Might Sánchez announce Spanish recognition of Kosovo?

Analysis: NATO issued a statement late on Sunday night saying it is ready to intervene if a new conflict breaks out between Kosovo and Serbia.
By Matthew Bennett
Aug 01, 2022, 2:30 pm
Published: Aug 01, 2022, 1:08 pm

There is a new Balkan problem, in August. NATO issued a statement on Kosovo and Serbia late on Sunday night. It said the Western military alliance is ready "to intervene if stability is jeapordised" and that KFOR would take "whatever measures are necessary to keep a safe and secure environment in Kosovo at all times". Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti tweeted a statement from his government saying Serbia had perpetrated "multiple aggressive acts" on the border yesterday but delaying the implementation of rules on driving licenses and IDs between Serbia and Kosovo as long as the Serbs removed lorries blocking the border roads. Balkan Insight reported that removal of lorries has now begun.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has been on a visit to the Balkans over the past few days, with stops at all of the key places, Serbia, Bosnia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania...but not Kosovo (see map above). Different Spanish governments have maintained since 2008 that Spain does not recognise Kosovo as a country. This is because of the domestic threat in Spain of Catalan and Basque separatism. 14 years later, Sánchez repeated that position in a press conference in Albania on Monday morning: "We believe it violates that international law". So diplomatically, at the nation state level, Spain could not be on Kosovo's side during any upcoming renewed conflict with Serbia because for Spain, Kosovo is not a country. Sánchez has just visited Belgrade, though, three days before the new incident that caused the late-night NATO statement.

Spanish Defence Minister Robles told a TV show on Monday that she hoped the new situation could be "reoriented" and that countries' would bet on "peace but at the same time deterrence". Most EU, NATO and G20 countries now recognise Kosovo as a country. Both Kosovo and Serbia would like to join the EU. Then Putin invaded Ukraine with the excuse of "denazification". On Sunday evening, senior Serb politicians were tweeting ideas about being "forced to start the denazification of the Balkans". Last week, Politico reported on allegations Putin has been meddling in the collapse of Draghi's government in Italy, in favour of the alt-right parties there. It is not difficult to imagine where this situation might lead as we move from summer into the autumn.

Notwithstanding the long-term Spanish position on Kosovo because of separatism fears at home, Sánchez rushed to pardon the Catalan separatists who actually declared independence in 2017, despite the Supreme Court rejecting such an option, because his minority left-wing government depends on their votes in parliament in Madrid. Any recognition of Kosovo, then, even in the midst of a plausible future conflict with Serbia, egged on by Putin, would be interpreted in Spain as favourable to those same Catalan separatists that the PM's government still depends on. And Sánchez has demonstrated this year, with his sudden unilateral reversal of the Spanish position on Western Sahara, that he is capable of quite radical moves if he believes he needs to do so.

If it is something more than 80% of the EU and NATO are likely to want were conflict to break out, if it is favourable to separatists on whose support Sánchez's government depends and if it is within the bounds of diplomatic behaviour the PM has already proven himself capable of executing, Spanish recognition of Kosovo should perhaps not be ruled out quite so quickly, despite his comments in Albania this morning.

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