Croatian President Zoran Milanovic said on Saturday that Croatia's decision to increase its troop contingent in Kosovo was not an act of provocation against Serbia.
“That’s no provocation against Serbia. The Serbian authorities do not know how to get out of the trap into which they fell 30 years ago,” he said, referring to the Milosevic’s activities in Kosovo “that caused the war in Yugoslavia.”
“The question of the independence and status of the Albanian people is a topic that brought about the war, actually several wars,” Milanovic said in response to questions from the press during a visit to the eastern city of Djakovo.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Friday that Serbia wanted to have good relations with all its neighbours, but that Croatia’s actions and statements showed no respect for Serbia and represent attempts to humiliate it.
Vucic said that Croatia could have refused to send more troops to Kosovo as part of the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping mission and that its decision was aimed at “further humiliating Serbia.”
Milanovic recalled that the Croatian contingent has been present in Kosovo for years and that its presence has been increased now that Croatian troops have left Afghanistan.
“I have already signed this order, but had I been aware that it would bother them so much, we might have discussed it,” said Milanovic, who also serves as Commander in Chief of the Croatian Armed Forces.
As for the presence of Croatian troops in other countries, he said that the Croatian military need not be always present somewhere and that its primary task was to protect Croatia.
“Croatian soldiers are here, first and foremost, to protect Croatia. It is their main and sole basic task, while these other forms of cooperation are welcome,” Milanovic said.
“Kosovo has been recognised as a state virtually by the entire EU, except five member states. I understand why two of them have not, but as for the other three, I do not understand because I followed this matter and talked with their prime ministers and presidents several times in the past,” Milanovic said.
Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Spain and Slovakia are the only EU members that have not recognised Kosovo, a former Serbian province, as an independent state.
Milanovic also noted that the Serbian authorities “are doing all they can so as not to join the European Union, even though they are ostensibly negotiating.”
“We are not on an equal footing. We are an EU member and they are not. If they want to join, we have to talk. It never occurred to us to treat other countries so rudely and presumptuously, for example, Slovenia which is smaller than Croatia but was an EU member (before Croatia joined the EU),” Milanovic said.
Serbia was granted EU membership candidate status in 2012. It opened accession talks in 2014 and has provisionally closed only two chapters to date.
“I do not want to use Croatia’s position to blackmail Serbia, but my impression is that there is no real ambition at all on Serbia’s part to join the EU in 15 years. That is perhaps because in that case all the people now ruling Serbia would have to look for their homeland elsewhere,” the Croatian president said.