Kosovo’s international minister instructed Newsweek she believes Russia would possibly search to foment battle within the Western Balkans to attract consideration away from its devastating invasion of Ukraine and achieve leverage over the West.
Donika Gervalla-Schwarz mentioned Western allies acted too late on Ukraine, which is now within the grip of a conflict that threatens European safety, and that they danger repeating the identical errors by not heeding Kosovo’s warnings about Russia and Serbia within the Balkans.
She mentioned a everlasting NATO presence in Kosovo and fast-tracking the nation’s alliance membership bid are important steps in pre-empting malign Russian motion within the troubled area, which the minister claimed is likely to be facilitated by Moscow’s allies in Serbia.
“That is the most important lesson of the development of [President Vladimir] Putin to the monster he now is: The West let it go for too long, let the danger grow instead of taking the right steps early enough,” Gervalla-Schwarz mentioned. “That is why we will continue engaging our allies in no longer looking the other way and taking quick and swift actions.”
She continued: “Frankly speaking, we understand the situation in the region much better than some of our allies.
“We can learn the writing on the wall. Unfortunately, many observers have been of the opinion that they know our home higher than we do. That might be deadly, as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine, and different locations have confirmed repeatedly.”
Kosovo is pushing ahead in its goal of NATO membership, hoping the alliance can protect the Balkans from a return to the conflicts that devastated the region in the 1990s.
But only 26 of 30 NATO members recognize Kosovo, meaning it would not have the unanimous support needed to join the alliance. Its lack of international recognition means the country also does not have United Nations membership.
Last week, Kosovo’s parliament requested that the government “take all obligatory steps to affix NATO, European Union, Council of Europe and different worldwide organizations.”
Gervalla-Schwarz told Newsweek her government still hopes for success despite the lack of full international recognition and that Kosovo is “making important progress” in meeting NATO’s membership criteria.
Like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo sees an opportunity in the chaos sown by Russia’s latest attack on Ukraine.
“Now we’re looking for the quick monitor for an actual cause: We have all woken up in a completely totally different safety surroundings since Russia’s aggression has been confirmed to not cease in need of invasions of neighbors,” Gervalla-Schwarz said.
Serbia has long been sympathetic to Moscow, juggling this traditional partnership with its ambition to become a member of the European Union. Belgrade and President Alexander Vucic will have won few friends in the bloc with the decision not to join with the unprecedented sanctions imposed on Russia following its aggression against Kyiv.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Ever since, Pristina and Belgrade have been stuck in a tense diplomatic confrontation that at times has threatened to spill over into renewed conflict.
Pristina blames Serbia for stoking tensions among Serb minority communities in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, allegations Belgrade denies.
Even mundane bilateral issues carry the risk of war across the Kosovo-Serbia border. A dispute over license plates last year prompted Belgrade and Pristina to send security forces to the frontier and led to attacks on government offices in Kosovo’s capital.
Russia’s ambassador to Serbia traveled to the border to show Moscow’s support. Belgrade has also significantly expanded its purchase of Russian weapons in recent years, in a move the U.S. has warned could harm Serbia’s EU ambitions.
Gervalla-Schwarz noted that Kosovo last year expelled Russian diplomats for fear the officials were engaged in destabilizing activities.
“We are intently observing makes an attempt to stage so-called false flag operations in an effort to create a false story which may serve Serbia and its ally Russia to militarily intervene in our nation,” the minister said.
“We must be clear about it: Serbia and Russia have each been stepping up their aggression in phrases and deeds for fairly some whereas. The head of Russia’s FSB secret service has simply visited Belgrade after the invasion of Ukraine; certainly, he was not there to have espresso.
“The stakes are getting higher without any doubt. NATO has to react in a way that does not send the wrong signals to Moscow. If we continue to stay mute or to play down the threats it might invite Putin and Vucic to go for more.”
Kosovo’s frustrations with Moscow and Belgrade should not new. But Gervalla-Schwarz mentioned they need to be re-evaluated by Western backers in a radically modified safety panorama.
“It is obvious that the Russian aggression against a sovereign neighbor has fundamentally redrawn the security map of Europe,” Gervalla-Schwarz mentioned.
“And Serbia and Russia might not stop there; they might attempt to create a second front inside NATO and EU geography, in order to keep us busy and partly distract resources from the struggle against Putin’s warfare in Ukraine.”
She warned NATO and EU members to not repeat the identical errors that meant few decision-makers correctly ready for conflict in Ukraine. The Balkans, she mentioned, have to be dealt with higher: We do know the chance of escalation higher than short-term guests and faraway desk officers.”
Gervalla-Schwarz accused Vucic—who served as information minister under Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic while he committed genocide in the 1990s—of “saying one factor however doing one other,” courting the EU but working with Moscow.
“We are warning our companions and allies about these risks right here on the bottom,” she added, noting that Pristina has received support from Turkey, Croatia, Albania, and politicians in the U.S. and other NATO nations.
“These aren’t any empty warnings. Taking time to play these occasions down and go together with conventional diplomacy is now not acceptable, if it ever was within the first place. We must take their phrases and actions critically.
“We are warning that there might be a second misjudgment of a major security threat. Preventing a war by sending strong military signals beforehand is key for NATO after the collective misjudgment of events leading up to the war against Ukraine.”
Kosovans, she mentioned, would additionally battle: “Our partners and allies should not miscalculate…Kosovo would not sit idle if Serbia would try to make an incursion into the north of our country.
“The individuals and the federal government of Kosovo would defend our residents, our sovereignty, and our territory, if obligatory. For positive we don’t need to see that taking place and we challenge warnings as a result of we need to forestall this. But we have to look the hazard within the eye.”
The West taking action early, quickly, and boldly, she said, “will sign Belgrade and Moscow that there isn’t a approach to even take into consideration escalation and even battle within the Balkans.”
The foreign minister said she sees encouraging signs from the West: “The shock and awe of Putin’s brutal aggression haven’t solely stiffened the spine of NATO nations. The EU can also be altering and growing.”
She continued: “We must get the popularity of Kosovo not just for Kosovo anymore. It is a prerequisite for stabilizing the brand new safety order in Europe, in gentle of dangers that Putin will attempt to open up new fronts with the West.
“In his and in Vucic’s eyes, Kosovo is still up for grabs. Only bold steps from EU and NATO members will put an end to that security risk.”
The West, Gervalla-Schwarz mentioned, should shortly be taught the teachings from Ukraine even whereas that conflict rages: “The West came too late in Eastern Europe, in Ukraine…Ukraine has proven one fundamental thing: Ignoring a real risk or playing it down does not prevent it from materializing…Concrete steps are needed. That is why we are asking for these steps. We want to prevent another war.”
Serbia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Nemanja Starovic instructed Newsweek that Belgrade absolutely helps Ukraine’s territorial integrity and “is committed to preservation of peace, stability and tranquility throughout the region.”
He warned that this peace will likely be threatened if Kosovo continues its push for NATO admission, however added that his authorities “has reiterated many times before” that its battle for “territorial integrity” will likely be carried out diplomatically and lawfully.
Starovic added that Serbia renounces “any kind of unilateral measures or, God forbid, violence.”
The Serbian minister accused Pristina of getting “resorted to unilateral measures and unprovoked violence both in September in October last year, breaching previously made arrangements providing for non-deployment of armed forces in Serbian majority areas in the north of Kosovo and Metohija,” referring to Kosovo by the title used when the world was an autonomous a part of Yugoslav Serbia.
Serbia is an lively participant in NATO Partnership for Peace program, Starovic famous, and attaches “great importance to our close cooperation with the Alliance, especially having in mind that NATO KFOR mission represent the only legitimate armed force in Kosovo and Metohija responsible for security of all our citizens living in the province.”
Starovic added: “Portraying our country as someone’s tool, being that Russia or any other great power, is a deliberate distortion aimed at achieving some short-term political goals.”
He mentioned Serbia believes the entire of western Balkans ought to grow to be a part of the EU and “recent tragic events in Ukraine only highlight the need for the EU enlargement in our region to gain momentum.”
But Starovic additionally mentioned Serbia strongly opposes Pristina becoming a member of NATO “because it would only further legitimize unilateralism and disrespect for international public law.”
He continued: “Unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo and Metohija back in 2008 set a dangerous precedent and opened a Pandora’s Box, which we foresaw and [forewarned] at the time, but became obvious to many only now.”
Starovic famous that 4 NATO member states—Spain, Greece, Romania, and Slovakia—opposed Kosovo’s “unilateral declaration of independence” and nonetheless don’t acknowledge it as an impartial state.
“With that in mind, Pristina’s [bid] to join NATO remains unfeasible, but raises concern about potential new unilateral measures, which they might find convenient in present circumstances and which they should be warned against,” he mentioned.
Updated, 3/9/22, 5:52am ET: The headline of this text was clarified.