Kosovo minister sees Russian influence in growing tension in Serbia | conflict news

Interior Minister Djelal Svekla has accused Belgrade of supporting Serb protesters as a way to destabilize Kosovo.

Kosovo’s interior minister, Khilal Svekla, has accused Serbia, under Russia’s influence, of trying to destabilize his country by supporting minority Serbs in northern Kosovo who have blocked roads in an escalation of weeks of protests.

Serbs in the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo erected new barricades on Tuesday, hours after Serbia said it had put its military on the highest level of combat after weeks of heightened tensions between Belgrade and Pristina over protests.

The new barriers, made from truckloads, were put up overnight in Mitrovica and mark the first time since the start of the latest crisis that Serbs have blocked streets in one of Kosovo’s main towns. Until now, barriers have been placed on the roads to the borders of Kosovo and Serbia.

The trucks were stopped to block the road connecting the Serb-majority part of the town with the Albanian-majority part.

“It is precisely Serbia, influenced by Russia, which has raised the state of military readiness and which orders the erection of new barriers, in order to justify and protect criminal groups that terrorize,” Svekla said in a statement on Tuesday.

Serbia denies it is trying to destabilize neighboring Kosovo and says it only wants to protect the Serb minority that lives in what is now Kosovo but which Belgrade has not recognized.

Belgrade has put its army and police on high alert, saying it is necessary because it believes Kosovo is preparing to attack Serbs and remove roadblocks by force.

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Since December 10, Serbs in northern Kosovo have erected several roadblocks in and around Mitrovica and have intermittently exchanged fire with the Kosovo Police after the arrest of a former Serb police officer with the KFOR.

The protesters of Serbian origin are calling for the release of the arrested officer, and they have other demands. Their protests follow previous unrest over the issue of car license plates. Years ago, Kosovo wanted Serbs in the north to switch their Serbian license plates to those issued by Pristina as part of the government’s desire to assert its authority over its territory. The Serbs refused.

About 50,000 Serbs live in the northern part of Kosovo and refuse to recognize the government of Pristina or Kosovo as an independent state. They see Belgrade as their capital and want to keep their Serbian license plates.

Kosovo officials have accused Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic of using Serbian state media to foment unrest and provoke incidents that could serve as a pretext for armed intervention in the former Serbian province.

Skender Bertici, an academic at the Kosovo Center for Security Studies, has accused Serbia and Russia of deliberate attempts to disrupt the region.

He suggested that “the idea of ​​Serbia and Russia together is to try to stir up conflicts and crises wherever the West has a role, and to increase this kind of instability in the region to increase the influence of Russia and Serbia in the region.”

Former Kosovo Foreign Minister Melisa Hardinaj also tweeted on Wednesday that the blockades in the north of the country were not motivated by a “lack” of rights for the Serb community, but were a “direct order” from Serbia and Russia to ignite the conflict.

The Kosovo government said the police force had the capacity to remove Serbia’s barricades, but was waiting for NATO’s Kosovo Peacekeeping Force – KFOR – to respond to their request for peacekeepers to remove the barricades.

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted the EU countries to devote more energy to improving relations with the six Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, although they remain reluctant to expand the EU further.

Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with Western support following the 1998-1999 war in which NATO intervened to protect Albanian citizens.

Kosovo is not a member of the United Nations and five EU countries – Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Cyprus – refuse to recognize Kosovo.

Russia, a historic ally of Serbia, also bars Kosovo from membership in the United Nations.

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