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Intel Brief: Serbia/Kosovo

Updated: Jul 12, 2023


 

Date: 06/06/2023

Location: Serbia and Kosovo


Parties involved:

Kosovo government, Serbian government, ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, NATO/KFOR troops.







The Events:

  • The tensions between ethnic Serbians and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have been reignited since December 2022 after an incident concerning license plates that were produced in Serbia and handed out to ethnic Serbs in Kosovo. Kosovo did not recognize the license plates as legal and told Serbia to stop producing them. This shortly led to a border dispute between the two countries. Through negotiations with EU representatives the dispute was resolved. But the ethnic tensions did not go away.

  • On 23/04/2023 local elections in four ethnic Serb majority municipalities were held. Ethnic Serbs decided to boycott the election and there was only a turn-out of 3.8%. This meant that four ethnic Albanian mayors were elected and this angered the ethnic Serbs.

  • On 26/05/2023 ethnic Serbs gathered in front of the municipal buildings in Zvecan, Zubin Potok and Leposavic, all in northern Kosovo, to protest against the installation of the Albanian leaders of the three Serb-majority municipalities after the boycotted elections. The Kosovar police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the protesters in Zvecan. On the same day, Serbia’s military was put on high alert and troops were deployed close to the border with Kosovo. France, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States criticized the use of force by the Kosovar authorities and expressed their concerns about Serbia’s decision to put its military on high alert in a joint statement. Protests against the installation of the Albanian leaders continued over the weekend.


  • On 29/05/2023, more riots broke out in the Kosovo city of Zvecan. Ethnic Serbs clashed with KFOR peacekeepers during a protest and over 30 KFOR peacekeepers as well as 52 ethnic Serbs were injured. NATO, which is in charge of the KFOR peacekeeping mission, has responded by sending 700 extra troops to Kosovo.


  • On 01/06/2023 the President of Kosovo, Vjosa Osmani, and its Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, stated that they are open to new mayoral elections in four municipalities in the north of Kosovo that are Serb-dominated. The statement followed pressure from French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and the EU, who called for new elections.


  • Meanwhile, there have been large protests in the Serbian capital Belgrade. Protests have erupted because of two mass shootings in the beginning of May 2023. These protests, that are targeting the government of President Vucic, are likely to continue in the coming weeks.


Analysis and implications:

  • It is likely that Serbian President Vucic, who is under constant pressure of protests in his country, is using the crisis in Zvecan as a distraction for internal problems. But the pressure from the EU, the US and NATO on both Serbia and Kosovo will have an effect on Vucic’s decisions whether or not to militarily intervene in Kosovo. It seems that a large part of the Serbian population has no taste for an increase in military tension between the two countries.


  • In the meantime it seems that the pressure from the EU and US on Kosovo is having the desired effect of calming the situation down. With the addition of 700 NATO troops to the region, to help with safeguarding the situation in Zvecan, the two sides seem to be ready to sit at the negotiating table.


  • One of the results of these negotiations is that there is a likely chance of new mayoral elections coming to the north of Kosovo. If these elections are seen as fair by the ethnic Serbians in areas like Zvecan it is likely that the tensions between the two countries will diminish for at least a short period of time until the next crisis happens.


  • Ethnic Serbian nationalism in the North of Kosovo has been growing more and more violent recently and there have been assaults on ethnic Albanians in Serbian dominated neighborhoods in, for instance, Mitrovice. Nationalist hooligan groups have attacked several ethnic Albanians and these same hooligans seem to form a large part of the violent crowd at the riots in Zvecan. These hooligans have been seen using military grade stun grenades wrapped in plastic foil with metal ball bearings in them. Several KFOR soldiers have been seriously wounded by these stun grenades. The President of Kosovo has blamed the Serbian government for supplying the hooligans with weapons. Whether this is true or not is difficult to surmise.


 

Concluding notes:

It is likely that the tension between Kosovo and Serbia will decrease as the negotiations will continue. The pressure that is given by the US, the EU and NATO is hard to ignore for the two parties who both have aspirations of becoming more and more involved in European affairs. However, it is not likely that the ethnic Serbians in Kosovo will soften their stance any time soon. The tensions between the two ethnic groups, Serbian and Albanian, are high. A new round of elections might diffuse the situation in the short term, but in the long term there seems to be no decline in hostilities between the two ethnic groups. Serbia will feel the need to support ethnic Serbs in Kosovo and it will be hard for Serbia not to put military pressure on Kosovo. President Vucic of Serbia is also likely to want to keep diverting attention away from internal political struggles and pressure on his position by feeding the tensions between the two countries. It is unlikely however that this will actually lead to a military confrontation, especially because that would mean a direct confrontation with KFOR/NATO troops that are in Kosovo to keep the peace. Serbia will not be militarily able to win such a confrontation, especially with Russia, its long-time supporter, engaged in a costly war in Ukraine.


It is not likely that the two countries will be friendly towards each other in the near future.


 


06_06_2023 Situation Kosovo_Serbia
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