I have an interest in this, having been deployed to Kosovo in 2007 as part of KFOR-8. It’s hard to believe that was 10 years ago! From our end, we did have a very productive relationship with our Serbian counterparts, and to this day, I believe our work together helped keep the area relatively stable.
Serbia has never recognized its former province Kosovo as a sovereign nation, and neither has Russia. The EU and the United States, among others, recognized Kosovo’s independence when the breakaway province jumped ship in 2008, and relations between the two have been strained, to say the least.
Well, they just became more strained.
Kosovo’s president Hashim Thaci has publicly accused Serbia of planning to use its pal Russia’s “Crimea model” to attach a portion of Northern Kosovo, much like the Russians annexed Crimea in 2014, prompting the United States, the EU, and Canada to impose financial sanctions as a result.
Kosovo special police units on Saturday prevented a train painted in Serbia’s national colors and bearing the words “Kosovo is Serbia” from crossing the border.
Serbia does not recognize the independence of Kosovo, its former province, and did not seek Pristina’s permission for the passage of the train, which it paid for and organized. On Sunday Serbia’s president, Tomislav Nikolic, said Kosovo’s action had shown it wanted war with Belgrade.Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci said the train was aimed at “provoking” Kosovars in order to create a pretext for Serbia to intervene militarily and annex northern areas of Kosovo, home to some 50,000 ethnic Serbs who refuse to accept the province’s independence and want to be governed again by Belgrade.
“Serbia’s intention is to use this train, which was donated by Russia, first to help carve away the northern part of Kosovo and then … attach it to Serbia. It is the Crimea model,” Thaci said in an interview.
Accusations of Russian support aside, we should look at the similarities between the two situations.
There was a significant Russian population living in Crimea, which the Russians have been using as an excuse to meddle in sovereign nations’ affairs.
There is also a significant number of Serbs living in northern Kosovo – most of them in northern Mitrovica, but overall nearly 18 percent of those living in Mitro are Serb.
But while in 2013, the Serb-majority municipality of North Mitrovica was created, dividing the city in two administrative units, both municipalities operated within the Kosovo legal framework. Not so for Crimea. Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, handed the Crimean Oblast to Ukraine in order to bolster the “unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” When the Soviet Union fell and Ukraine became a sovereign nation, Crimea remained part of Ukraine. There was nothing that officially signed Crimea over back to Russia.
Russian provocations in Eastern Europe are well documented, including the “little green men” in Ukraine and the missiles in Kaliningrad, as we as sending its nationalist biker gang the Night Wolves to prowl throughout the region, spreading their particularly foul form of nationalism, anti-gay hysteria, and fomenting violence.
Can the train painted in Serbia’s national colors with the words “Kosovo is Serbia” be considered provocation on the Serbs’ part? Well, Serbia’s leaders certainly have been vocal about claiming that Kosovo wants war after the train was stopped at the border. And if we do consider the train to be a provocation, we can also note a similarity in strategies: a provocative act, followed by claims that the Serbian population must be protected from attacks.
President Tomislav Nikolic of Serbia issued the latest warning after the passenger train, painted in the colors of the red, blue and white Serbian flag, was prevented from crossing into Kosovo, where Mr. Nikolic government contends that ethnic Serbs are under threat from Kosovo Albanians.
I also note with some interest the similarities in the use of near proxies during the Cold War. The West has acknowledged Kosovo’s sovereignty and is ostensibly on Kosovo’s “side,” as it were. Meanwhile, Russia is squarely in Serbia’s corner on this one, and has not recognized Kosovo’s sovereignty. It doesn’t help tensions that former Kosovo PM Ramush Haradinaj was arrested in France on a Serbian arrest warrant, and Serbia is demanding his extradition to face war crimes charges. Meanwhile, a French court last Thursday ordered Haradinaj’s release pending a decision on whether to extradite him to Serbia. He will stay in France under judicial supervision while the court ponders its decision, and Serbia is threatening not to cooperate on future extradition requests, including terrorism cases (that one has to have hit France in the balls, considering how focused they are on CT matters in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in the past two years).
Most of this is me mulling this out in my own mind. There are definite differences between Russia’s obvious violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including its “referendum,” in which we have seen pre-completed ballots in favor of Russia shipped in. We also haven’t seen the infiltration of Serbian troops into Northern Mitro or any part of Kosovo, and the claims that Russia somehow funded the offending train are at this point nothing more than Thaci’s speculation.
Serbia hasn’t recognized Kosovo’s independence, so to them, it’s a renegade province that is still part of Serbia.
There is also some truth that Serbian populations in Kosovo are threatened by Kosovo Albanians.There are reported allegations of attacks against Serbs inside Kosovo, a bus with Serbian athletes was stoned on its way to a football match in Tirana last year, and one of Serbia’s most treasured Orthodox sites and one of the world’s most beautiful Heritage Sites came under grenade attack in 2007. There’s a reason why Italian peacekeepers keep a watchful eye on the site. Are these attacks sufficient justification for meddling in the affairs of a sovereign nation – a nation whose independence Serbia has yet to recognize? I suppose that depends on where your sympathies lie.
If you’re Serbia, and are reluctant to release what you consider to be the historical, cultural, and religious heart of your country, and refuse to recognize that said heart has decided to become an independent nation, then you will use any justification possible as grounds for intervention in Kosovo affairs.
If you’re Albanian, and you remember not so distant history that resulted in a 1999 NATO military intervention, are concerned about Serbia’s and Russia’s (a permanent member of the UN Security Council) refusal to accept Kosovo as a country, and are worried that the much stronger Serbian Armed Forces will invade your country, even if there are attacks against Serbs, you’re unlikely to have a whole lot of sympathy for the victims.
There’s certainly a case to be made about the similarities in strategy that could possibly result in the annexation of Northern Mitro, but to call it a “Crimea model?”
I think that’s a step too far.