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US’s Western Balkans Trump: Sanctions

09 February 2022
USs Western Balkans Trump: Sanctions

The United States of America (USA) seems to have started its contribution to the normalization process of Kosovo-Serbia relations with the normalization of the north of Kosovo. The sanctions imposed within the framework of the fight against corruption, which it has determined as the Western Balkans, will allow the United States to intervene in the course of the region. On 8 June 2021, US President Joe Biden signed the executive order authorizing additional sanctions to encourage anti-corruption efforts and accountability in the Balkan region.[1]

The document in question, by extending the criteria for determining sanctions, threatening the peace, security, stability or territorial integrity of any region or state in the Western Balkans; undermining democratic processes or institutions in the Western Balkans; engaging in corruption related to the Western Balkans gives the right to impose sanctions for serious human rights violations in the Western Balkans.

It is stated that the geographical scope of the region in question includes the lands of former Yugoslavia and Albania. The document also protects the Prespa Agreement. According to this, all assets and interests of persons going to or staying in the USA are blocked, American citizens are prohibited from making transactions with these persons, and the relevant persons are prevented from entering the USA. In this context, it is understood that the Biden administration will benefit from sanctions to maintain control of the Western Balkans. Global Magnitsky Sanction [2] has been expanded for those who engage in serious human rights violations or corruption in Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Albania.

In addition, Kosovo Serb businesspeople Milan Radoičić and Zvonko Veselinović have been added to the US Treasury Department’s Black List.[3] The ministry is prosecuting two men on suspicion of bribing politicians to secure their illegal business between Serbia and Kosovo. Veselinović, in particular, has been described as the leader of an organized crime syndicate and one of the most corrupt figures in Kosovo. It was stated that he was involved in a large-scale bribery network involving Kosovo and Serbian security officials, providing illegal goods, money, drugs, and weapons smuggling.[4] Although an investigation was opened against Veselinović in Serbia for these crimes, his trial was not carried out. Radoičić and Veselinović, who were added to the sanctions list of the USA, are also seen as the power behind the Serbian List, the main party of Kosovo Serbs.

On the other hand, in the indictment regarding the murder of the Kosovo Serb politician, Freedom, Democracy and Justice People’s Initiative Chairman Oliver Ivanović, it is stated that Radoičić and Veselinović were the leaders of a criminal organization responsible for the murder and many police officers were accused of helping the incident. Ivanović, who was once seen as an ultra-nationalist, has recently turned to a moderate policy that advocates the coexistence of Kosovo’s Serbian minority and Albanian majority and has come to the fore with his criticisms of the Belgrade administration. Therefore, radical Serbs were sought behind the death of Ivanović, who was shot in front of the party building on January 16, 2018. The trial, which started in Pristina, could not reach the instigators and mostly tended towards the crimes of negligence.

Blacklisting is not directly related to the Ivanović murder. However, the US’s enforcement methods have tended to reveal the bond between criminal organizations and politicians. In this context, Radoičić and Veselinović’s relations with politicians in Kosovo and Serbia are also under scrutiny. Each unit and name that authorizes smuggling operations between Kosovo and Serbia will be investigated.

Although Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić denied any ties to the two names on the list and said that there was no financial relationship between his party and Veselinović, there are also those who claim that Vučić is at one end of the Black List. It is thought that the USA gave a warning to Vučić through these two names to review his policies and team.

In this context, it can be said that drug trafficking and smuggling crimes in the north of Kosovo will be targeted. There is talk that some former Kosovo politicians have connections with criminal organizations in the north of the country. It is claimed that Presova or Macedonian Albanians also use this uncontrolled line in Kosovo for smuggling. In fact, this is an important route of smuggling in general. Now, an important initiative will begin, aiming to rid the region of crime.

Sanctions on 24 companies affiliated with Veselinović and Radoičić will prevent the Serb List, which has an impact on the convening of the parliament and the continuation of the government as a part of Kosovo politics, from being manipulated by criminal organizations with large sums of funds. Indeed, Veselinović has been funding candidates for the Serbian List for nearly four years. This means that he can determine the chosen names and direct the decisions of the people he gives money to. As a result, Veselinović not only uses the aforementioned connections to facilitate his own illegal business but also in favor of Serbia, especially influencing the Kosovo Serbs’ decision not to recognize Kosovo.

It can be said that the USA will use the sanctions decisions as an alternative solution to the Balkan problems. The main purpose of the Washington administration is to reduce the power and influence of business people who have ties to Russia. However, it will also contribute to the stability of the region. US Special Representative for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar also stated that the main problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina is not ethnicity; by saying that, the issue was caused by corruption and sharing the view that Serbian leader Dodik actually started a political crisis to cover up his serious corruption activities, he signaled that it would intervene in Bosnia-Herzegovina politics through sanctions.

Starting the normalization of Kosovo-Serbia relations with the normalization of Serbs inside Kosovo will find a positive response in Kosovo. The method applied will be deemed legitimate as long as it targets names whose criminality is already known in this way. Neither will there be any significant objections from Russia nor Serbia. However, if crime starts to be produced while the framework is being expanded, the list of the money that the USA has secretly distributed -if it is doing-, its interference in the elections, the restrictions, and directives applied to the state decisions through some institutions may be published by other actors.

[1] “FACT SHEET: Executive Order Blocking Property and Suspending Entry Into the United States of Certain Persons Contributing to the Destabilizing Situation in the Western Balkans”, The White House, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/06/08/fact-sheet-executive-order-blocking-property-and-suspending-entry-into-the-united-states-of-certain-persons-contributing-to-the-destabilizing-situation-in-the-western-balkans/., (Date of Accession 25.11.2021)

[2] Küresel Magnitsky İnsan Hakları Hesap Verebilirlik Yasası, ciddi insan hakları suiistimali veya yolsuzluğa karışan kişilerin mallarının engellenmesini hedeflemektedir. Yasanın yürürlük tarihi, 21 Aralık 2017’dir.

[3] “Radoičić i Veselinović na “crnoj listi”: Slučajnost ili jasna politička poruka Vučiću i Srpskoj listi”, DANAS, https://www.danas.rs/vesti/drustvo/radoicic-i-veselinovic-na-crnoj-listi-slucajnost-ili-jasna-politicka-poruka-vucicu-i-srpskoj-listi/, (Date of Accession Tarihi 10.12.2021)

[4] “Веселиновић и Радоичић на “црној листи” Америке”, Politika, https://www.politika.rs/scc/clanak/494146/Veselinovic-i-Radoicic-na-crnoj-listi-Amerike, (Date of Accession 10.12.2021)