Kosovar government expels Russian diplomats alleging national security concerns, but decision has no legal basis.
Written by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Anti-Russian hysteria around the world seems to be far from over. Alleging national security concerns, Kosovo took an extremely disrespectful attitude and expelled two Russian diplomats, causing a serious diplomatic crisis. The justifications for the allegation are unsubstantiated and do not prove the alleged involvement of the Russian officials in activities that would put Kosovo’s security at risk, which indicates that Pristina’s action may have been influenced by the global anti-Russian wave that the West has been encouraging in recent months.
Two Russian diplomats left Kosovo on Saturday after being declared “persona non grata” by Pristina, which accuses them of threatening national security. The Kosovar Foreign Ministry made the statement against the Russian officials at the request of President Vjosa Osmani, according to a statement issued by the government on Friday. Osmani had allegedly received information that supposedly indicates some “harmful activities” by diplomats, which is why she issued an order for the ministry to expel them.
Commenting on the case in her account on a social network, Osmani said: “The structures of Kosovo are resolute in the fight against the harmful influence of the Russian Federation and its satellites in the region, which are working to destroy our achievements and those of the United States, NATO and the EU. Therefore, we will continue to work closely with our American and European allies to prevent Kosovo and our region from falling victim to Russia’s destabilizing ambitions”.
No details have been officially provided so far on what such alleged dangerous activities committed by the Russians would be. The very identity of the diplomats was omitted. But Kosovar TV has spread footage of Russian officials circulating along the Serbian border claiming to be the ones expelled this weekend. The diplomats allegedly appearing in the images released by the media are Denis Vengerskii and Alexey Krivosheev, but there is no official information about this so far. There are also rumors that at least one of the expelled diplomats had previously been declared “persona non grata” by Albania for similar reasons. In Pristina, there is a suspicion that the circulation of diplomats between Serbian and Kosovar territories indicates some kind of pro-Serbian “conspiracy” led by Russian officials.
The main problem in the arguments used by the Kosovars is that the local government is treating Russia as a “similar” when this recognition does not exist on the part of Moscow. The Kosovar government is a de facto government, without official recognition by all states – and Russia itself does not recognize Kosovo. The presence of Russian diplomats in Pristina is not a representation of the bilateral relationship between two states, as for Russia Kosovo is not a country. The reason for this presence, on the other hand, is the existence of a peace project of the United Nations in which Russia participates as an observer, cooperating so that there is no increase in conflicts in the Balkans. Russian diplomats are working with the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, which prevents any legal force on the part of Pristina’s decision. It is the UN which supervises the Russian diplomats’ presence in Kosovo, not the de facto Kosovar government, which is not even recognized by Moscow.
The Russian Embassy in Serbia commented on the episode, confirming the absence of recognition and, consequently, of legality in the Kosovo de facto government’s attitude: “We do not recognize the ‘independence’ of Kosovo, and, accordingly, the regional ‘government’ and other ‘agencies.’ For us, no ‘decisions’ of Pristina have legal force. On the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 1244, we cooperate with the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), including on this issue”.
Indeed, there are some reasons why the Kosovo government has been trying to increase its antipathy towards Russians lately. In the internal scenario of the Balkans, some recent crises have increased local polarization. Last week, Kosovo Special Forces representatives were sent to the northern region of Yarine and Brnjak in order to fight local citizens who were protesting against an operation led by the Kosovo Interior Ministry to combat illegal border trade. Reports indicate that there was great violence in the clashes, with the local population reacting to the police force. Considering that the region is extremely tense and complicated, it is possible that Russian diplomats (in the exercise of their role as peace observers within the UN mission) have been there and even crossed the border with Serbia to establish negotiations aimed at appeasing the situation. Previously, Moscow had already issued pronouncements calling on Kosovar forces to alleviate the violence against Serbian citizens in that region, and this has certainly contributed to the rise of Pristina’s anti-Russian antipathy.
Also, on the international scenario, the current moment is one of great anti-Russian polarization. NATO’s recent attitudes have certainly boosted anti-Russian paranoia globally and Kosovo, as an ally of the West, has taken part in this. However, the illegality of the decision is evident, and it is necessary for the UN to make an urgent statement on the issue, calling the de facto Kosovar government to retract.
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