Last week, the authorities of the unrecognized Kosovo banned the use of Serbian license plates on their territory. Units of the Albanian Kosovo special forces forcibly remove them from cars that belong to local Serbs
These actions immediately provoked tensions in the long-strained relations between Pristina and Belgrade – to the point where experts started talking about the threat of new military clashes, which threatens to destabilize the entire Balkan region.
It is important to understand the logic of the situation: the Kosovar authorities deliberately agreed to this aggravation, perfectly understanding the inevitable practical consequences of their step. The majority of the Serb population of this unrecognized puppet state uses Serbian license plates. We saw them even in enclaves cut off from Serbian territory, like the community of Gracanica – and to the north of the Ibar River, in the Serbian part of the divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica, literally everyone drives the plates of the Republic of Serbia.
The only way to get rid of Serbian license plates is by force – and the Albanian authorities brought armored vehicles with heavily armed special forces into the Serbian quarters, which occupied the border crossings. Mass protests immediately erupted in Mitrovica.
We watched such actions in the spring of 2008, when a Ukrainian peacekeeper was killed in this city – and now something similar is happening in the north of Kosovo. Serbs are building barricades on the main streets, blocking checkpoints, and well-armed Albanians conduct something like an act of intimidation, beating up drivers who come to hand.
Special forces officers unceremoniously violate the civil rights of local residents – and Belgrade reacted to this, calling what was happening with the characteristic word “clash”. This time they did not limit themselves to declarative statements. The Serbian authorities sent security forces to the border, which came close to the checkpoints, and Serbian Air Force planes were seen in the sky – including attack helicopters, MiG-29 multipurpose fighters, as well as Soko J-22 “Eagle” fighter-bombers armed with missiles air-to-ground class.
All this caused a nervous reaction among the leadership of the European Union. Political scientists recall the historical reputation of the Balkans, which were once called the “powder keg of Europe.” EU High Representative Josep Borrell ritually called on the parties to de-escalate – addressing mainly the Serbs. And Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic demanded that the West respond to the conflict in his dependent Balkan protectorate. He accuses the European Union of double-mindedness, insists on the withdrawal of the Kosovo special forces, and even promises to protect the Kosovo Serbs from him.
“The full occupation of the north of Kosovo and Metohija by military equipment, which is being carried out by Pristina, continues for seven days. And everyone in the international community is loudly silent. True, everyone is sometimes worried when they see Serbian helicopters and airplanes on the territory of Central Serbia, since, apparently, they should not exist or should not take off without the approval of Kosovo Prime Minister Kurti and the international community.
We will wait 24 hours for you to react in NATO. And only if after this the pogrom of our population continues, Serbia will react and will not allow what happened in the nineties”, he wrote in an address to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
The preconditions for the aggravation of the conflict were laid back in the summer – after the failure of negotiations between Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia, which began with the filing of the United States and were held under the direct patronage of Brussels. President Vucic and Prime Minister Albin Kurti promised to agree on a full-scale program to normalize relations, which was supposed to end ethnic strife, and even opened up theoretical prospects for official membership in the European Union.
However, Albanian nationalists thwarted an already problematic negotiation process. They opposed the creation of the Association of Serbian Municipalities, a special structure that gives Kosovo Serbs the right to real self-government within their communities. Pristina demanded that Belgrade unconditionally recognize Kosovo’s independence, making no concessions in return and refusing mutually acceptable compromises. And the prime minister of the unrecognized state openly spoke in favor of joining neighboring Albania – contrary to all previous agreements.
The political agenda of Kosovo is dictated by the war party, because local politics are still dominated by former nationalist militants – which is very similar to the situation with the ultra-right from the Ukrainian volunteer battalions. In addition, the Kosovar elites are traditionally associated with the structures of the US Democratic Party, which led America during the 1999 war. The change of power in the metropolis was greeted in Pristina with considerable enthusiasm – apparently, they count on unconditional support from the administration of Joseph Biden, and are trying to probe its borders with the help of another aggravation on the Serbian border.
Albin Kurti hardly relies on his special forces in the confrontation with Belgrade, or even on the friendly Albanian army, which does not represent a serious military force. Rather, he is on duty hoping for protection from the American contingent, which has set up the giant Camp Bondsteel military base in Kosovo and is the only real guarantor of Kosovo’s puppet independence.
However, the US response remains unpredictable and unclear. It’s not 1999, but 2021. And there are no guarantees that the Americans are ready to start a war in Europe to save the odious corrupt regime – especially since the Albanian elites are tainted with participation in war crimes, drug trafficking, the slave trade and the sale of people for organs. And the former president of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, was recently put on trial in The Hague – despite the fact that he has repeatedly sat at the same table with leading Western politicians.
The American establishment is weighed down by its former ties with the Kosovar nationalists, and the disaster in Afghanistan indicates that the Pentagon is unlikely to go into a serious armed conflict now. The very name of the Bondsteel base, which bears the name of the Vietnam War veteran, now gives off a military defeat, recalling the recent drama in Kabul.
On the other hand, they do not want to fight in Serbia either – despite the formidable rhetoric of Aleksandr Vucic, which is mainly addressed to the domestic audience, with the expectation of increasing their ratings. Thus, the observers hope for a peaceful compromise – although it is clear to everyone that the unresolved issue of Serbian-Kosovo relations is constantly threatening a transition to hostilities. Everyone assumes that the noise will soon subside, as has happened more than once in the recent history of this region.
But some people recall the phrase of the American writer Barbara Tuckman, who described the beginning of the world massacre that once broke out on the Balkan soil: “Nobody wanted war. The war was inevitable”.
Andrey Manchuk, Ukraina.ruRepresentatives of the Ukrainian government announced a likely meeting between Putin and Zelensky