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Why tensions persist between Kosovo and Serbia, and their Russia-Ukraine link?

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has called for the deployment of Serb troops to northern Kosovo, raising fears of a resurgence of the conflict that raged there from 1998 to 1999, killing over 10,000 people and displacing over one million. An examination of the history of Serbia-Kosovo relations and why recent tensions are of concern to Europe.

Tensions between Serbia and also Kosovo have risen again in the last week, following the installation of barricades on major roads in the northern part of Kosovo, a former Serbian province.

They were outraged by the detention of a former Kosovo Serb police officer. When shots were fired from the barricades, a police officer from the Kosovo Albanian community was injured. A stun grenade was thrown at a European Union peacekeeping patrol mission.

Serbia increased its combat readiness and warned that if Serbs in Kosovo were attacked, the country would not remain silent. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has called for the deployment of Serb troops to northern Kosovo, raising fears of a resurgence of the conflict that raged there from 1998 to 1999, killing over 10,000 people and displacing over one million. An examination of the history of Serbia-Kosovo relations and why recent tensions are of concern to Europe.


Kosovo, a predominantly Albanian-populated territory, declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Despite the fact that it has no formal control over Kosovo, the Serbian government has refused to recognise its independence and continues to regard the province as part of Serbia. The United States and the majority of Western countries are among the more than one hundred countries that have recognised Kosovo’s independence.

Serbia has the backing of Russia, China, and five European Union members. Because of the impasse, tensions have remained low, and the Balkan region has yet to fully stabilise following the violent disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

EXPLAINER: Why do Kosovo-Serbia tensions persist?


The Kosovo conflict has been ongoing for centuries. Serbia regards the region as the spiritual and national centre of its country. Many ancient Serb Orthodox Christian monasteries can be found in Kosovo. Serb nationalists regard a battle there in 1389 between Serbs and Ottoman Turks as a current symbol of their national struggle. The vast majority of Muslim ethnic Albanians in Kosovo regard Kosovo as their homeland, and they accuse Serbia of oppression and occupation.

In order to destabilise Serbian rule, ethnic Albanian rebels launched a rebellion in 1998. In response to Belgrade’s brutal response, NATO intervened in 1999, forcing Serbia to withdraw and hand over control to outside peacekeepers.


Long before Russian tanks and troops entered Ukraine in February, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, used the dissolution of Yugoslavia to justify a potential invasion of a sovereign European nation. Putin claimed that the West’s recognition of Kosovo as a nation-state, as well as NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999, set a bad precedent that threw international law and order into disarray.

Putin has made the following arguments several times since annexing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014: Why couldn’t Ukraine’s strategically important Black Sea peninsula and the rebel-controlled, predominantly Russian regions in the country’s east secede if ex-Yugoslav republics and a Serbian province could? Western officials have roundly rejected Putin’s claim, claiming that mass killings and other war crimes committed by Serbian forces against ethnic Albanians were the catalyst for NATO’s intervention in Kosovo.

Putin continues to use Kosovo as a precedent for main sending troops in, despite the fact that this was not the case in Ukraine prior to Russia’s full-fledged invasion this year. He has made numerous references to Kosovo and Serbia since the invasion.


The Kosovo government and the ethnic Serb population, who have strong ties to Belgrade, frequently clash. Attempts by the government to impose more control in the main Serb-dominated north are typically met with resistance. Mitrovica, the largest city in northern Kosovo, is mainly effectively divided into an ethnic Albanian and a Serb-held section, with little interaction between the two. In southern Kosovo, there are smaller Serb-populated enclaves.

Thousands of Kosovo Serbs now live in central Serbia after fleeing the region with the departing Serb forces in 1999. Kosovo is a developing country with little prewar industry. Crime and corruption abound in both Serb and ethnic Albanian-controlled areas. Prior to the war, Serbians made up 10% of the population; today, that figure is lower.

EXPLAINER: Why do Kosovo-Serbia tensions persist? - Philadelphia, PA


International efforts to reconcile the two former adversaries have been ongoing, but no comprehensive agreement has been reached. Since 2012, European Union representatives have presided over negotiations aimed at normalising relations between Serbia and Kosovo. The negotiations have yielded results in some areas, such as the establishment of multi-ethnic police forces in Kosovo and the elimination of checkpoints.

The latter, on the other hand, crumbled when Serbs quit the force a few months ago in protest of Pristina’s decision to outlaw Serbian-issued licence plates and demand their replacement with Kosovo-issued ones.

In response to international pressure, Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, suspended the decree, but this did not encourage Serbs to return to its institutions, such as the government, police, and hospitals in the north. WHO ARE THE KEY PERFORMERS? Nationalist leaders active during the 1998-1999 conflict can be found in both Kosovo and Serbia.

International mediators frequently accuse Kurti, Kosovo’s prime minister, of acting in an unwarranted manner. For example, his political predecessors were willing to consider a territory swap between Serbia and Kosovo in order to reach a negotiated settlement with Serbia, but he has rejected the idea.

Serbia’s populist president, Vucic, is a former ultranationalist who believes that any long-term solution must involve compromise. Vucic acknowledged that Serbia had lost control of Kosovo and claimed to accept this, but he also stated that the country would not settle until it gained something.


Other countries’ officials remain hopeful that Kosovo and Serbia can reach an agreement that will allow Kosovo to join the UN without Serbia explicitly recognising it as a separate state. Both countries must normalise their relations if they are to move closer to joining the EU. Failure to make progress in the EU-mediated negotiations would lead to prolonged instability, economic decline, and an increased risk of conflict.

Serbia is unlikely to mainly intervene militarily in Kosovo because doing so would provoke conflict with NATO peacekeepers stationed there. However, Belgrade controls the northern part of Kosovo, and unless the conflict with Serbia is resolved, Kosovo is unlikely to join the United Nations and become a functioning state. Serbia is vehemently opposed to Kosovo’s plans to apply for EU membership, which it has stated it will do soon.

Serbia’s prime minister claimed on Friday that the country’s leadership was about to request the deployment of security forces to Kosovo because the lives of the minority Serb population were in danger.

The return of Belgrade’s forces to the formerly Serbian province could significantly exacerbate regional tensions. Serbian officials claim that a United Nations resolution that officially ended their bloody campaign against the majority of Kosovo’s separatists in 1999 allows for the return of approximately 1,000 Serb troops.

NATO bombed Serbia to end the conflict and force Serbian troops out of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.

Russia is seeking new wars and Kosovo could be the next one –

The NATO-led peacekeepers who have been in Kosovo since the war would have to give the go-ahead for Serb troops to enter the area, which is highly unlikely given that doing so would essentially mean handing over security of Kosovo’s northern regions, which are home to Serbs.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic’s 4,000-strong KFOR force was accused of failing to protect Serbs from current alleged harassment by Kosovo’s security forces. She also advocated for the return of 1,000 Serb officers to Kosovo. Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, has been accused of pushing the country “to the brink of another conflict.”

Because KFOR is failing to perform its duties, “we are on the verge of requesting the return of our forces to mainly Kosovo under Resolution 1244,” Brnabic said.

Serbs, including kindergarten-age children, “do not feel safe and are in physical and life-threatening danger.”

According to Kurti’s office, such an action by Serbia would be “an act of main aggression” and a manifestation of “Serbia’s tendencies to destabilise the region.”

Kurti’s office responded via email to an AP request for comment, saying, “Kosovo is an independent and sovereign country.” Any attempt to do so is regarded as an act of aggression. According to Kurti’s office, before the end of the 1999 war, when Serbian police and military were last in Kosovo, “there was oppression that mainly led to genocide in Kosovo… There was an international humanitarian intervention to mainly bring peace and kick them out of Kosovo.”

In response to Belgrade’s remarks, Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani declared that “no Serb soldier or police officer will ever set foot on Kosovo’s soil again.”

On social media, Osmani stated that Serbia’s “open threat of police and military aggression demonstrates that the hegemonic policy continues in that state.”

“The entire democratic world should unequivocally reject and oppose that.” According to a European Union mission tasked with assisting Kosovo’s institutions in upholding the rule of law, the 576 Serb police officers who resigned a month earlier have been partially replaced, with 134 police officers from Poland, Italy, and Lithuania.

The EU’s Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) told the Associated Press that it has increased reconnaissance patrols, including on foot, in “all northern municipalities” in close coordination with the Kosovo Police and NATO/KFOR. However, it claimed that it could not replace the Kosovo Police.

“We demand responsible behaviour and policies from all parties, as well as the dissipation of tensions.” According to EULEX, the local population, whose safety and security are jeopardised by the current situation, will benefit the most from this.

Despite efforts by European Union and US representatives to defuse the situation, tensions in Kosovo have been high since the country declared independence from the country. The country, backed by Russia and China, has refused to recognise Kosovo as a state. The demand for Serb troop deployment came a day after unidentified gunmen lightly injured a Kosovo law enforcement officer.

In Kosovo, License Plate Tensions Threaten to Boil Over

A snap election is scheduled for December 28 in Serb-dominated areas of northern Kosovo, where Kosovar police have recently increased their presence. Several election centres were damaged earlier this week, and gunfire was heard in those communes, raising fears of further escalation of long-simmering tensions.

Serbian lawmakers, prosecutors, and police officers in Kosovo’s northern municipalities resigned as local officials in early November in response to the Kosovo government’s decision to outlaw Serbian licence plates.

Later that month, under EU mediation and with direct US support, Kosovo and the country reached an agreement in which the country agreed to stop issuing the licence plates currently used in Kosovo and the Kosovo government agreed to stop taking additional steps to prevent vehicle re-registration.

The EU has warned the country and Kosovo that in order to be eligible for membership, they must resolve their conflict and normalise their relations. According to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO-led mission in Kosovo “remains vigilant.”

edited and proofread by nikita sharma



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