Kosovo

Kosovo foreign minister: Russia is aiding Serbia's derecognition "fraud"

A torn poster of Putin with Serbian President Vucic on the Serbian side of Mitrovica, Kosovo. Photo: Pierre Crom/Getty Images

In an interview with Axios Wednesday, Kosovan Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli accused Russia of aiding in a Serbian effort to coerce African countries to revoke diplomatic recognition of Kosovo.

The big picture: Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has since been recognized as an independent state by 117 countries, including the U.S. and most of the EU. Serbia bitterly opposes Kosovo’s independence and has undertaken a covert effort to convince countries to change course. The goal is to bring the total number of countries that recognize Kosovo to below 97, or half the membership of the UN.

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Economic ties pull Serbia toward EU membership, but Russia resists

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during their meeting at the Presidential Administration on January 17, 2018 in Belgrade, Serbia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Jan. 17, in Serbia. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a high-profile visit Thursday to Serbia, Moscow's closest ally in the Balkans. Serbia's leadership has long touted cooperation with Russia, but the alliance has frayed as Belgrade has come to see it as the main obstacle on the way to EU membership.

Why it matters: The EU insists that Serbia must peacefully resolve its longstanding differences with Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, before it can join. Serbia has indicated that it’s ready to do so in exchange for an accession deal, but Russia, eager to keep Serbia from joining the EU, is trying to leverage strongly pro-Russian popular sentiment to gum up, and perhaps ruin, the fledgling compromise.