Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci believes a Serbian annexation of Kosovo could be coming up in the near future. On the 14th of January, Kosovan police denied a Serbian train entrance into Kosovo. The Train was painted with the national colours of Serbia and had the words “Kosovo is Serbia” written on it. Serbian President, Tomislav Nikolic, later stated that Kosovo’s refusal of entry of train was proof that the country wanted war with Serbia.
Serbia lost control of Kosovo when NATO air strikes forced them to withdraw their troops in 1999 after they had killed 10,000 ethnic Albanian civilians. NATO still has around 5,000 troops stationed in Kosovo to help keep the fragile peace. Serbia has, however, maintained its claim over the territory since and has refused to recognize its independence. Serbia’s denial of Kosovan sovereignty has been continuously supported by Russia, who has strengthened its ties with Serbia over the years. In 2014, Serbia supported the annexation of Crimea by refusing to impose sanctions against Russia and providing informal support to pro-Russian forces in Donbas, in the Ukraine. In February 2016, Russia announced its intention to provide arms to Serbia in order to strengthen the two countries military ties. The pro-Russian outlook is believed to stem from the states similar views on sovereignty, as Serbia believes that Ukraine’s union with Crimea in 1991 was as illegal as the Secession of Kosovo. Russia may also be looking to form a close economic and military alliance with a state that is also closely allied with the European Union, of which Serbia is currently seeking admission.
While Serbia has long held its claim on the Kosovan territory, the president believes that this latest incident is part of a plan similar to Russia’s Crimean annexation, where the Russian government supported pro-Russian groups within Crimea who felt more loyal to them than their own government. The move could fracture the fragile peace in the area and has the potential of sparking a regional war in the Balkans. “If they are killing Serbs, we will send the army, all of us will go, I will go as well…” said Nikolic, who is a former member of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party and in the 1990s fought alongside Serb paramilitaries in Croatia. Thaci said any attempt by Serbia to annex northern Kosovo would set off “a chain reaction across the whole Western Balkans.”
Both Serbia and Kosovo are attempting to join the European Union and normalizing relations is a condition of their progression. But as this incident shows, relations are still heavily strained between the two, and instability in the region may follow if nothing is done to appease the situation.
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