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Serbia vs. Kosovo – How the war in Ukraine affects the situation

The end of the last week turned out to be alarming for the inhabitants of not only the Western Balkans, but also European states. On the border between Kosovo and Serbia smelled of gunpowder againSerbian barricades and Kosovo special forces appeared.

Like 11 months ago, in September 2021, aggravation of the situation was provoked by the decision of the official Pristina to introduce from August 1 a number of additional documents for Kosovo Serbs who do not have Kosovo documents, and to replace car numbers. It is important to emphasize: the decision was based on the principle of reciprocity.

It worked out this time too. Temporarily. The Kosovo government only postponed the decision until September 1, while Serbia has not yet moved troops to the border. An important role in normalizing the situation was played by US and EU diplomats, the command of KFOR (international forces led by NATO to ensure stability in Kosovo).

A natural question arises – why do mini-crises systematically arise between the two countries, threatening the stability of the region and Europe? Let’s look at some of the reasons.

Forgot to explain. Regarding the latest aggravation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, I would put in the first place among the reasons miscalculations by Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and his government. Having announced in the first days of July that the above-mentioned events were to be held, the authorities then forgot about it. In addition, the Brussels agreements of 2013 provided for similar actions. But past crises have shown that it is necessary to carry out a large-scale explanatory campaign, especially in the Serbian regions. At the same time, attention should be focused on the following aspects: Kosovo is carrying out activities to replace car numbers and issue additional personal documents based on the principle of reciprocity, in response to such actions by Serbia; Serbs importing goods will be exempted from paying customs duties; The operation does not affect the issues of Serbian identity. But there were no such explanations.

But Belgrade held a series of rallies at which it was argued that the mentioned operation would finally bury the idea of ​​​​creating Association of Serbian Opshtinas of Kosovo (ASO) and restrict the rights of Kosovo Serbs. There were also several provocative speeches by Serbian politicians, who were supported by the radical Great Serbs. And already on the eve of July 31, billboards appeared in some Serbian suburbs (in English!) – “You have entered the ASO” and “Do not give up, Kosovo remains” (Kosovo and Metohija – this is how Kosovo is still called in Serbia). But who installed them is still unclear …

Forgotten ASO. If we talk about the global causes that give rise to one crisis after another in relations between Kosovo and Serbia, then the problem of the Association can be safely put in the first place. Its creation was envisaged by the already mentioned Brussels agreements as a form of Serbian autonomy in Kosovo. The term for the formation of this association was also set – 2015.

But that didn’t happen: the Kosovars were not interested in creating an ADF and were in no hurry to fulfill the agreement; the Serbian government began to use the absence of the ASO for narrow political purposes and political bargaining with Kosovo; uncertainty served the interests of Serbian and Kosovo Albanian criminals; The EU at that time began to lose interest in the Western Balkans. But the implementation of the project could be one of the important steps towards normalizing relations between the two countries…

Mistakes and miscalculations of the West. Mini-crises are the result of miscalculations in the policy of the West in the region, in particular the European Union and some of its leaders. The EU took away from the UN the settlement of one of the hottest European problems (at that time) – the achievement of mutual recognition of Kosovo and Serbia. At the same time, Brussels, together with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, got carried away by putting forward various multilateral initiatives – the Berlin Process, the Open Balkans, the Mini-Schengen and others aimed at developing regional cooperation, pushing the issue of mutual recognition of Belgrade and Pristina to the periphery . Although there was a lot of talk around this topic.

The fact that in the context of Kosovo-Serbia, any problem immediately became political — be it mutual recognition, phone calls, crossing borders, recognition of education diplomas, car numbers, and so on. This situation required the immediate intervention of the EU and the US, but in the first place was the strengthening of multilateral cooperation in the region to the detriment of the solution of the Kosovo-Serbian issue.

Russian douche. Moscow is also indirectly involved in initiating mini-crises in Kosovo-Serbian relations. It is the Kremlin that molds Vučić into a politician who allegedly dominates the region. This and a huge amount of weapons, not so long ago supplied to Serbia. This is the “success” of the president in getting a good price for Russian gas. This is also the support in the mind of Vučić of the ideas of Great Serbism in the modern wrapper of the “Serbian world”. This is the radicalization of Serbian society, which was reflected in the appearance of a new version of the old slogan – “Kosovo is Serbia, denazification is inevitable.” Isn’t it familiar motives?

Responding to these expectations, the fiery Serbian president made speeches on the eve of the events of July 31 about protecting the Kosovo Serbs by any means and the inevitable victory of the Serbs. And no less ardent Prime Minister of Kosovo began to act without consulting with his colleague, which is also provided for by the Brussels agreements.

Let us note one more point connected with the last aggravation. The day before, a number of Internet publications and social networks in Russia and Serbia, which had never dealt with the problems of the Western Balkans, suddenly became preoccupied with the relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Some called for gathering to protect the Kosovo Serbs, others promised to “bury the Kosovars in the ground.” The search for the origins of these provocative publications showed that they first appeared on the websites and chats of Russian and Serbian radical groups.

Internal factors. The systematic nature of mini-crises, the similarity of scenarios and the repetition of participants create the impression that these crises do not arise without the direct participation of the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia, who are trying to solve their internal problems.

Belgradewhile still following the path of European integration, escalating the situation asks Brussels remove the requirement for mandatory recognition of Kosovo as the main condition for EU membership – after all, it is Pristina that allegedly arranges various provocations. The situation is so serious, the Serbian leaders continue, that Serbia should not be required to choose right now between the European Union and friendship with Moscow.

And from Pristina increased demands admit the country to international organizations (for starters, to Interpol, and then to the UN), since this will protect Belgrade from provocations. And to strengthen the position, controversial actions are carried out.

Ukrainian factor. The war of Russia against Ukraine, especially with the start of large-scale aggression, has an impact on relations between Belgrade and Pristina. And not only that, as Vucic said not very correctly: they say that I am accused of copying Putin, and Kurti – Zelensky.

Russia can no longer support Vucic, as before, with weapons and money. And with cheap gas, not everything is so simple. It looks like the Kremlin is starting to “leave” Belgrade. Not before him. And then there’s the West is putting more and more pressure on Serbia and demands to join the anti-Russian sanctions. At the same time, step by step, helping Kosovo to create its own army. As in Ukraine – small, but modern.

Everyone is concerned about the question – will Serbia start following the Russian example aggression against Kosovo? We can say with confidence – no, because the Serbian army will have to meet with the troops of KFOR, that is, NATO, and this is beyond its power. And neither the Serbian nor the Kosovo elites, who have not forgotten the consequences of the last war in the region, need a war.

Only Russia needs war, no one else. There are two reasons for that:

the first is that in the event of a war between Kosovo and Serbia, the attention of the world will switch from Ukraine to the Western Balkans. Maybe;

the second is the war, its cessation, the consequences can become a bargaining chip for Moscow in the context of aggression against Ukraine – they say, we (Russia) will calm Serbia, and you will convince Ukraine to agree to the annexation of Donbass and Crimea.

But still, the prerequisites for the conflict – military-political – have not weakened, and escalation can be the result of a complex of direct and indirect causes. And there are a lot of them. In neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina, the situation is heating up again – Putin’s friend Milorad Dodik again announced the inevitability of the withdrawal of the Republika Srpska from BiH. The leader of the Bosnian Croats, Dragan Covic, announced the need to create a third, Croatian entity, which is contrary to the Dayton agreements. In neighboring Montenegro, too, not everything is calm and another government crisis is approaching. But this is the worst option – if Belgrade and Pristina, through the mediation of the EU and the United States, do not find a way out of the current situation and the escalation begins to escalate, the region will again turn into a springboard for small wars of small countries.

Most likely, the de-escalation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia will continue in the near future, and an active search will again begin for opportunities to resume negotiations with the active participation of the European Union and the United States, which instantly stopped the tension that was growing on July 31. And Vučić will be narrowed down as much as possible to maneuver between the West and the East. There is no place for Russia here.

For Ukraine, it’s high time to start the process of official recognition of Kosovo, which, to the best of its ability, helps us in the fight against the Russian aggressor. And finally, designate its diplomatic presence in Pristina, which would be in line with the common foreign policy of the European Union.

More articles by Vladimir Tsybulnik read the link.

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