The United States put its foot down Tuesday, Dec. 13, over Serbia-Kosovo tensions, directly aiming comments at Serbia and rejecting and talk of Belgrade’s plans to re-introduce troops to Kosovo to protect ethnic Serbs there.
“We categorically reject [the return of troops]. We do not support this,” US envoy to the Balkans Gabriel Escobar said, as cited by Slobodnaevrop/Radio Free Europe.
The Serbian government’s announcement, backed somewhat emotionally by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, came following the arrest of an ethnic Serb policeman in Kosovo on Saturday, Dec. 10. This resulted in local Serbs erecting barricades and blocking traffic in North Kosovo—and a further war of words between Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Vucic.
Vucic, for his part, has remarked on the Serbian request to KFOR to re-insert Serbian troops—adding that he fully expected this request to be rejected. What may not have been expected are the strong words from both the US and the EU in the requests wake, with EU representatives also voicing anger that tensions have not subsided.
Yet this frustration has been directed at both sides, with EU and US representatives having also criticized Kurti for his hard-line stand over forced license plate re-registration for ethnic Serbs in Kosovo that some believed would result in violence from both sides. This was averted by a last-minute set of talks in Brussels—during which Kurti also reportedly at first was unmoving. This contrasted markedly with Vucic’s stance, who has repeated that he is committed to peace and dialogue. That said, the license-plate registration issue was a no-go for Vucic, as this meant for most Serbs de facto recognition of Kosovo as an independent state.
Even so various media outlets have discussed a “secret agreement” now approved by the EU to reduce tensions, but specifics of the agreement have not been made public—and it is still unclear as to whether such an agreement exists.
Escobar did point out, however, that the US through KFOR is committed to Kosovo security.
Meanwhile, the mutual accusations have reached a fever pitch against the background of incidents, such as a stun grenade thrown at KFOR troops. Serbia Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic double-down on statements that there can be no diplomacy as long as Kurti is in power. Kurti has meanwhile claimed that Serbia is attempting to “destabilize” Kosovo, with some papers stating that Serbia is reaching out to Russia and China (although Russia has denied this).
Yet there may still be light at the end of the tunnel, as EU High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell—despite being reportedly angry and frustrated by the situation—repeated that he is sure both sides are committed to de-escalation.
Borrell has spent untold hours with government leaders from both countries, which means such cautious optimism may not be entirely misplaced.
One can only hope.
Photo of Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken at the U.S.-Albania Strategic Dialogue and meets Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhaçka at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on October 25, 2022. Photo by the U.S. Department of State from United States, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.