Kosovo: bloodshed has already begun


Reuters / Ognen Teofilovski

The process of normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, orchestrated by the West, is on the verge of breakdown.

The situation in northern Kosovo has deteriorated sharply in recent days. The disturbances began on May 29 in Zvecan, where clashes between Serb demonstrators and NATO forces resulted in injuries of about 50 Serbs and about 40 soldiers of the KFOR mission.

Official Belgrade considers the Kosovo special forces, whose fighters took control of the local government buildings in the predominantly Serb populated municipalities of Zvecan, Zubin Potok, northern Kosovska Mitrovica, and Leposavic, to be the instigator of the conflict. The elected Albanian mayors began their work on 26 May, following the municipal elections held the month before. The strange situation was due to the boycott of the vote by the main local political force, the Serb List, supported by Belgrade. The turnout in these areas was only 3.5% (!). However, the United States and the European Union considered the elections to be legitimate.

The story itself began last November, when the Serb leaders of local municipalities collectively resigned because of disagreement with the decision of the Kosovo government to begin re-registering about 10,000 cars with Serbian to "Republic of Kosovo" plates.

This is actually why there was a need for new elections.

In Zvecan, Serbs blocked the passage of the Kosovar mayors, elected with little support, to their workplaces. KFOR fighters responded by trying to disperse the protesters with rubber bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas. The protesters reacted with stones and bottles.

By order of President Aleksandar Vucic, the Serbian army was put on high alert, and some forces were redeployed to the border with Kosovo.

The North Atlantic Alliance, for its part, decided to urgently redeploy 700 troops to support the 4,000 KFOR troops on the ground.

"A big explosion is brewing in the center of Europe. In the very place where in 1999 NATO carried out aggression against Yugoslavia in violation of every imaginable principle of the Helsinki Final Act and OSCE documents. The situation is alarming, but the West has embarked on a course of total subjugation of everyone who in any way expresses his own opinion," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, commenting on the situation in Kosovo.

In fact, both sides bet on escalation instead of following the normalization agreements that President Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti reached in Brussels on February 27 and finally consolidated on March 18 in Ohrid, North Macedonia, mediated by the EU.

Observers generally consider the current crisis the most dangerous escalation since the 1998-1999 armed conflict and Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008.

At the summit of the European political community, which ended in Moldova on June 2, the two leaders of the opposing sides tried to attract the attention of the participants, proving each of them right. In vain. Brussels believes that it has already fulfilled its peacekeeping function by mediating in the difficult negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo. Now, they say, it's a matter of implementing the agreements at the bilateral level.

However, neither Pristina nor Belgrade considers it possible to retreat. They do not seem to care that the failure of the agreements will close the process of integration into the European Union, and for Kosovo – also into NATO. Apparently, the case went "on principle."

EU and U.S. emissaries arrived in Belgrade on May 5 in an attempt to help resolve the crisis. Vucic is called upon to lower the level of combat readiness of the armed forces and withdraw units from the border.

One thing that draws attention is the harsh pressure from the U.S. on the Pristina authorities, which is quite unexpected. The State Department said that it was the decision to gain access to municipal buildings by force that led to the "abrupt and unnecessary escalation." The Kosovars seem to have acted contrary to U.S. advice. In order to defuse some of the tension, there is a strong demand from across the ocean to place elected mayors in "alternative facilities." However, Prime Minister Kurti said that Belgrade was to blame for leading an "extremist mob," and that he would reduce the police presence only after "the criminal groups are gone." According to him, a new vote could only be considered if there were peaceful protests. Now there is no such possibility.

By the way, Pristina has already been punished for its insubordination and disobedience: the U.S. ostentatiously excluded Kosovo from the last stage of the Defender Europe-23 exercise, which began with the participation of Kosovo security forces on May 21.

In the meantime, the situation continues to escalate. Even though a failure to reach an agreement would cost both sides a high price. For President Vucic and Prime Minister Kurti, for example, their future political careers are at stake. Whether the U.S. and EU mediators will be able to calm the tensions and pacify the conflicting sides again is a big question.