1st Oct 2023

Kosovo issues dire warning on Serbia-Russia axis

  • Kosovo independence monument in Pristina (Photo: Aleksandra Eriksson)
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Russia and Serbia are preparing to stir up trouble in the Western Balkans to divert attention from Russia's losses in Ukraine, Kosovo's prime minister has warned.

"The worry of our Western partners and friends is the links of Belgrade with Moscow. We do not know how they could be rendered operative in case of rising of tensions," Kosovo's leader Albin Kurti told The Guardian on Tuesday (20 December).

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"Now that Russia got severely wounded in Ukraine after its invasion and aggression, they have interest in spillover. They have interest in outsourcing their war-mongering drive to the Balkans where they have a client who's in Belgrade," he added.

Kurti spoke 11 days into roadblocks by ethnic Serb nationalists in northern Kosovo, which were put up in protest at Kurti's plan to force them to use Kosovar instead of Serbian car number-plates.

Hundreds of ethnic Serb policemen and civil servants have also resigned from their posts, further undermining stability.

Dismantling the barricades could lead to violence, but letting them stay up indefinitely was also not an option, Kurti noted.

"Our worry [is] that removal of these barricades cannot exclude casualties," Kurti said.

"However, we cannot allow this violation of lawfulness and constitutionality for ever. So, yeah, this must end, sooner the better," he said.

Serbia and Kosovo are both aspiring to enter the EU, while trying to resolve bilateral disputes via EU-sponsored talks.

But these have stalled amid Serbia's calls to create an association of Serb municipalities in Kosovo, which Pristina says would amount to a Serb state-within-a-state, putting its territorial integrity in doubt.

Kosovo, last weekend, also formally applied to join the EU, even though five EU countries do not recognise its sovereignty.

"There is a war in Ukraine, let's prevent spillover. So joining the EU helps," Kurti said.

But for the time being, the best Kosovo can hope for is to get EU visa-free travel for its people by the end of 2023 in ongoing talks with Europe.

The unrest in northern Kosovo has seen Eulex, an EU police mission, and Kfor, a Nato peacekeeping operation, reinforce their presence with extra patrols.

It has also seen unidentified attackers throw a stun grenade at a Eulex patrol on 19 December in a sign of anti-Western sentiment.

The Kosovo flare-up comes amid political deadlocks involving pro-Serbian and pro-Russian parties in Bosnia and Montenegro.

Russia has, in the past few years, helped Serbia to arm itself to the teeth via cut-price weapons deals, while Serbia has refused to join EU and US sanctions against Moscow.

Russia has also been pouring propaganda kerosene on the situation, adding credibility to Kurti's warnings.

"The risk of escalation and armed conflict in the northern part of Kosovo and Metohija is growing. The following conclusion is that, instead of a European perspective, the fate of the so-called Kosovo will be completely different," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who is on an EU blacklist, said on Monday.

"And what is most important, the European Union is leading Belgrade to a 'beautiful future' with one hand, and with the other it is dealing with anti-Serb provocations," she added.

"This is betrayal from the very beginning. Like a marriage that begins with fraud," Zakharova said.


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Vladimir Putin himself is somewhat suspicious of Serbia's leader, as are most who deal with the opaque Aleksandar Vucic. The Russian president has preferred to keep his Serbian counterpart compliant, via a tight rein of annually-reviewed gas pricing.


Is EU running out of steam on Kosovo/Serbia?

With the current approach, Brussels has wasted countless hours and funds with little to show for it. There is still room for agreement to be found, one that would finally bring Serbia and Kosovo into the European family.


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