The clashes in Kosovo further weaken the prospects for stability in the region

On Monday, May 29, Serbian demonstrators injured 30 soldiers of the NATO force in Kosovo (KFOR) in the town of Zvecan in the north of the country (about fifty demonstrators were also injured). Clashes also broke out in two other municipalities in the north of the country, within an area where half of the Serb population living in Kosovo is concentrated (which itself is only about 5% of the total population).

  • On 23 April 2023, municipal elections were held in four Serb-majority towns in northern Kosovo (Metrović i Viriot, Leposavić, Zubin Potok and Zvecan).
  • After a boycott of the ballot by the main Kosovo Serb party, the “Serb List for Kosovo” (whose demands for increased municipal autonomy were not heard by Pristina), the elections were won by two Kosovo-Albanian parties (Self-Determination and the Democratic Party of Kosovo).
  • With a historically low turnout (only 3.47% of the 45,095 registered voters turned out to vote), Serb residents of Kolasin Ibar, a district in northern Kosovo, challenged the legitimacy of the new mayors and tried to prevent them from voting. Taking over their offices last Friday.

On May 26, the United States, France, Italy, Germany as well as the United Kingdom, whose military (with the exception of France) constitutes a large part of KFOR forces, published a joint statement condemning “Kosovo’s decision to impose access to municipal buildings in northern Kosovo, despite our call for restraint” and calling for Kosovo authorities to “take a step back immediately and defuse the situation.”

According to the press release published by KFOR on Tuesday 30 May, 19 Hungarian and 11 Italian soldiers were injured during the clashes.

  • The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, who oversees the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue established in 2011, called on “the Kosovo authorities and the protesters to de-escalate the situation immediately and unconditionally”.
  • Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry called on the West to “finally silence its false propaganda and stop blaming the events in Kosovo on desperate, peaceful and defenseless Serbs trying to defend their legitimate rights and freedoms.”
  • Russia, which opposes Kosovo’s independence, relies on tensions with Serbia to define its own claims. During his meeting with the Secretary-General of the United Nations in April 2022, Putin drew an analogy between Western countries’ recognition of Kosovo’s independence and Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk republics to justify Russia’s “interference” in Ukraine.

These attacks against NATO soldiers further weaken the prospects for stabilizing relations between the two countries, which opened last March with an agreement between Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, under the auspices of the Union. Since the Ohrid summit, the non-participation of the two parties in implementing the agreement has led to a deterioration of the situation, which culminated on Monday 29 May after the Serbian army’s “high alert” by Vucic, as well as as an order of its rapprochement with the border with Kosovo.

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