SERBIA KOSOVO TENSIONS
15th December, 2022 International Relations
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Context: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has called for deploying Serb troops to northern Kosovo, further fueling fears of a revival of the 1998-99 war in Kosovo that claimed more than 10,000 lives and left over 1 million homeless
Why Are Serbia And Kosovo At Odds?
- Kosovo is a mainly ethnic Albanian territory that declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
- The Serbian government has refused to recognize Kosovo’s statehood and still considers it part of Serbia, even though it has no formal control there.
- Over 100 countries have recognized Kosovo’s independence, including the United States and most Western countries.
- Russia, China and five European Union nations have sided with Serbia. The deadlock has kept tensions simmering and prevented the Balkan region’s full stabilization following the bloody breakup of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
How Deep Is The Conflict?
- The dispute over Kosovo is centuries-old.
- Serbia cherishes the region as the heart of its statehood and religion.
- Numerous medieval Serb Orthodox Christian monasteries are in Kosovo.
- Serb nationalists view a 1389 battle against Ottoman Turks there as a symbol of its national struggle.
- Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians, most of whom are Muslim, view Kosovo as their country and accuse Serbia of occupation and repression.
- Ethnic Albanian rebels launched a rebellion in 1998 to rid the country of Serbian rule. Belgrade’s brutal response prompted a NATOintervention in 1999, which forced Serbia to pull out and cede control to international peacekeepers.
Is There A Link To Russia And The War In Ukraine?
- Putin claimed NATO’s bombardment of Serbia in 1999 and the West’s acceptance of Kosovo as a country created an illegal precedent that shattered international law and order.
- Putin’s argument, repeated several times since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014,
- Putin still relies on what happened in Kosovo as a precedent for sending troops in. He has cited Kosovo and Serbia many times since the invasion.
What Has Been Done To Resolve The Dispute?
- There have been constant international efforts to find common ground between the two former war foes, but no comprehensive agreement has emerged so far.
- European Union officials have mediated negotiations designed to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo since 2012.
- The negotiations have led to results in some areas, such as freedom of movement without checkpoints and establishing multi-ethnic police forces in Kosovo.
- However, the latter broke down when Serbs pulled out of the force a few months ago to protest Pristina’s decision to ban Serbian-issued vehicle license plates and demand their replacement with Kosovo-issued ones.
- Kurti, Kosovo’s prime minister, is often accused by international mediators of making moves that trigger unnecessary tensions. For example, he has rejected the idea of a territory swap between Serbia and Kosovo, an idea his political predecessors were willing to consider to reach a negotiated settlement with Serbia.
- Vucic, Serbia’s populist president, is a former ultra-nationalist who insists that any solution must involve a compromise if it is to last. Vucic has acknowledged Serbia’s loss of control over Kosovo and said he has come to terms with that, but also says the country won’t settle unless it gains something.