Behind the tensions between Serbia and Kosovo: NATO and Russia

Posted on December 28, 2022


L’serbian army has just been placed on alert at the Kosovo border, the result of a long deterioration in relations between Belgrade and Pristina. According to the Serbian government, it is a question of “protecting the Serbs in Kosovo”. This speech is reminiscent of that of the Russia before the onslaughtUkraine.

However, the situation in the Balkans presents particularities that must not be ignored, just as we must not ignore the weight of NATO and Russia behind the local actors, which raises fears of a new indirect front between the two adversaries. ; even if the intensity will be less strong.

A local situation different from Ukraine

If the declaration of the Serbian government can make think of the Russian rhetoric to protect the Russian-speaking populations, the situation in the Balkans reveals ethnic and religious tensions much more present than in Ukraine. Religious Serbia orthodox christian (85% of the population) faces a Kosovo of the Sunni Muslim faith (95% of the population in 2011). These religions continue to have a major impact on the lives of local residents: a 2018 survey showed that 83% of the Kosovo population and 70% of Serbs consider themselves religious (in comparison, 39% of Hungarians and Austrians consider themselves religious). Moreover, if the Serbs are Slavs, the Kosovars are ethnically Albanian.

If Ukraine is also crossed by questions of language (Russian and Ukrainian), even religious (Orthodox Church of Russia against that of Ukraine), the source of the tensions is above all linked to questions of nation. Ukraine is a border between Russia and the West. In the Balkans, religious and imperial wars are sources of tension.

An uncooperative attitude on both sides

The Kosovo government seeks to blame Moscow for this rise in tensions.

According to them, Russia is seeking to create a new front to distract from Ukraine. Nevertheless, as Dr. James Carafano Deputy Director of the Heritage Foundation (unlikely a Russophile) points out: “Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has been aggressive even with Kosovo’s staunchest allies. He even threatened KFOR troops (NATO mission in Kosovo). »

Demokraciaa Kosovar media, indeed reports tensions between the commander of KFOR and the government of Kosovo.

The risk of activating the great political game between NATO and Russia

Even if Moscow is not the source of the tensions, it seems unlikely that it will stay out of the conflict. Serbia is the European country with the most positive opinion of Russia. The Slovak think tank GLOBSEC had surveyed public opinion in Central European countries before 2022. Serbia stood out with 74% of the population viewing Russia as a victim of the West and 71% viewing NATO as provoking Russia. A suspicious position that can be explained by the NATO intervention in Serbia in 1999.

In the event of a new conflict between Kosovo and Serbia, there is no doubt that Russia will jump at the chance to support Serbia. Conversely, if KFOR currently seeks to avoid conflict and escalation, in the event of an attack by Serbia against Kosovo, it risks entering into conflict with NATO. Especially since the independence of Kosovo in 2008 was mainly supported by NATO countries and their non-Western allies (even if some European countries do not recognize it as Spain potentially because of the question of the Catalan independence). And on the contrary not recognized by a certain number of countries starting with the BRICS (Brazil, China, Russia, India and South Africa).

And the Europeans?

As Dr. James Carafano points out:

“Neither the EU, nor Germany, nor Austria, traditional interlocutors, exercised sufficient leadership. Croatia haven’t been very active lately. Albania is distracted by internal problems. Hungary and Turkey were more constructive (in my opinion). However, the influence of the United States in the region is significant.»

Both Hungary and Turkey have every interest in following events very closely. The Balkans were territories of the Ottoman and Hungarian empires and minorities persist. Thus, in the autonomous province of Vojvodina in Serbia, 20% of the population is Hungarian under the Yugoslav period and 300,000 people in 2008. Given the importance given by Budapest to Hungarian minorities, Hungary is likely to be at the heart of the news.

Behind the tensions between Serbia and Kosovo: NATO and Russia