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US Congressman Engel Says Serbia, Kosovo Can Now ‘Look Forward To Future’

Image by US Department of Defense.

Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representative’s Foreign Affairs Committee, has long taken a close interest in Balkan affairs and offered strong praise for the agreement Serbia and Kosovo reached in April. RFE/RL Balkan Service’s Pristina bureau chief, Arbana Vidishiqi, spoke to Engel about the agreement and the prospects for reconciliation between Serbia and Kosovo.

RFE/RL: Congressman Engel, Kosovo and Serbia reached an agreement on April 19 on the normalization of their relations but both parties have now missed the deadline in drafting the implementation plan. Do you think the process of normalization is at risk?

Eliot Engel: No, I don’t. I think when you have a process of normalization like this, there is always going to be things that get in the way, there is always going to be obstacles; but I think if both parties are determined to reach an agreement, which they have, and carry out the agreement, I think, things will be fine. This is obviously a serious situation. Both sides have a lot of trepidation or doubt about whether this is a good thing, but I think that this is a necessary step that has to be taken and I believe will work out. The EU, of course, is right there and the United States will always stand by the people of Kosovo every step of the way.

RFE/RL: The agreement seems to allow for the possibility for the establishment of a so-called mini-state — similar to Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina — in northern Kosovo. Does it?

Engel: No, it doesn’t. These are very difficult negotiations. There are a lot of opinions in so many different ways. There has been hostility for so many years. 1999, obviously, is still fresh in everybody’s mind — at least on Kosovo’s side — and I think that this agreement is a necessary agreement. I think that, in an agreement, no side gets everything they want. And an agreement is a compromise. And a compromise is one side gets some of what they want and the other side gets some of what they want. And as a result, neither side is totally satisfied, but both sides feel this is in the best interest because they can move on from here, they can put the past behind them or attempt to put the past behind them and look forward to the future. » More

Kyrgyzstan Hosts Putin to Ink Defense, Energy, Debt Deals

Tala River Hydroplant Kyrgyzystan. Image by Evgeni Zotov/flickr.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s September 20 visit to Kyrgyzstan ended with half a dozen bilateral agreements and some anachronistic-sounding rhetoric about Moscow’s benevolent role in Central Asia. On the face of it, Russia won an extension of military basing rights for another generation, while Kyrgyzstan got millions of dollars in debt forgiveness and promises of investment in the construction of two major hydropower projects. But all the deals have yet to be finalized and some won’t kick in for years, with multiple strings attached.

The visit was Putin’s first to Kyrgyzstan since an April 2010 uprising toppled the former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who had angered the Kremlin by effectively misappropriating a $300 million Russian loan and backtracking on some of his promises. Moscow has been slow to warm to the post-Bakiyev leadership, expressing frustration earlier this year, for example, with Bishkek’s constant
attempts to get aid while maintaining a so-called multi-vector foreign policy.

Publicly, Putin’s host, President Almazbek Atambayev, did everything he could to assure the Russian president that Kyrgyzstan is a firm friend. At a cheerful midday press conference, Atambayev suggested the two had stayed up together until 5 a.m. – Putin had arrived in Bishkek late September 19 – and expressed wishes for everlasting friendship. “Russia is our main strategic partner. With Russia, we share a common history and a common destiny. […] Our future will be in partnership with the great Russia,” Atambayev said in comments broadcast by local media. » More