Explosive Situation: How Serbs Are Played Off Against NATO Troops in Kosovo

For three days there has been a confrontation between the local authorities and Serbs in northern Kosovo. On the evening of May 29, more than 90 people were injured in clashes on the street. Can Belgrade help its compatriots in Kosovo?

For three days there has been a confrontation in northern Kosovo between the local authorities and Serbs who, contrary to the will of the European Union and the United States of America, consider this region a legitimate part of Serbia. On the evening of May 29, more than 90 people were injured in clashes on the street. RIA Novosti reports on the background to the conflict and the prospects for a peaceful solution.

Elections are not elections

Clashes again in northern Kosovo – KFOR uses firearms

Clashes again in northern Kosovo – KFOR uses firearms

This time the riots were triggered by the elections for the communities of North Mitrovica, Zvečan, Zubin Potok and Leposavić, which were ignored by the Serbs living there. With a turnout of just over three percent, the ethnic Kosovars won. However, the elected council members encountered massive protests from the local population when they tried to enter their new workplaces. It was only possible to get into the buildings with the help of the security forces.

Officially, Belgrade stated that in this way the Serbs wanted to invite Pristina to a dialogue and ask Western mediators for help in resolving the conflict. However, the US and the EU consider the elections held to be entirely legitimate.

The police – together with the western KFOR peacekeeping forces in the area – tried to evict the protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades. The demonstrators threw back bottles and stones. Around 50 civilians and more than 40 security forces were injured.

Back to the Future

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said in an address to the nation that for several months the Kosovo authorities have been trying to provoke a bloody conflict between Belgrade and NATO. The KFOR peacekeeping forces are not protecting the civilian population, but rather the “wrong” mayors who were elected with a measly turnout.

Vučić stressed that Serbia would not allow harassment, pogroms or killings in Kosovo. On May 30 he will meet with representatives of the US, UK, Germany, France and Italy to explain what is happening in Kosovo. In order to keep the peace, Western politicians would have to reassure the leaders in Pristina. The President will spend the next night with his army on the border with Kosovo.

"Kosovo police" tries to storm Serbian administration building - Serbia mobilizes army

“Kosovo police” tries to storm Serbian administration building – Serbia mobilizes army

So far, only Russia has expressed sympathy for Belgrade. “A great explosion is brewing in the center of Europe: at the place where NATO carried out its 1999 aggression against Yugoslavia – in violation of every conceivable principle of the Helsinki Final Act and the OSCE documents. The situation is alarming, but the West has embarked on a course of total submission to all those who in any way express their own opinions,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Western position

A KFOR spokesman said the peacekeeping contingent faced an “unprovoked attack”. NATO merely condemned the actions of the demonstrators in the strongest possible terms and called for an immediate end to the violence.

President Vjosa Osmani of the internationally only partially recognized “Republic of Kosovo” accused Serbian President Vučić of organizing the riots and attacks on the police, the KFOR contingent and journalists. At the same time, she described the Serbian structures in the north of the region as illegal because they had turned into “criminal gangs”.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said Ankara is following developments in Kosovo with concern and would call on all parties to the conflict to ease tensions. However, Turkey also praised the “constructive role” of the peace contingent.

No escape

Expert Denis Denisov from Moscow Financial University believes that under the current circumstances, Belgrade has little opportunity to help the Kosovo Serbs.

“If you use the army, the West will understand this as an attack on KFOR, that is, on NATO. That is the most unlikely scenario. Vučić could request an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. That would be a strong symbolic gesture, but it would don’t change anything about the situation”, he told RIA Novosti.

According to Denisov, by recognizing the elections in northern Kosovo, Western countries have made their position clear and will not change it. Even if Belgrade imposes economic sanctions on Kosovo, Pristina has enough allies to neutralize their effects. A “turning point” could at most be the intervention of powers such as Russia, China, India or Brazil.

In the best-case scenario for the Serbs, the mayors of Kosovo they recognized would legally retain their posts but return to Pristina. North Kosovo would remain de facto Serbian self-government. It is also possible that in future protests, KFOR forces will disperse the demonstrators and force the local population to obey the “elected” leadership.

Translated from Russian. The article first appeared on RIA Novosti.

more on the subject – Escalation in Kosovo: Police stormed the municipal administration in a Serbian town

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