Highlights

  • Behind fresh Serbia-Kosovo tension
  • Why Serbia put forces on combat alert
  • How current tension is being resolved

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Not Ukraine, this conflict in Europe has more potential to cause NATO-Russia war? | Serbia v Kosovo

Around 1,000 km away from Ukraine, yet another historical territorial dispute is threatening to overwhelm Europe, and further shake the world - the Serbia-Kosovo conflict.

Weapons ready to attack at the border. Soldiers at highest combat alertness. Across the border, roads blocked with trucks and tractors by angry civilians. This are scenes in Europe, but not Ukraine.

Around 1,000 km away from Ukraine, yet another historical territorial dispute is threatening to overwhelm Europe, and further shake the world - the Serbia-Kosovo conflict.

To understand what's happening in Kosovo now, let's first take a look at the events of the past few decades.


THE HISTORY

Kosovo, an Albanian-majority region, was a province of Serbia. Kosovo fought a guerrilla war against Serbian "repression". This led to a war in 1998-99 in which NATO intervened to protect ethnic Albanians. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia doesn't recognise Kosovo as a separate nation.

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Ethnic Serbs, which form 5% of the Kosovar population, reject Pristina's authority. They defy the Kosovo government by not paying power bills, and even fighting the police. The Serbs in Kosovo want an association of autonomous municipalities where the community is in majority. Serbia and Kosovo have agreed to negotiations sponsored by the European Union but there has been no headway.

Now, after days of rising tension, the situation in Kosovo and Serbia appears to be relaxing.


THE CURRENT TENSION

One of the major sparks behind the recent flare-up was the arrest of a former policeman from the Serb community in Kosovo. He was held for allegedly assaulting police personnel. To resolve the tension, the ex-cop was released from jail on 29 December, and put under house arrest.

To protest the ex-cop's arrest, Serbs erected multiple roadblocks in north Kosovo, including on a key road from Serbia. On 28 December, the President of Serbia brokered the removal of the roadblocks.

Another point of dispute simmering recently was a two-month deadline for Serbs to switch to vehicle license plates issued by the Kosovar government. After a protest in which many Serb mayors, judges, and policemen quit, Pristina extended the deadline.


WHY WORLD IS WARY

The reason why this tension is so alarming for the entire world is that NATO, the military alliance led by USA, and Russia have gotten involved in the conflict.

While NATO supports and recognises Kosovo's independence, Russia helps Serbia block Kosovo getting membership in the United Nations, and other international bodies. NATO has deployed around 3,700 troops in Kosovo as peace-keepers. Russia sees NATO action in the region as transgression in its backyard. Also, the European Union has placed 200 EULEX special police officers in Kosovo. Meanwhile, other adversaries of the US, like China, also support Serbia and call Kosovo an autonomous province under Belgrade.

The US and the European Union have appealed to Kosovo and Serbia to maintain peace. But what if the situation deteriorates? Europe is already reeling badly from the Russia-Ukraine war. Can it handle another active military conflict?


CAN EUROPE HANDLE ANOTHER WAR?

One possibility is that if war breaks out, NATO may get involved like it did in 1998-99. Then, Serbia's ally Russia may jump in to counter NATO. This direct confrontation between superpowers has the potential to turn into a wider, possibly nuclear, war. On the economic front, a fresh Serbia-Kosovo war may drive up inflation, making food and energy costlier. It may also cause a major economic recession.

On 28 December, when Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced that Serbs in Kosovo will remove roadblocks, he added that the "distrust" is yet to be removed. The statement encapsulated the fact that even decades later, the core issues which started the conflict have not been addressed. Without this resolution, peace in the region will continue to be fragile.

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