The Undiplomatic Diplomat

By Arbër Berisha

When describing a diplomat, the words “hack”, “shill”, “nasty” and “dishonest” should not come to one’s mind. However, those are the exact words former U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice used to describe Richard Grenell. Her words will resonate with political circles in Germany. The aforementioned adjectives partially depict a bully, an appropriate term for Grenell considering his activity in Kosovo. Whereas a ‘diplomat’ is a person who deals skilfully with difficult situations in a way that does not offend people, a ‘bully’ often forces people to do something they do not want to do. When one considers Grenell’s track record, of the two incongruent descriptions he fits that of a bully more than that of a diplomat.

As Donald Trump’s nomination for ambassador to Germany, Grenell caused a stir early on in his mandate when he threatened Germany with sanctions following German

cooperation on a Russian pipeline. He attracted responses such as that of Andrea Nahles, leader of the Social Democratic Party, who said “it’s not my task to teach people about the fine art of diplomacy… But he does appear to need some tutoring” and Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister, who labelled it “impertinence” and concluded “that’s just not how you can treat your allies”. Grenell flouted diplomatic norms when he stated that he wanted to “empower other conservatives throughout Europe” disregarding Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations which states that diplomatic missions in a foreign country “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State”. Martin Schulz, former leader of the Social Democratic Party, replied to that statement of intent by saying that “what this man is doing is unheard of in international diplomacy” and Wolfgang Kubicki, deputy speaker of Germany’s parliament, likened Grenell’s behaviour to that of a “high commissioner of an occupying power”.

After his short but controversial stint in Germany, Grenell was named the Special US Envoy for Kosovo and Serbia. With the US elections approaching, it was claimed (and later validated) that Trump needed a diplomatic win abroad. With an Israel-Palestine agreement unlikely, the pressure was increased on Kosovo and Serbia to agree to a ‘normalisation’ agreement as highlighted by Trump’s letters to both countries in 2018 and 2019. Grenell became insistent that Prime Minister Albin Kurti remove a tariff that had been implemented on Serbia by the previous government. Kurti refused, instead only partially removing it; a decision the EU praised as it “could have a positive effect on restoring regional trade”. Grenell, however, labelled it a “serious mistake” as it did not fully meet his demand. Such comments were negligible to the Kurti government compared to the overt methods that Grenell oversaw to increase the pressure on the government to sign an agreement with Serbia. Firstly, the United States blocked funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation through which Kosovo was promised tens of millions of dollars to stimulate economic development. A few days later, threats came that the US would withdraw their troops from the ever-present NATO peacekeeping force. In the end, with the Kurti government refusing to bow to the pressure and US elections nearing, Grenell orchestrated the downfall of the Kurti government by finding co-operators in the junior coalition partners (LDK), giving rise to Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti who pliantly removed the tariff and signed in Washington the Grenell inspired agreement. The comment of Sahra Wagenknecht, leader of Linke in Germany, that “U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell (…) thinks he can lord over Europe and determine who is governing here” seems appropriate. 

As evidence of the extent of the unpopularity of the coup that Grenell orchestrated, Kurti’s party Lëvizja Vetëvendosje has become the most voted party in the history of the Republic of Kosovo in the elections of 14th February 2021. Its vote share rose from 27% to 50%, whereas LDK fell to its lowest ever share of the vote at 12%. Grenell has maintained his animosity towards Kurti even though he is no longer the Special Envoy, posting six anti-Kurti tweets in just three days. In these tweets, he has emphasised the idea that Kurti is “anti-America”, the same accusation he hurled at Der Spiegel in Germany. To conclude, Article 1 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states that the function of a diplomatic mission is “promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations”. Grenell’s active involvement in the domestic affairs of the receiving states highlights conflicting intentions.

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