The most recent crisis in Kosovo-Serbia relations was instigated by Serbia in September 2021. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Conflict in Ukraine and Kosovo are connected
By David L. Phillips
Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights. The Russia-Ukraine border is a dangerous flash-point for conflict escalation. Biden would terminate Nord Stream-II, a critical source of revenue to Russia selling natural gas in Europe in the event of an attack on Ukraine. The Government of Kosovo imposed reciprocity measures on vehicle license plates with Serbia. Serbia, acting as Russia’s proxy, is intensifying efforts to destabilize Kosovo, a staunchly pro-American country that aspires to membership in NATO and the European Union. Biden warned Putin that the US was prepared to implement a package of diplomatic and economic reprisals during their recent teleconference. Columns of naval infantry attached to Russia's Black Sea Fleet march through the huge port city of Sevastopol in Crimea. Serbia is apparently preparing for war, spending lavishly on sophisticated offensive weapons. Putin thinks he can avoid a major confrontation with the US over Ukraine by creating a crisis between Serbia and Kosovo. Ukraine is a sovereign and independent state, which makes decisions for itself. Biden made no such guarantee. Putin believes that “The breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.” Soviet revisionism and anti-Americanism are defining characteristics of Putin’s imperial rule. The legendary American diplomat Richard Holbrooke said of Serbia’s ex-President Slobodan Milosevic: “[He] tries to solve a problem by making a bigger one.” The same can be said of Putin’s policy in Russia’s near abroad and the Balkans. Russia and Serbia are testing the commitment of NATO and the US to allies and partners. Putin believes that concurrent “war theaters” in Ukraine and Kosovo would overextend NATO and test Washington’s commitment. That’s a lot of money to spend when there is no external threat. He served as Ambassador of Kosovo in Stockholm and briefly as the first Liaison Officer of Kosovo to Serbia. Ukraine is a tinderbox. Facebook
Vladimir Putin claims that protecting ethnic Russians justifies military action against Ukraine. Tensions were exacerbated by MIG-29s skirting Kosovo’s airspace. He served as a senior adviser and foreign affairs expert at the State Department during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. In Ukraine, Russia deployed “little green men”, operating undercover without military insignias. By Lulzim Peci
Director of the Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development (KIPRED). More than 120,000 Russian troops have massed on Ukraine’s eastern border, including snipers, tanks, and artillery. Russia’s Ambassador to Serbia, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, chose this toxic time to inspect Serbia’s military corps, which were in a state of elevated combat readiness. Nor does he want the United States to implement biting sanctions. An attack could provoke Albania to intervene. He is catering to a domestic Russian audience, which believes that Ukraine is part of Russia and should be disciplined for breaking away from the motherland. It was only seven years ago that Russia invaded and occupied Crimea, part of a sovereign and independent Ukraine, claiming to protect ethnic Russians. Chapter 35 in Serbia’s EU accession talks require mutual recognition and normalization of relations with Kosovo. His greater global goal is to confront NATO and undermine US leadership to redeem the Russian Empire’s past glory. In response, Serbia’s President Aleksander Vucic deployed military close to the border with Kosovo. Putin does not want a live-fire confrontation with the US in the Black Sea. The US must be ready for Russian incitement on multiple fronts.
Putin has cited the “Kosovo precedent” to justify Russia’s occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. When Putin and US President Joe Biden met via teleconference on December 7, Putin demanded guarantees that Ukraine would never join NATO or allow NATO infrastructure on its soil.
While the Biden administration is focused on Ukraine, a similar scenario is unfolding in the border between Serbia and Kosovo. Echoing Putin’s remarks on Ukraine, Vucic threatened to intervene militarily in Kosovo in order to “protect the undefended Serbian population”. Over the last decade, Russia and Serbia have greatly expanded their military cooperation. He wants to reorient Kosovo-Serbia talks, which could be accomplished through a flare-up. While President Joe Biden is focused on Ukraine, another threat is looming in the Western Balkans. Putin calculates that an escalation of deadly violence in Southeast Europe would distract the Biden administration from a resolute response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The base is a hub for intelligence operations and a staging ground for special operations, including Russian mercenaries. The strategic peninsula was illegally seized by Moscow in 2014. Russia’s intelligence operations involve extensive cyber operations and malign influence operations aiming to radicalize Kosovo Serbs. Vucic is unwilling to acknowledge Kosovo’s independence, so Serbia’s EU aspirations are blocked.
Putin pursues a bellicose approach to Ukraine, knowing that conflict ill-serves Russia with the international community. Failure to defend Kosovo would open the door for a wider European war, affecting the current world order. Similarly, Russian agents are present in north Kosovo. His action was a statement of Russian–Serbian solidarity against Kosovo. Putin’s concern for Ukraine’s Russian minority is bombastic. Serbia doubled its defense budget over the last three years to $1.5 billion. “An attack on any NATO ally would be considered an attack against all members of the Alliance”, which would take the necessary actions to assist. NATO must be ready for the possibility that Serbia, in cooperation with Russia, might instigate a crisis in the northern part of Kosovo, opening a proxy armed conflict. Serbia and Russia- established a “Humanitarian Center” in Niš about 100 km from the Kosovo border. It purchased MIG warplanes, T-72 tanks and other armor from Russia. This scenario mirrors Russia’s approach to Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region. Violence in Kosovo would embroil the US and troops from NATO countries that are based in Kosovo. The North Atlantic Council could activate Article 5 of the North Atlantic Alliance charter. His recent books include An Uncertain Ally: Turkey Under Erdogan’s Dictatorship.