Back in August of 2022, a series of protests, NATO patrols, and minimal gunfire from unknown gunmen sparked increase tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. Now, with a proposal for license plate laws falling through once again, Serbia’s President Vucic is apparently seeking NATO permission to send forces into Kosovo.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and in 2013 the European Union mediated the signing of the Brussels Agreement; an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia which states that the two would start to normalize relations. In 2022, Serbian President Vucic claims the agreement “no longer exists.”
Serbia, and its staunch supporter Russia, do not recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty.
Recently, an odd issue around license plates — but what is really about Serbian nationality — has reinvigorated tensions in North Kosovo where many ethnic Serbs still live. Protests, assaults, and resignations have coincided with Pristina’s decision to replace Serbian issued license plates for Kosovan ones. The license plate issue is a microcosm of Serbian unwillingness to play by the rules with Kosovo.
President Vucic is now using that tension to attempt to escalate the division between Kosovo and Serbia. Vucic is a controversial figure in Europe. For example, he is a close supporter of Russia and refrained from implementing sanctions as a result of the invasion of Ukraine while the EU did.
Vucic is attempting to rely on a resolution made by the UN from 1999 which stated that Serbia would be allowed to deploy up to 1000 armed personnel in ethnically Serb regions in Kosovo for purposes of defense and protection, specifically as it pertains to the Orthodox church. This was at a time before Kosovo had broken from Serbia, however.
Conflict between the two states only ended when NATO sent peacekeepers to remove Serbian forces. To this day, more than 3000 peacekeepers remain to stave off violence between Kosovar Serbs and Albanians. It marks more than 20 years of NATO peacekeeping in the region.
Serbian President Vucic stated that while he will seek approval to send troops into Kosovo, that NATO will ultimately reject the request. This isn’t to say it will never happen though. There have been multiple instances of unknown gunmen firing shots at officers at the border, roadblocks, and protests. So while uniformed boots on the ground is unlikely, Serbia could still use some proxy tactics to continue to subvert their agreement to normalize relations.
Vucic is a controversial figure, said by many in Europe to have no regard for rule of law or democratic ideals. Vucic is a supporter of Vladimir Putin, and RFE recently reported that Serbian ultranationalists even visited the Wagner Group HQ in Russia, hoping to gain support for a possible conflict in Kosovo from the now-famous Russian mercenary group.
The 1990’s saw a series of great instability in the Balkans, with many bloody conflicts and insurgencies. The period was Europe’s bloodiest since WWII, a title now only unseated by the current war in Ukraine. So while war between Kosovo and Serbia is unlikely at the moment, the dispute is a small part of a big conflict that the regional ethnic groups view as unfinished.
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