Algeria hints at joining BRICS

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has suggested that the North African country largely meets the requirements for joining the group

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has reportedly said that his country is interested in joining the BRICS and is close to qualifying for membership in the group.

Algeria largely meets the conditions for joining BRICS already, Tebboune said on Sunday in an interview with a state-owned broadcaster. The group is named for its member states – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – and it plans to consider adding Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt at its summit next year.

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Three more countries set to join BRICS – official

This year’s BRICS summit, which was held online in June, was expanded to include participation from 13 other countries, including Algeria. Tebboune was the first guest to speak, calling for “a new economic order where parity and equity between countries will reign.”

“Our past experiences have shown us that the imbalance recorded on the international scene and the marginalization of emerging countries within world bodies constitute a source of instability, lack of equity and absence of development,” the Algerian president added.

BRICS nations already account for more than 40% of the world’s population. The bloc’s stated goals are to promote peace, security, development, global cooperation and development of humanity. Iran and Argentina formally applied to join the group in June.

Russia, China and other BRICS members are reportedly developing a new global reserve currency, potentially undermining the dominance of the US dollar.

Tebboune said during the same television interview that Algeria, a former French colony, will start teaching English in elementary schools this year. “French is a spoil of war,” he said, “but English is an international language.”

Fyodor Lukyanov: Why are Serbia and Kosovo on the brink of war again?

A conflict frozen for two decades could erupt again as a consequence of the new systemic Cold War in Europe

Tensions between Belgrade and Pristina occur regularly, as a result of the fact that the Kosovo issue has not been resolved since 1999, when the province de facto gained independence after the US-led NATO campaign against the former Yugoslavia. 

However, this time there is a risk of more or less routine friction escalating into a dangerous conflict, because the context has changed dramatically.

The problem of Kosovo was solved at the end of the twentieth century in strict accordance with the then dominant approach, and in the seeming absence of an alternative. Disputes in most of Europe (ie. outside the former USSR) were settled according to the EU’s ideas of fairness, and where they could not be worked out amicably, pressure was exerted on those who rebelled, up to the use of military force (primarily American, as always). 

The most recalcitrant players were in the Balkans – in the first half of the 1990s, the Bosnian war took place, and in the second – the Kosovan conflict.

Without assessing the quality and moral aspects of politics over the past 25 years, we can talk about the most important thing. The region developed in conditions where the only future roadmap for the various states was eventual membership of the EU – the prospects of which varied from relatively close or very distant, but inevitable. 

There were no other options, no plans B, C or D. Accordingly, it was the EU that regulated the processes taking place locally, and, in general, this setup was taken for granted. 

Moreover, other powers which have been traditionally active and important in the Balkans – Russia and Turkey – indicated their presence (sometimes quite clearly), but did not pretend to have a decisive voice in the way things were arranged. This framework also defined the room for maneuver of the countries of the region, including those who were most loudly dissatisfied, like Serbia.

Now two main circumstances have changed. First, the EU is in such a vulnerable state that it is not ready to take full responsibility for the extremely complex political situation in its immediate periphery. It cannot promise membership, and more precisely – even if such a pledge were made, it doesn’t guarantee anything.

The EU’s management of the central Balkan problems – in Bosnian and Kosovo – has not led to the desired outcome over the past quarter of a century. Thus, it’s all the less likely that it will work out now. Because the second circumstance is that Russia and the West (the EU plus the US and NATO) are in a state of acute confrontation.  

As a result, there is no reason to expect Moscow’s assistance in resolving the situation (be it Kosovo or Bosnia). Right now, the West’s favorite practice of “selective interaction” (we work together with Russia where we need it, we refuse to engage on other issues) can no longer be applied. There will be no cooperation: Russia and the West will be on opposite sides of the barricades everywhere, no matter the issue at hand. We are in a systemic cold war. And this reality can greatly influence what will happen in the Balkans.

The question is to what extent the regional actors have retained their passion for  showdown, revenge or expansion. There are suspicions that this zeal has been exhausted and emasculated. But if it still burns, then external forces will enter the fray this time, supporting the opposite sides.

Kosovo delays crackdown on Serbs

Advised by the US ambassador, Pristina delays ban on Serbian documents that triggered protests

Authorities in the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo announced late on Sunday they would postpone the implementation of their ban on Serbian license plates and identification documents until September 1.

The US ambassador reportedly urged Pristina to do so, as Kosovo police were met with roadblocks erected by local Serbs and NATO peacekeepers deployed to prevent clashes.

The delay was accompanied by a demand from PM Albin Kurti’s government that the Serbs dismantle their barricades, according to Pristina-based TV station Dukagjini, which said that Kurti’s decision followed a request by US ambassador to Kosovo, Jeffrey Hovenier.

Postponing the measures is necessary due to “misinformation and misunderstandings” about its nature, the outlet quoted Hovenier as saying. The US only asked for the implementation to be postponed, not canceled, he added.

Serbs in the north of the breakaway province had set up roadblocks and rung alarm bells earlier in the day, as heavily armed special police under Pristina’s authority took control of two administrative crossings with Serbia. Kurti’s government insisted that they would start barring vehicles with Serbian-issued license plates and other documents, in the name of imposing “law and order” on the entire territory of the province. 

Both the local Serbs and Belgrade have objected, pointing out that Pristina has repeatedly failed to honor its obligations to respect the Serbs’ civil and human rights. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the Serbs “will not suffer any more atrocities,” and vowed to “win” if the ethnic Albanian government persisted in “persecuting, harassing and killing Serbs.”

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Serbia accused of ‘Putin’s playbook’ in Kosovo

Kurti’s government responded by accusing Vucic of masterminding the illegal roadblocks, aimed at undermining the “democratic and progressive” Kosovo. President Vjosa Osmani’s chief of staff also claimed Belgrade was acting as a proxy of Russia.

Amid unconfirmed and often conflicting reports of armed Albanians massing on approaches to Serb-majority towns and gunfire that may or may not have injured civilians, NATO’s peacekeeping force in the province, KFOR, announced it was “prepared to intervene if stability is jeopardized.” 

Meanwhile, Russia accused Pristina of deliberately escalating the situation as part of NATO’s effort to target Serbia. Kosovo and its US and EU backers to “stop provocations and respect the rights of Serbs,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Sunday.

On Sunday evening, Vucic held talks with the KFOR leadership from the headquarters of the Serbian General Staff. After emerging from the building shortly before midnight, he told reporters he was optimistic about a peaceful resolution.

“I hope this will de-escalate by tomorrow, and that we will be able to reach a solution in the coming days,” Vucic said, adding that the KFOR commander will hold talks on dismantling the roadblocks with the local authorities in Kosovska Mitrovica.

“In the coming weeks and months we face the hardest political fight ever, so I thank everyone for their restraint, most of all the Serbs in Kosovo,” said Vucic. “There will be no surrender, and Serbia will win.”

NATO occupied Kosovo in 1999, after a 78-day air war against what was then Yugoslavia. The province declared independence in 2008, with Western support. While the US and most of its allies have recognized it, Serbia, Russia, China and the UN in general have not.

Serbia accused of ‘Putin’s playbook’ in Kosovo

Kosovo officials deny crackdown on ethnic Serbs, accuse Belgrade of undermining their progressive democracy

Kosovo accused Serbia on Sunday of fomenting unrest and trying to undermine the “rule of law” in the breakaway province. Prime Minister Albin Kurti claimed the local Serbs had opened fire on Kosovo police, while the president’s cabinet said Belgrade was acting on behalf of Russia.

In a video message on Sunday afternoon, Kurti claimed that “illegal Serbian structures in the north started blocking roads and firing guns” at Pristina’s special police, even before they were deployed to the administrative line with Serbia. Kurti said last week that starting August 1, his government will not allow anyone with Serbian license plates or documents to cross into or out of the province, which has claimed to be an independent state since 2008.

“The Government of the Republic of Kosovo is democratic and progressive, which loves, respects and implements the law and constitutionalism, peace and security, for all citizens without distinction and for our entire common country,” Kurti said.

Kosovo is facing “Serbian national-chauvinism” and “misinformation” from Belgrade, he added, urging his citizens to be vigilant.

Kurti blamed Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and his commissioner for Kosovo Petar Petkovic for the “aggressive actions” and “threats” from Belgrade.

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Kosovo planning to attack Serbs – Belgrade

Meanwhile, the chief of staff of President Vjosa Osmani went on Twitter to accuse Serbia of playing a “spoiler role” in Europe on behalf of Russia. Blerim Vela accused Vucic of “a textbook repetition of Putin’s playbook“ – referring to NATO’s claims about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behavior in Ukraine – by spreading fear and lies, claiming the Serbs were being persecuted and “ramping up militaristic rhetoric.”

Vela also claimed that Kosovo Serbs have set up barricades on Vucic’s “direct orders” and called it a “blatant attempt to undermine rule of law.”

Earlier on Sunday, Vucic gave an address to the nation, blaming the breakaway province for violating the human rights of local Serbs, who “will not suffer any more atrocities.”

“My plea to everyone is to try to keep the peace at almost any cost. I am asking the Albanians to come to their senses, the Serbs not to fall for provocations, but I am also asking the representatives of powerful and large countries, which have recognized the so-called independence of Kosovo, to pay a little attention to international law and reality on the ground and not to allow their wards to cause conflict,” he said.

NATO occupied Kosovo in 1999, after a 78-day air war against what was then Yugoslavia. The province declared independence in 2008, with Western support. While the US and most of its allies have recognized it, Serbia, Russia, China and the UN in general have not.

NATO force on alert amid Kosovo tensions

Units of the NATO-led KFOR have been spotted in the north of Kosovo region amid tensions between Belgrade and Pristina

The NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) peacekeepers were spotted late on Saturday in the city of Kosovska Mitrovica, located in the north of Serbia’s breakaway region of Kosovo.

The force, apparently Italian carabinieri units, were spotted guarding a bridge across the Ibar river, footage from the scene circulated by local media shows. The bridge splits the city into the northern Serb-populated part, and the southern one, inhabited predominantly by ethnic Albanians.

KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping mission, said in a statement on Sunday evening that it was “prepared to intervene if stability is jeopardized.”

Italian peacekeepers are apparently standing watch on the “New Bridge” separating the Serbian and Albanian sides of the city of Mitrovica in Northern Kososo this evening.

— Kyle Glen (@KyleJGlen) July 31, 2022

The KFOR has been reportedly placed on high alert, with a large military convoy of some 30-40 vehicles spotted heading towards the frontier between the breakaway region and the rest of Serbia. Kosovo special police has been spotted actively moving its equipment and personnel as well.

⚡️A video has appeared on the network of how Kosovo’s special forces are being pulled to the border with Serbia.

— Flash (@Flash43191300) July 31, 2022

KFOR said it would “take whatever measures are necessary to keep a safe and secure environment in Kosovo at all times, in line with its UN mandate.

Ethnic Serbs have reportedly set up barricades on several roads in Kosovska Mitrovica and its vicinity. At least one Serb has been reportedly beaten up by Kosovo police units as he tried to get through the barricades. The injured man reportedly ended up hospitalized.

The tensions come as the ethnic Albanian government of the breakaway region moved forward with its controversial plan to ban Serb license plates and identification documents. Kosovo prime minister Albin Kurti claimed the move was about equal justice and law in all the territories his government claims.

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Russia warns Kosovo against conflict

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused Kosovo authorities of seeking to “impose on the people in northern Kosovo-Metohija things they have no right to impose,” warning that Belgrade will not stand by idly.

“The atmosphere has been heated up, and the Serbs will not suffer any more atrocities,” Vucic said.

Earlier, Serbian president alleged the controversial registration plan was a part of an effort to force the remaining ethnic Serbs out of Kosovo.

Caroline Ziadeh, head of the UN mission in the province UNMIK, urged both sides “to address issues in good faith through the EU-facilitated dialogue, to strengthen stability and security for all.”

NATO occupied Kosovo in 1999, after a 78-day air war against what was then Yugoslavia. The province unilaterally declared independence in 2008 with support of the US and most of its allies. The breakaway region, however, has not received universal support, with Serbia Russia, China and the UN as a whole not recognizing it.

Hezbollah issues warning to Israel

The militant group has warned Israeli leaders against ‘playing with time’ in their offshore territorial dispute with Lebanon

Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group has posted a video suggesting that Israel’s offshore natural gas industry will come under attack unless the Jewish state resolves a maritime border dispute with Beirut.

The group posted a video on Sunday showing drone footage of vessels and production platforms involved in tapping Israel’s massive offshore gas deposits. The video also showed coordinates for each location featured. It began with words from a recent speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, warning that “playing with time is not useful” in the territorial dispute.

According to the video, the footage was shot on Saturday and on June 9. The images were reportedly captured at Karish, a field in disputed waters where London-based upstream firm Energean plans to start pumping gas under a contract with the Israeli government later this year.

Video footage released today July 31,2022 by Islamic Resistance #Hezbollah military media in Lebanon.

Footage is from the drones sent on June 9 by resistance to #Karish offshore gas field in Lebanese intl waters where Israel prepares to steal Lebanese gas

— Marwa Osman || مروة عثمان (@Marwa__Osman) July 31, 2022

The territorial dispute escalated after Energean’s floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel arrived at Karish in June. The field is located about 90km west of Haifa, near Israel’s larger Leviathan and Tamar gas developments, and it’s estimated to hold upward of 1.8 trillion cubic feet of the fuel.

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Lebanon issues warning to Israel

Lebanese President Michel Aoun warned at the time that any attempt to tap gas deposits in the contested area without first resolving the dispute would be seen as a “provocation and an aggressive action.” West Jerusalem has insisted that the Karish block is located entirely within Israel’s exclusive economic zone, as recognized by the United Nations, and isn’t subject to the maritime dispute between the countries. 

The US is mediating negotiations between Lebanon and Israel. In fact, the Hezbollah video was issued hours before US envoy Amos Hochstein was scheduled to meet with Lebanese leaders in Beirut. “Reaching a resolution is both necessary and possible but can only be done through negotiations and diplomacy,” the US State Department said on Saturday in a statement.

The stakes are high for Lebanon. Getting in on the Levant Basin gas boom would potentially help the country ease an energy crisis that has led to frequent blackouts. Revenue generated by contracts with gas producers might also help speed Lebanon’s recovery from its financial collapse, which has dragged on since 2019.

READ MORE: US helps Israel prepare for military ‘escalation’

Israel, which was previously thought to be poor in hydrocarbon deposits, went from being a net importer of fossil fuels to self-sufficient after US upstream firm Noble Energy and other explorers began striking gas in the Levant in 2000. Leviathan is estimated to hold 18 trillion cubic feet of gas, and its development allowed Israel to become a significant fuel exporter in 2019.

Alarm bells ring in Kosovo

Serb barricades greet ethnic Albanian special forces as Belgrade warns breakaway province against a crackdown

Church bells and air raid sirens went off in parts of Kosovo inhabited by ethnic Serbs on Sunday, as heavily armed special police answering to the ethnic Albanian government in Pristina showed up at the administrative crossings with Serbia. In Belgrade, President Aleksandar Vucic said Serbia wants peace, but will not allow persecution of its citizens.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti cited a 2011 agreement with Belgrade to declare all Serbian documents and license plates invalid as of August 1, and announced an operation to apply “law and justice” to all territories claimed by his government. The province of Serbia, occupied by NATO in 1999, declared independence in 2008 with US support – but was not recognized by Belgrade.

Special police have blocked the main administrative crossing at Jarinje. Local Serb residents responded by erecting their own barricades, just as they had in 2011. There were reports, unconfirmed so far, that at least one Serb had suffered a gunshot wound.

The Serbian army has been put on alert, but the Defense Ministry in Belgrade issued a statement on Sunday that no troops had crossed the administrative line, saying that rumors of their having clashed with ethnic Albanian police were “misinformation” spread on behalf of Pristina.

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Kosovo planning to attack Serbs – Belgrade

Addressing the nation on Sunday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the Kosovo authorities were selectively applying provisions of old agreements, which they themselves never abided by. He also compared the planned crackdown on documents and license plates to Croatia’s military operation in 1995 that resulted in the mass exodus of Serbs.

The Serbs will not suffer any more atrocities,” Vucic said. He asked the local Serbs “not to fall for provocations” and the Albanians to “come to their senses,” while also pleading to Pristina’s Western backers “to pay a little attention to international law and reality on the ground and not to allow their wards to cause conflict.

We do not want conflicts and we do not want war. We will pray for peace and seek peace, but let me tell you right away: There will be no surrender, and Serbia will win. If they dare to start persecuting, harassing and killing Serbs, Serbia will win,” Vucic said.

Another barricade was erected in Kosovska Mitrovica, on the bridge between the Albanian-dominated south side of the city and the Serb-inhabited north. Local media report that several hundred ethnic Albanians had gathered on the south side, some of them armed. The sighting raised the specter of the March 2004 pogrom, when some 50,000 Albanians torched dozens of Serb villages, churches and monasteries across the province. The rampage lasted for several days before the NATO peacekeepers responded to stop it.