Kosovan acting PM accuses Trump envoy of meddling

Albin Kurti claims Richard Grenell involved in pushing for vote that collapsed government

Kosovo’s caretaker prime minister, Albin Kurti, has launched a stinging attack on Donald Trump’s acting national intelligence director, accusing him of meddling in the country’s politics and helping to bring down his former government with the goal of delivering a quick diplomatic victory for Trump.

Kurti is staying on as PM in an acting capacity after his coalition partners turned against him in a parliamentary vote last month that was egged on by US diplomats. The upheaval was met with disbelief among many Kosovans, who wanted the government to focus on fighting coronavirus.

Kurti acknowledged the crisis had a local dimension, but accused Richard Grenell, who has been working on a potential deal for Serbia to recognise Kosovo, of being “directly involved” in pushing for the vote.

“My government was not overthrown for anything else but simply because Ambassador Grenell was in a hurry to sign an agreement with Serbia,” said Kurti in a press conference held via video link from Pristina.

A Trump loyalist, Grenell is the US ambassador to Germany and was also recently appointed as the acting director for national intelligence, coordinating the work of 17 US intelligence agencies. He previously caused controversy in Berlin by saying he wanted to “empower” rightwing forces in Europe.

“What he [Grenell] needs is a quick deal to show they can fix crises in the world, perhaps in contrast to the Clintons, Bushes and Obamas, without any military intervention, and this can be presented as a success in this electoral year,” said Kurti.

He accused Grenell of being disinterested in the substance of any deal and of being focused only on getting “the signature on the bottom of the paper” as soon as possible.

After Trump’s failure to make progress on a deal with North Korea or in the Middle East, it is possible that the White House now sees that Balkans as the best bet for a diplomatic breakthrough, but time is running out before the November election.

Belgrade refuses to recognise the independence of its former province, which split off from Serbia after a bloody crackdown by Belgrade triggered a Nato bombing campaign in 1999.

A deal would ideally pave the way for Kosovo to take up a seat at the UN and for both countries to become EU members in future. The most controversial aspect of discussions has been talk of a possible land swap. Parallel talks between the two countries have been held under EU auspices.

Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaçi, has proved more receptive than Kurti to US overtures, and on Sunday Grenell wrote on Twitter that he had spoken to Thaçi and to Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vučić, “to make clear they must start building confidence today in preparation” for dialogue. He denied that he or anyone else in the discussions had mentioned a land swap.

Thaçi wrote on Twitter on Sunday that he would form a new government this week, though it is unclear whether he can do so constitutionally without new elections. The Covid-19 crisis would appear to make elections and any major protests against the situation impossible for now.

“They are hoping that coronavirus will last and people will have to stay indoors,” said Kurti. As of Monday, Kosovo had 561 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 12 deaths.


Shaun Walker Central and eastern Europe correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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