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“Russia will not be a credible partner, so it is economically and politically wrong to count on cooperation with Moscow,” said Deputy Assistant US Secretary of State and Special Envoy of the US President for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar.

For this reason, as he stated at an online conference organized by the Atlantic Alliance, he encouraged Serbia to impose sanctions on Russia due to the attack on Ukraine and thereby show that it is committed to European values.

According to Escobar, the Ukraine crisis helped the US focus on what is happening in the Western Balkans. He also emphasized that he would like the European integration process of the region’s six countries to be faster.

“We need more Europe and America in the region,” said Escobar, noting that “nationalism and ethnic rivalries are just a mask for corruption, which is the biggest problem of the region. That is why it is necessary to sanction corrupt politicians.”, he said.

“Some politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina cooperate with organized crime. Those persons must be removed from their positions, which applies to the entire region,” Escobar said.

Also, when it comes to the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, Escobar believes that there is no great chance that the USA will take the main role in establishing the normalization of relations.

Foto: Tanjug/Strahinja Aćimović

“The dialogue should be European because Belgrade and Pristina want EU membership, but the US is involved in that process in order to reach a solution useful for all parties”, stated Escobar and said that the formation of the Union of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo is a legal obligation and that will happen:

“At the centre of all the tensions are the 70,000 Serbs in the north of Kosovo. They should have the guaranteed protection of all the institutions of Kosovo and participate in the life of Serbia.”

Escobar believes that “recognition” is the main item in the relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

“Kosovo is an independent country, so it just needs to be recognized. A binding agreement between Belgrade and Pristina will pave the way for increasing the number of countries that recognize Kosovo,” said Escobar and emphasized that it is unlikely that anyone in Europe would believe that is Kosovo part of Serbia:

“This does not mean that Serbia and Kosovo cannot cooperate in culture, trade, and environmental protection. Belgrade and Pristina will have peaceful relations, which will be achieved through the transatlantic process.”

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He expressed his belief that the economic potential of the region would create conditions for the integration of the countries of the Western Balkans, and that the future of the Western Balkans is a multi-ethnic democracy.

The American envoy for the Western Balkans also said that the Open Balkans will be a test for President Vučić to accept Kosovo as a full member of the initiative, to recognize the documents of the government in Pristina and that the countries within the initiative will have to recognize each other’s borders.

“There is an opportunity for the region to progress, to heal through the Open Balkans if it is properly implemented. The region will be stronger, and more dynamic if it is integrated. It is estimated that 22 million people live in the region, and that market is developing three times faster than the rest of Europe,” concluded Escobar.

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