One step away from settlement, Serbia and Kosovo again went for escalation of the conflict, in order not to make mutual concessions and compromises. A good lesson for Moldova, which, one way or another, would also have to normalize relations with Transnistria in the near future
The situation in Kosovo escalated sharply on the evening of May 29. The reason was the attempts of local authorities to swear in several mayors who were elected to Serbian municipalities in the north of the region. As you know, the Serbs ignored the elections, and about 3% of the total number of voters came to the polling stations. Due to clashes between the Serbian population and the special forces of Kosovo, the NATO KFOR was forced to intervene and push the protesters back. As a result, 41 NATO servicemen were injured, including our compatriot, as well as more than 50 Serbs.
After an order on advance alert status of the Serbian army given a few days earlier, President Aleksandar Vucic issued an emergency address to people last night. He said that due to the most large-scale aggravation of relations with Pristina in recent times, he plans to communicate with the ambassadors of Russia and China, and also ask the Quinta countries (USA, UK, France, Germany and Italy) to reason with the Kosovo authorities. According to Belgrade, the main goal of the Kosovars is a clash between Serbia and NATO, especially taking into account the 2023 Defender Europe Alliance’s largest exercises started on May 21 in Pristina.
The global community was concerned about these developments. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on the Kosovo authorities to reduce the level of escalation and invited Belgrade and Pristina back to the negotiating table. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov even said that the aggravation of the conflict suggests that a “big bang” is brewing in the center of Europe. Beijing, for its part, supported Belgrade’s efforts to protect territorial integrity, calling on NATO to respect Serbian sovereignty.
Many experts are inclined to believe that this deterioration around the Serbian-Kosovo settlement is of internal political origin. This version is supported by the fact that the Serbian armed forces were reported to be on alert just a few hours before a large-scale pro-government rally in Belgrade. In this maneuver, one can see an attempt to bring down the mass protests of the opposition, which have been shaking the capital for three weeks now. Therefore, such demonstrative toughness with Pristina can add points to the current leadership of Serbia.
At the same time, the fact that the Kosovo leadership continues to confidently press the situation, despite the condemnation from Washington, hints that American criticism is ostentatious, but in fact the United States wants to keep the mood in Serbian society heated. The Americans are quite transparently and logically acting in their own interests, actively playing the Kosovo card for the past year to tactically destabilize Serbia and convince the Serbian elites to make the right geopolitical choice, including joining the sanctions against Moscow.
Brussels and Washington are interested in settling all the issues of interest to them in the Balkans as soon as possible, including the status of Kosovo. Serbia is likely to be required in the coming months to accept the terms of the plan leaked to the media, which implies acceptance of Kosovo’s membership in international organizations with formal Serbian silence. Sooner or later, but Belgrade will be forced to accept these demands of the West to recognize the region and impose sanctions against Russia – otherwise the country will meet political and economic isolation.
In February, Vucic and Kurti (Kosovo’s Prime Minister) expressed consent with an agreement proposed by the EU but did not sign it. Meanwhile, it provided for the mutual recognition of passports, Serbia’s refusal to represent Kosovo globally, the exchange of diplomatic missions, as well as legal obligations to work towards a comprehensive normalization of relations. To implement such an agreement, Belgrade and Pristina need a concrete plan that provides for mutual concessions. However, as it has happened many times, they chose a local conflict, only not to meet each other halfway.
Despite Lavrov’s heartbreaking predictions, the risk of a new war in the Balkans is still minimal. And earlier, against the backdrop of “Kosovo exacerbations,” Serbian troops were put on high alert, but this was always followed by de-escalation. Vucic will definitely not go into an open suicidal conflict with the United States and NATO and will try to seek another compromise with mediators who can somehow influence the behavior of Pristina.
Obviously, foreign partners will try to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. The intentions of EU diplomat Josep Borrell to convene a high-level meeting between Kosovo and Serbia speak of the same. Also, Brussels warned them that EU member states could take appropriate measures if someone sabotaged the return of calm in the region.
Summarizing the trajectory of Serbian-Kosovo settlement, we can single out several fundamental positions. Pristina seeks full sovereignty and dominance within its self-proclaimed state. The European Union wants to achieve the integration of Serbia and Kosovo with a clearly defined international legal status of these territories, without repeating the history of Cyprus. The United States seeks to expand its area of influence in the region, include the remaining Balkan states in NATO, reduce Russia’s influence to a minimum and neutralize Serbia as a conductor of Russian interests.
Serbia and Moldova, striving to join the European Union, are in many respects related in their problems, both of an internal political nature and in the issue of territorial integrity. Both countries, one way or another, are the arena of confrontation between several geopolitical groups. Recently, our politicians have been saying that the Transnistrian conflict will not interfere with the process of European integration, but at the same time they hope to resolve it before joining the EU. However, as the Serbian experience shows, Western partners are not ready to make discounts and will demand that we still find a solution to the problem of the left bank.
We all see how recently some long-term conflicts flare up with renewed vigor, while others go out and approach their climax. For example, there are strong expectations about the Karabakh issue. Someone even says that this conflict can be brought to an end in Moldova, on the sidelines of the forthcoming EPS Summit. Eventually, we will also have to normalize relations with the left bank. And, as experience shows, the settlement is very, very difficult even with full control of the negotiations by Washington, Brussels and other important European capitals.