Kosovo: Russia says it supports Serbia, while US and EU call for de-escalation

Will the current tensions between the Serbian minority in Kosovo and the authorities in Pristina give rise to a new crisis in the Balkans? At the moment it is on its way, especially as the two parties stick to their positions.

As a reminder, the fire has been simmering since Pristina announced its desire to replace the license plates previously issued by Belgrade. However, this measure was strongly contested by the Serbian minority, mainly established in northern Kosovo, which for a time raised fears of new violence. We thought that an agreement reached in November under the auspices of the EU would solve this issue… Nothing happened.

The arrest of a policeman of Serbian origin suspected of having participated in the violence related to this affair has ignited the powder… As well as the holding of local elections scheduled for December 18 in four municipalities with Serbian majority. [Leposavici, Mitrovica Nord, Zvecani et Zubin Potok] due to the departure, the previous month, of Serbian representatives from Kosovo institutions over the license plate dispute [et aussi sur les documents administratifs].

Be that as it may, the situation in northern Kosovo has now worsened a little more every day for three weeks, with the appearance of roadblocks on main roads, shootings and incidents, one of which targeted EULEX, the European Union’s “rule of law” mission [UE].

On December 27, Belgrade put its troops on “high alert” along the “administrative line”, that is, the border with its former province. [La Serbie ne reconnait pas l’indépendance du Kosovo, comme, d’ailleurs, plusieurs pays membres de l’UE et de l’Otan, ndlr]. Kosovo authorities [comprendre : la majorité albanaise, ndlr] “exacerbating tensions” which lead “towards a further escalation with the clear aim of carrying out ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and Metohija and expelling the few remaining Serbs from our centuries-old territory”, argued Milos Vučević, the Serbian defense minister.

In Pristina, where protesters from the Serbian minority are compared to “criminal gangs”, we see the Kremlin’s hand behind these tensions.

“It is precisely Serbia, influenced by Russia, which has raised the readiness of its troops and orders the construction of new barricades, in order to justify and protect the criminal groups which terrorize … citizens of Serbian origin living in Kosovo”, accused Xhelal Svecla, Kosovo’s interior minister.

Then, on December 28, Pristina announced the closure of the Merdare border crossing, the most important for the trade of goods between Serbia and Kosovo, as well as the release and placement under house arrest of the Serbian policeman whose arrest ignited the powder.

It is in this context that Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, confirmed that Russia “supports” Serbia, with which “we have very close relations with allies, historical and spiritual”. And to add that Moscow follows “very carefully what is happening [au Kosovo] and how the rights of Serbs [y] is insured”.

As a reminder, Russia had been promised in 1999 that it would have a role to play in the northern part of the former Serbian province… A role it was ultimately unable to play as it became returned to KFOR, the NATO force deployed in Kosovo. Also the current tensions make its case… “Of course we support Serbia in the actions it is taking”, Mr. Peskov further declared. Moreover, the situation in the Balkans could become even worse if the Bosnian Serbs, also close to Russia, were also to be agitated…

Meanwhile, in a joint statement, the United States and the European Union urged “all to exercise maximum restraint and take immediate measures for the unconditional de-escalation of the situation” and urged both sides to “refrain from any provocation, threat or intimidation”.

And to add: “We are working with the president [serbe] Vučić and the Prime Minister [du Kosovo] Kurti to find a political solution to ease tensions and achieve a breakthrough for the sake of stability, security and well-being of all local populations”.

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