The authorities of Kosovo have already detained a third Serb. Belgrade called it a “hunt” and reiterated its intention to send a contingent to the partially recognized republic. The parties are not ready for a compromise, which makes the current Serbian-Kosovo aggravation the most serious in recent times. And the diplomatic confrontation is fueled by military preparations.
On the night of December 16, in the northern part of the city of Kosovska Mitrovica (with a predominantly Serb population), a former Kosovo police officer Sladzhan Trajkovic, a Serb by nationality, was arrested. According to his wife, he is accused of “some kind of war crimes” in 1998-1999.
Director of the Chancellery for Kosovo and Metohija (under the name of the autonomous region appears in the legislation of Serbia) Petar Petkovic condemned the actions of Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti.
“The new detention <…> shows that Kurti continues to hunt for the Serbs, does not want to reduce tension and de-escalate the situation. How suddenly there was evidence against the Serbs who left the (Kosovo) structures, but they (evidence) were not there while they were part of the Kosovo system? – stressed the Serbian representative.
Trajkovic is already at least the third victim of the Kosovo security forces over the past month. Earlier, special services detained Milyan Adzic, as well as Dejan Pantic, also a former policeman suspected of terrorism. His arrest on December 10 became the reason for another aggravation in the north of Kosovo. During the day, the Serbs erected barricades and blocked roads with trucks to prevent Pantic from being taken to Pristina.
For a week, the blockade was not lifted – despite Kurti’s ultimatums. All this time, Pantic has been in a stronghold of the Kosovo police not far from the checkpoint.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the arrested person has a chronic illness. The necessary medicines were handed over to him only three days after his arrest.
Humanitarian considerations, apparently, do not bother Pristina too much – the crisis there is used primarily for political purposes.
Long way to Europe
The authorities of Kosovo have successfully “made up” the aggravation with Serbia in time for the summit of the EU heads of state, which started in Brussels on December 15. It was on this day that Pristina defiantly applied for membership in the union.
The documents were accepted, but so far this is nothing more than a political gesture. At least five EU member states (Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia) have not yet recognized Kosovo’s independence. This position is also connected with territorial disputes within the mentioned states. If they agree that the Serbian autonomous region has sovereignty, this will set off a chain reaction in Catalonia or, for example, in the Turkish part of Cyprus.
“When it comes to countries applying for EU membership, there is a certain procedure that must be followed, and Kosovo is no exception,” the source in Brussels recalled. “There are many different parameters that EU institutions must take into account, since Kosovo is not recognized five member countries of the Union.
There are other states that do not want to see the country in a “common European home”, although they have not yet announced this. An economically weak Kosovo can become a burden for the EU, and will not add tangible benefits to the union.
Finally, by applying for EU membership, Pristina has given Belgrade a free hand on the diplomatic front. According to the 2020 Washington Accords, Kosovo has pledged not to lobby for membership in any international blocs. Serbia responded by halting efforts to revoke third-party recognition of the province’s independence. Now the Serbian authorities are free to use bargaining, behind-the-scenes negotiations and simply at the official level to demand from other states not to recognize Kosovo. And this is a promising scenario for Belgrade. The behavior of Pristina is becoming more and more toxic in the eyes of the West, already torn apart by contradictions. It is not ruled out that some countries that previously supported the Kosovo separatists “for the company” will now change their minds.
Contingent by right
Belgrade, in addition to diplomacy, also has a military option in reserve.
After the Kosovo authorities applied for EU membership, Serbia turned to NATO with a request to deploy its contingent in the partially recognized republic – up to a thousand people.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama criticized the actions of the Serbs, promising that “Kosovo will never again be ruled by Belgrade.”
But the right to a limited military presence of Serbia in the region is given by UN Resolution 1244 of 1999. The only thing that seems to be holding back Belgrade is the danger of a collision with the NATO KFOR (Kosovo Force) contingent. That is why President Aleksandar Vucic is playing for time by submitting an application that he could do without: the UN document does not oblige to warn about the transfer of such a small force. Which, moreover, were in Kosovo before, but then they were taken out as unnecessary.
In addition to Albania, the Serbian contingent initiative was criticized by more serious players, in particular Germany and the United States. The American Ambassador to Serbia, Christopher Hill, although he acknowledged that Belgrade has the right to apply to KFOR, noted that the final result of the application is unpredictable.
“This issue remains political and therefore requires a political solution. We need to bring the situation back to normal so that the Kosovo Serbs can have a clear idea of how their life will look like in the future,” the diplomat commented on the situation.
Vucic, judging by public statements, understands himself that the Serbian military will not be allowed into Kosovo just like that. According to him, KFOR is obliged to comply with the wishes of Belgrade, but may well delay the answer. In this case, the Serbian leader is ready to submit the issue to the UN Security Council. Although this is unlikely to give a result: if Russia and China support Serbia, then the United States will be able to use the right of veto.
As a result, the pause taken by Belgrade may turn against the Serbs themselves. Pristina, according to the press, is not only attacking diplomatically – it has become preoccupied with re-equipping the military in case of a hot conflict. The Kosovo Ministry of Defense is expecting a shipment of “modern weapons” totaling more than 27 million euros, the Serbian newspaper Kurir reported. The publication notes that at least 11 trucks with weapons are already on the Bulgarian-Macedonian border. They claim that the point of departure of the cargo is Turkey.
Although while Ankara officially distances itself from the Kosovo escalation, the information does not look unrealistic. As a NATO member, the Turkish side could well become a transit point for the alliance’s supplies.