Borysfen Intel

The Balkan syndrome. Serbia and Kosovo between the U.S., NATO, EU and the Russian Federation.

February 11, 2013
<p>The Balkan syndrome. Serbia and Kosovo between the U.S., NATO, EU and the Russian Federation.</p>

Despite the peacekeeping efforts of the international community, today one of the main sources of instability in Europe in the security field remains the conflict around Kosovo. At this, the measures taken by the UN, NATO and EU, as well as their partners, did allow to stop the armed conflict in the region, but were unable to provide reliable stability and security in the country.

Moreover, during 2012, the situation in Kosovo got another aggravation, which made the NATO leaders stop the process of reducing peacekeeping forces KFOR and take additional measures to prevent the spread of ethnic hatred in the region.

 Map of Kosovo
Map of Kosovo

The reason for this was the completion of the so-called period of "controlled independence" of Kosovo (the actual transfer of authority from international bodies of UN and EU to Kosovo- Albanian government of the country), which allowed Kosovo authorities to intensify measures to establish a full control over the northern municipalities of the republic (Zubin Potok, Zvenach, Leposovach, Kosovska Mitrovica) and several other municipalities (Gracanica, Strpce, mountain), where Serbs are the majority.

This activity was organized under a special "Plan of the integration of Serbian population of the northern Kosovo municipalities into the society" and included several aspects, namely the termination of activity of parallel Serb local authorities in the northern municipalities of Kosovo and opening offices of representatives of Kosovo government (particularly in Kosovo Mitrovica) in their territories, and ensuring Kosovo's jurisdiction over customs checkpoints on the border between Serbian areas of Kosovo and Serbia.

At the same time, in order to achieve their goals, Kosovo-Albanian authorities have tightened economic pressure on the Serbian population of the northern districts of the territory, especially by stopping electricity supply (at the excuse of non-paid debts for consumed electricity), raider grabs of Serbian enterprises and squeezing Serbian businesses out of the region.

This caused an extremely negative reaction of both, Serbian population of Kosovo and the Serbian government. Thus, the political leaders of Kosovo Serbs flatly refused to stop the parallel activities of the Serbian local authorities in the north of Kosovo. In addition, the local Serbian population began a mass protest against the policy of central Kosovo authorities, and also started blocking access roads to the customs checking point at the Kosovo-Serbian border. There was also a series of attacks on the customs points, one of which was completely destroyed. Against this background, got activated cases of interethnic clashes in the mixed areas of living of ethnic Albanians and Serbs.

In the mentioned above situation, NATO peacekeeping forces — KFOR and the EU — EULEX-Kosovo intensified patrolling northern Kosovo in order to prevent the spread of ethnic conflicts between Albanian and Serbian populations. Meanwhile, the KFOR forces were involved in unblocking roads, blocked by Kosovo Serbs, and in guarding the border check points, — in some cases this led to clashes of the local population with peacekeepers. In addition, Kosovo Serbs accused KFOR and EULEX-Kosovo in actual supporting the positions of the Albanian government of Kosovo and started creating obstacles in the activity of peacekeeping forces. This led to increased threats to personnel of peacekeeping troops in Kosovo, Ukrainian servicemen included.

In its turn, to counteract the Kosovo-Albanian authorities’ actions aiming at the establishment of their control over Serb areas of the country, the Serb leadership is realizing its own strategy about Kosovo, which suggests creation of conditions for preserving Serbian positions in Kosovo through the country’s actual federalization. As part of this approach, in December 2012 the Government of Serbia completed the development of the "Political platform for solving the Kosovo conflict," which suggests giving autonomous status with broad powers (creating a so-called "Autonomous community of Serbian municipalities") to the Serbian municipalities of the country.

According to the document, the following is to be done:

  • creation of independent bodies of legislative and executive power (responsible for political, economic and humanitarian spheres) at the territory of "Autonomous communities of Serbian municipalities”;
  • ensuring participation of Kosovo Serbs and other ethnic minorities in the political life of Kosovo by establishing special quotas for them in the Kosovo Parliament;
  • ensuring the country’s security exclusively by the military sub-unions of the EU, armed forces of Serbia and Albania, as well as by Kosovo police (the latter must include representatives of Kosovo Serbs);
  • adoption by the Parliament of the Law on return of refugees and their descendants;
  • signing the agreement between the leaders of Kosovo and Serbian Orthodox church on regulation of some problems connected with the church’s property and activity at the territory of the country.

In the view of sharpening of the situation around Kosovo, alongside with increasing purely peacekeeping activity in the region, the EU leaders also activate political measures in order to help the negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo. This strategy of the European Union to resolve the Kosovo problem suggests giving an opportunity for acceleration of the European integration of Serbia and Kosovo (including in terms of starting negotiations for joining the European Union) in exchange for reaching the compromises on most problematic issues in their relations.

The result of the practical implementation of this approach was the signing in December 2012 of the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo on a joint control of the four checkpoints on the Serbian-Kosovo border (near towns of Konchul, Merdare, Yaryne and Banyak). According to this agreement, at the mentioned above check points, there will work together representatives of international forces, Serbian and Kosovo-Albanian customs officials and police.

Against the background of the successful talks, EU Council of Ministers has given a positive assessment of Serbia's readiness to start negotiations about its joining the European Union. Negotiations on this issue can begin already in summer of 2013 in case of achieving real progress in the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Prishtina.

The mentioned above situation has become a real example of achieving improvements in solving long-term conflicts in Europe with the participation of the UN, U.S., NATO and EU. And it differs greatly from the "frozen" conflicts at the former Soviet Union territories, which are under Russia’s control and have no prospects for being solved in the nearest future.

All this directly regards to Russian interests in the Balkans. In contrast to the efforts of the EU in the Balkans, Russia is trying to keep its position in the region by maintaining a strategic partnership with Serbia. In this regard, Russia’s activity is focused mainly in the security and energy spheres which are most important for Serbia.

Thus, at the invitation of Russia, Serbia’s Parliament is discussing the question of the possibility of Serbia’s joining the CSTO as an observer. This way Russia is trying to create obstacles on the way of the development of Serbia’s cooperation with security structures of NATO and EU.

At the same time, over the last few years, Russian “Gazprom” has actually established its control over the energy sector of Serbia. In particular, the Russian monopolist and its daughter companies have got as their property or took into a long term lease actually all gas resources at the Serbian territory, the gas transporting system of the country, as well as the only Serbian underground gas depot “Banat Yard”.

Furthermore, Serbia is seen by Russia as an important partner in the realization of the project of construction of the "South Stream” pipeline, which is strategically important for Moscow in that it gives opportunities to enter the European market, bypassing Ukraine. Within the framework of the mentioned above plans, in November 2012 "Gazprom" and the Serbian company "Serbiagas" signed an investment agreement on "South Stream". This slows down the process of European integration of Serbia, which, in its turn, complicates also the conflict around Kosovo.

The population of Kosovo
The population of Kosovo

Along with this, an additional problem in solving the Kosovo problem is an extremist activity of both, Serbian and Kosovo radical nationalist organizations. In particular, an expression of such actions of Serbia was the decision of local authorities of Preshevo Serbian province (southern district of Serbia, populated mainly by ethnic Albanians) to pull down the monument to Albanian militias of so-called "Liberation Army of Preshevo area, Bujanovac and Medvedzhy."

In response to this, Albanian extremists began long-term anti-Serbian actions in Kosovo, including attacks on the Serbian population of the province, and destruction of Serbian cultural and religious sites at the territory of Kosovo. This situation has created a real threat to the process of establishing compromises between Serbia and Kosovo, which was outlined by the negotiations of Heads of Governments of Kosovo and Serbia.

All the mentioned above allows to make a conclusion about the existence of certain forces, not interested in solving the Kosovo conflict. Taking into consideration the analysis of political, economic and security goals of the interested sides, the main such force can be Russia, to whom the Kosovo conflict is one of the instruments to maintain its positions in the Balkans.

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