Despite warnings from the West that such demands are unlikely to be accepted and will only increase tensions in that region of the Balkans, Serbia on Thursday formally demanded that its security forces return to the secessionist former Serbian province of Kosovo.
According to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, the government requested permission for up to 1,000 Serbian army and police officers to return to the Serb-populated north of the nation, where they had previously been expelled by the Western alliance in 1999. The request was made to the commander of NATO-led peacekeepers stationed in Kosovo at the time.
The request specifies the return of between 100 and 1,000 (Serbian) troops to Kosovo, according to Vucic. He said that despite the fact that it is “almost certain that this will not be granted,” the request will be put on the record.
Serbian government representatives assert that a United Nations resolution officially declaring the Kosovo war over permits the return of Serbian forces to Kosovo. NATO bombed Serbia to put an end to the conflict, to Serbia’s bloody crackdown on civilians and ethnic Albanian separatists, and to order Serbian troops out of Kosovo.
Serbian officials assert that their security forces are capable of defending the minority Serb population in Kosovo against harassment by the country’s Albanian majority, in contrast to the NATO- and EU-led peacekeeping missions.
Because it would effectively mean turning over security of Kosovo’s northern regions populated by ethnic Serbs to Serbian forces, allowing the return of Serbian troops is unlikely to be approved. This would cause tensions in the Balkans to skyrocket.
Officials from Germany and the United States have vehemently rejected the idea of Serbian security forces returning to the area.
Following the installation of barricades on the main roads in the province’s north by Serbs in protest of the arrest of a former Kosovo Serb police officer, tensions between Serbia and Kosovo erupted once more over the past week. The barricades were used as a shooting range.
Serbs, who make up less than 10% of Kosovo’s population, increased the combat readiness of their troops on the border with Kosovo and issued a warning that they would not remain silent in the event that they were attacked.
Kosovo’s statehood has been accepted by the U.S. and much of the West. Serbia and its allies Russia and China have rejected it and have blocked Kosovo from joining the U.N. and other international institutions.
There are worries that Russia may try to sway at least some of the international spotlight away from its invasion of Ukraine by pressuring Serbia into another military intervention in Kosovo. Serbia has been steadily moving away from its stated goal of joining the EU and toward a close political and military alliance with Moscow under populist leader Vucic.
According to Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, “the center (Moscow) has instructed the Russian Ambassador to Serbia, who is in close contact with the Serbian leadership, to take concrete steps of support (to Serbia), which include normalizing or proposing ways to normalize the situation” in Kosovo.
A first step on what appears to be a very long road to eventual membership, Kosovo’s prime minister formally submitted his country’s application to be granted candidacy status for membership in the European Union on Thursday.
The application was given to Czech Minister for European Affairs Mikulas Bek by Prime Minister Albin Kurti, whose nation is currently in the rotating EU presidency.