Kosovo has closed its main border crossing with Serbia after the Serbs erected barricades there, in one of the worst crises in recent years in this region. Moscow supports Belgrade against NATO while the United States and the European Union call for de-escalation.
The United States and the European Union called on Wednesday for an “unconditional de-escalation” in this region where Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic ruled last week that the situation was “on the verge of armed conflict”. “We call on everyone to exercise maximum restraint,” added the US State Department and EU diplomacy in a joint statement.
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Several hundred Kosovo Serbs have erected roadblocks since December 10 in northern Kosovo to protest against the arrest of a former Serbian policeman, paralyzing traffic to two border crossings with Serbia. Kosovo police and international peacekeepers then suffered several attacks involving firearms, as Serbia put its armed forces on high alert.
By Tuesday evening, dozens of protesters on the Serbian side of the border had blocked traffic with trucks and tractors towards Merdare, the main border crossing, leading Kosovo to close the crossing. “This illegal blockade has prevented the free movement of people and goods, therefore we invite our citizens and compatriots to circulate through the other border posts,” the police said in a statement. Pristina also called on NATO peacekeepers (KFOR) to clear the barricades.
Serbian Defense Minister Milos Vucevic said on Wednesday that blocking the roads was a “democratic and peaceful” means of protest, and that Belgrade was keeping its line of communication open with Western diplomats to resolve the crisis.
Serbia does not recognize the independence of its former southern province, populated overwhelmingly by Albanians, which it had proclaimed in 2008. It encourages the 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo to challenge the local authorities, at a time when Pristina wants to sit down its sovereignty over the whole territory.
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At the beginning of November, hundreds of Serbian police officers integrated into the Kosovo police, as well as judges, prosecutors and other officials, left their posts en masse. They were thus protesting against a decision, now suspended, of the Pristina government to prohibit Serbs living in Kosovo from using registration plates issued by Serbia.
Berlin expressed concern on Wednesday about the “very bad signal” given by the reinforced Serbian military presence on the border, denouncing the “nationalist rhetoric” of Belgrade. “Kosovo Serbs should immediately remove these barricades in Kosovo and Serbia has a special responsibility in this regard and should work towards the immediate removal of these barricades,” German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger said. .
Switzerland is also concerned about the situation. Via the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) on Tuesday on Twitter, she called on “all parties concerned to refrain from any action that could further escalate the situation”.
Russia for its part, and conversely, reaffirmed its support for Belgrade in this crisis. “We have very close allied, historical and spiritual relations with Serbia,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that Russia was following “very carefully what is happening and how the rights of the Serbs are ensured”. “And, of course, we support Belgrade in the actions it takes,” he stressed.
According to Dmitri Peskov, “it is natural that Serbia defends the rights of Serbs who live nearby in such difficult conditions and that it reacts harshly when these rights are violated”.
Russia, embroiled in the war it launched on February 24 against NATO-supported Ukraine, has denied seeking to destabilize the situation in this other region of Europe where it is traditionally close to Serbia orthodox. “Serbia is a sovereign country. And it is absolutely wrong to look there for any destructive influence from Russia,” said Dmitry Peskov.
Kosovo: Russia supports Serbia, United States and EU call for de-escalation