By Linda Karadaku and Ivana Jovanovic
A Russian convoy, at the centre of renewed tensions after it was stopped at the Jarinje crossing in northern Kosovo, will be allowed to pass through the border to Kosovo after a deal was reached between EULEX and Russia on Wednesday (December 14th).
“We have agreed with Russia to ensure the transit of the convoy to its final destination in Kosovo. We are in touch with all sides concerned to implement this agreement. We hope that everyone will co-operate so that this can take place rapidly,” EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic, told SETimes on Wednesday night.
The 20-truck convoy — which contains humanitarian aid to Kosovo Serbs — was stopped at the crossing on Tuesday, where EULEX said it would escort the group from Jarinje or have the group enter at the Merdare border crossing, which is under Kosovo government control.
Russian Ambassador in Belgrade Alexander Konuzin, who was accompanying the convoy, refused both options, saying he would not accept “EULEX’s blackmail”.
The convoy remains stranded at the Jarinje crossing.
“Everyone [is] seeking a pragmatic solution,” EULEX spokesman Nicholas Hawton told SETimes on Wednesday afternoon.
At issue is the destination of the aid.
Moscow has become the new go-to for Kosovo Serbs, after they became impatient with Belgrade’s refusal to use force to assist them.
The minority Serbs, who reject Kosovo’s statehood, have been blocking roads and border crossings since this summer.
EULEX said the convoy’s cargo appears that it is intended for those manning the roadblocks, and not for the general Kosovo Serb population.
Ivan Garbunov, senior councillor for political affairs at the Russian Embassy in Belgrade, told SETimes that “EULEX refuses to perform its obligations under the mandate it has and which has been given to it by the Security Council.”
“There is no need for the EULEX escort because we are not endangered and there is no necessity for such a security escort,” he said, accusing the peacekeeping force of “trying to use this for political purposes and to abuse this issue”.
Garbunov said the issue will be discussed by Russian President Dmitry Medvdev and EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday.
Local Serbs continue to man the barricades, and refused to let EULEX pass to reach the Russian convoy.
“The ambassador rejected any possibility that the convoy pass at the administrative crossing at Merdare because there are representatives of the Kosovo Customs. Russia …does not recognise them as legal authorities,” Mitrovica Mayor Krstimir Pantic told SETimes. “After this unsuccessful attempt, EULEX has banned further entry of trucks with humanitarian aid.”
Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said on Wednesday that his government, “in consultation with the authorities of EULEX and KFOR”, is determined not to allow entrance to the convoy “without going through the regular, customs and police procedures of the Republic of Kosovo”.
The Russian aid comes less than two weeks after Moscow refused to give citizenship to more than 20,000 Serbs who signed a petition seeking Russian citizenship.
“Such a petition cannot be granted by virtue of the rules of Russian law on citizenship,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.
However, he said, Russia “will continue to help secure through politico-diplomatic means the legitimate rights and interests of the Serbs living in Kosovo”.
“We expect freedom and security from Russia. We don’t have freedom here, we don’t have security. We need [the Russians] because we can’t do anything alone,” the initiator of the petition, Zlatibor Djordjevic, who lives in Leposavic, northern Kosovo, told SETimes.