Make membership easier, Kosovo PM tells NATO, EU

by Cristian Florescu

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti pressed his country’s case for EU and NATO membership, writes FRANCE24.COM

“It is shocking,” Kurti said during an interview this week in Kosovo’s capital Pristina. “It’s hard to believe what you’re seeing — but no one can pretend to be surprised.”

The former firebrand student activist and the one-time political prisoner have never been afraid to mince his words.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kurti is calling on the European Union and US-led NATO military alliance to bolster their southern flank in the Western Balkans by allowing for faster membership to their blocs.

“In this extraordinary situation, we cannot behave normally,” Kurti argued. “Therefore, both EU membership and NATO membership cannot be done in the old ways.

“It is imperative that Brussels, as the capital of both NATO and the EU, rethink a new way of enlarging in the Western Balkans.”

Kurti has long been pressing to get Kosovo into both institutions but has faced resistance from a handful of countries in both the EU and NATO.

North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Serbia meanwhile are in varying stages of the accession process with the EU.

Some members of the bloc, however, including Spain and Greece, do not recognise Kosovo’s sovereignty, effectively blocking any path for membership.

The same issue is blocking Kosovo’s drive to join NATO.

But in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kurti argues that now is the time to reconsider the old assumptions.

Moscow has been a fierce opponent of Kosovo since the war in the 1990s when Russia’s longtime ally Serbia saw its security forces pushed out of the territory with the crucial help of NATO airstrikes.

Russia’s position on the United Nations Security Council has blocked any chance of Kosovo’s unilateral independence declaration in 2008 receiving formal recognition — much to the chagrin of Pristina.

With Russia now subject to wide-ranging sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine, Kurti said the time was right for a rethink by NATO and the EU — in part to shore up support in southeast Europe, where Russia remains influential.

The west had to factor in the nature of Russian President Vladimir Putin, he argued.

Just days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month, Kosovo’s defence minister Armend Mehaj also called for accelerated membership into NATO.

He also wanted a permanent US base in the territory to “guarantee peace, security and stability in the Western Balkans and beyond”.

Even with their minimal economic and political weight, Kosovo has offered its support to Ukraine, despite Kyiv’s years-long refusal to recognise the disputed territory’s independence.

Last week, Kosovo condemned Russia’s “illegal, unprovoked and unjustified” invasion of Ukraine, and plans are being hashed out to welcome thousands of Ukrainian refugees into the country.

“We find many similarities with our situation a quarter of a century ago,” said Kurti.

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