. Based on US legislation, Congressman Eliot Engel has called for sanctions against Serbia for buying arms from Russia.
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