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NATO troops in Kosovo increased their patrols along the northern border with Serbia, in view of an escalation of tensions in recent days.
Serbia deployed armored vehicles by a border crossing and ethnic Serbs in Kosovo protested a decision by Kosovo’s government concerning license plates.
Serbia does not recognize Kosovo nor its license plates and has required drivers from Kosovo to remove them and purchase temporary ones while driving through Serbia.
Likewise, Kosovo opted to impose a similar measure, demanding that Serbian drivers in Kosovo pay €5 ($5.85) for a temporary license plate good in Kosovo for two months.
Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo reacted with fury, blocking roads and the two border crossings to Serbia while Serbia deployed armored vehicles and military aircraft flew over the border.
NATO said it was “closely monitoring the situation across Kosovo” and working “to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities.”
The alliance has also flown helicopters at the border over the last week to keep watch on developments.
The US Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, said on Twitter that American and Canadian defense officials had visited the Jarinje and Brnjak border crossings “to gain a better understanding of the situation,” and expressed gratitude that the NATO mission known as “KFOR was on site as a stabilizing factor.”
They posted a cute selfie from the crossing.
The U.S. and Canadian Defense Attache Offices visited the Jarinje and Brnjacka crossings today to gain a better understanding of the situation. They were glad to note KFOR was on site as a stabilizing factor. pic.twitter.com/3A01FUfXJx
— Američka ambasada (@USEmbassySerbia) September 27, 2021
Though the situation was calm at the border Monday, Peter Stano, the EU’s foreign affairs spokesman, said:
“There are a lot of diplomatic activities going on now both in Brussels and on the ground.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is strongly leaning toward the West, even saying that if push comes to shove, he would call on help from KFOR and NATO.
Serbian President Aleksander Vucic has insisted that Serbia remains “committed to peace” but “won’t allow itself to be humiliated.”
In addition to military maneuvers on the border, Vucic has also vowed not to return to the negotiating table until Kosovo withdraws the forces it had sent to northern Kosovo to enforce the new license plate rules, which he has called a “criminal action.”
This is expected, in view of the anti-Russian hysteria campaign that’s been going on in Serbia’s information sphere in recent months, and it got even more severe after the Russian military attache visited the border as well.
Over the weekend, the Russian ambassador to Serbia toured two military bases near the border with Nebojsa Stefanovic, the Serbian defense minister.
Like Serbia, Russia does not recognize Kosovo.
Still, Vucic is looking towards NATO and KFOR for assistance, expecting to get it when NATO member Albania is sure to stand behind Kosovo and support it.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama visited Kosovo, where he criticized the “theatrical military maneuvers,” of Serbia and said the “only solution is a dialogue.”
Analysts point to the upcoming elections in both countries as a likely catalyst for the increase in tensions now.
Meanwhile, the escalation takes place as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is visiting Moscow on September 29th.
Turkey has quite a bit of influence in Albania-led Kosovo and it shows. As such, Erdogan could be using the escalation as a way to show to Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow may face issues outside of the Middle East.
This, however, provides a chance for Russia – when NATO and the EU show Serbia that all they get is empty claims and no tangible assistance, then Moscow can “swoop in” and be the savior that Vucic needs.
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