US implemented punitive measures against Kosovo after NATO peacekeepers were attacked by Serb protestors on Monday. US accused Kosovo of ignoring the its advice to prevent conflicts in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo.
Following the violent skirmish in Zvecan on Monday, the United States and its allies have announced measures against the Kosovan administration for ignoring their advice on deescalating the tension in Northern Kosovo. Consequently, Kosovo has been expelled from an ongoing multinational military exercise in Europe led by the United States. Kosovo will not be participating in Defender Europe 23 exercise helmed by NATO as a part of the measures that the United States have implemented.
Furthermore, American ambassador to Kosovo, Jeffrey Hovenier, claimed that the United States “foresaw the consequences” of forcing ethnic-Albanian mayors in regions that house a majority of Serbs. While the United States is a strong ally of Kosovo, ambassador Hovenier expressed that the United States “has no enthusiasm” to widen Kosovo’s international recognition. He also asserted that the United States will no longer push for Kosovo’s membership in NATO or the European Union.
NATO to Deploy Additional Troops to Kosovo
Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, announced that additional 700 NATO troops are to be deployed in Kosovo to curb the violent unrest following the skirmish between its troops and Serb protesters. The 700 troops are to be deployed from the operational reserve force designated for western Balkans, while an additional battalion of reserve forces would be put on standby to be deployed if needed.
According to a recent media source, movement of NATO troops in four big convoys was witnessed, heading to the North of Kosovo on Tuesday afternoon. Notably, NATO already has a heavy deployment of around 4,000 troops in Kosovo.
Monday Riots and the Escalating Situation
On Monday, 30 NATO peacekeeping forces were guarding three town halls in Northern Kosovo, when Serbian protesters tried to forcibly enter the town halls against the freshly-elected ethnic-Albanian mayors. The conflict dates back to April, when mayoral elections were held in Northern Kosovo dominated by majority-Serbian population. The Serbs boycotted the elections, allowing ethnic-Albanians to seize the local councils due to a low voter turnout of 4%. Serbs are now protesting against the ‘forcible’ appointment ethnic-Albanians in an ethnic-Serb majority region.
In the clashes on Monday, 30 NATO peacekeeping troops were injured, while 52 protesters were also hurt in defensive measures deployed by the troops. The tension continued to escalate to Tuesday, when several NATO troops from the US, Italy, and Poland guarded a municipal building in anti-riot gear as Serbs protested against a newly-elected Albanian mayor.
The majority of Serbian population in Northern Kosovo never accepted the declaration of independence that Kosovo made in 2008, partitioning itself from Serbia. These Serbs consider Serbian city of Belgrade as their capital, 25 years after Kosovo declared independence. More than 90% of Kosovo’s population is of ethnic-Albanians, prompting a constant state of conflict between the Serbs and the Albanians.
US and Allies Rebuke Kosovo, Serbia puts Army on Alert
The US and its allies gave a firm rebuke to Kosovo for the wrongful installation of Albanian mayors in Serb-majority northern Kosovo, thus escalating tensions with neighboring Serbia. They said that Kosovo has undermined the efforts at de-escalation.
Aleksandar Vucic, President of Serbia, put his army on full alert and deployed them closer to the Kosovan border. Secretary General Stoltenberg strongly condemned the “unprovoked attacks” against the Kfor troops. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticised the Kosovo government for forcibly entering municipal buildings and urged Prime Minister Albin Kurti to alter direction as the situation continues to escalate.