Photo: Laura Hasani
The presence of Russian officials at Serbian military facilities on the border between Serbia and Kosovo is a confusing message from Belgrade that could be condemned by Western countries, Serbian foreign policy analyst Bosko Jaksic told Radio Free Europe.
As of March 20, Serbs in northern Kosovo have blocked two border crossings in the area – Jarinje and Brnjak – due to the Kosovo Government’s decision on reciprocity measures against vehicles with Serbian license plates.
With this decision, all vehicles from Serbia entering Kosovo must be equipped with temporary license plates. To monitor the process, a special unit of the Kosovo Police has been deployed at the northern borders.
Serbia has been implementing similar measures against vehicles with Kosovo license plates for many years now.
On September 26, Serbian Defense Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic and Serbian Army Chief of Staff Milan Mojsilovic visited several Serb soldiers who have been placed on standby at the Rudnica military base. This base is located near the town of Raska in Serbia, on the way to the Jarinje border crossing.
The ambassador of the Russian Federation in Belgrade, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, as well as the Russian envoy for defense, Alexander Zinchenko, were with them.
It is said that they went there to “personally convince themselves of the current situation”.
Jaksic considers that this is a diplomatic point for Moscow, but a failure of Belgrade.
“Moscow continues to successfully use the Kosovo conflict as the most important channel for expanding its influence. “On the other hand, Belgrade took the ambassador to Raska without thinking, and there is no doubt that the West will interpret this as a provocation,” Jaksic said.
The website of the Serbian Ministry of Defense states that Stefanovi. Thanked the guests from Russia “for being informed about the situation on the administrative line and in the north of Kosovo and Metohija”.
The Russian ambassador is said to have confirmed Russia’s support for Belgrade’s position and to have expressed official Moscow’s concern.
“This is aimed at ethnic cleansing of Kosovo,” Kharchenko said.
The Russian ambassador used the visit to comment on the position of Western countries, which he described as “strange” and “harmful”. He said that they “close their eyes to a very dangerous situation”, although, according to him, “everyone understands who is guilty and what is the reason for such a provocation”.
Since the beginning of the crisis, the European Union, the United States and NATO have called on Kosovo and Serbia to reduce tensions and resolve outstanding issues through dialogue.
Serbian analyst Dragomir Angelkovic tells Radio Free Europe that the Russian Federation, in this way, gives support to Serbia and conveys the message that it will stand behind the measures that Belgrade will take.
“This message was sent mainly to Belgrade, while everyone else, based on this, can conclude that Belgrade has more room for maneuver, if necessary to protect Serbs in Kosovo,” said Angelkovic.
According to him, the presence of Russian officials in Serbia’s military facilities contributes to calming tensions, because “the European Union, which is the guarantor of the Brussels Agreement [për lëvizje të lirë]”has done nothing to implement that agreement.”
Jaksic, on the other hand, says Belgrade’s contradictory messages create a state of general confusion.
According to him, the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vuiqi., Reiterates that membership in the European Union is a geostrategic commitment of Serbia, but, at the same time, he “constantly makes moves that question this.”
This is always done because of concessions to Russia, says Jaksic.
“In this context, Ambassador Kharchenko’s departure to southern Serbia is another confirmation of the Vucic Government’s timid attitude towards the Kremlin,” Jaksic added.
Serbian Defense Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic also met with Russia’s ambassador to Belgrade on September 22.
According to a statement on the website of the Serbian Ministry of Defense, Stefanovic at the time expressed “the strong and steadfast support that the Russian Federation gives to Serbia in maintaining its territorial integrity and sovereignty, especially in these difficult times that are experiencing the Serb population in Kosovo and Metohija ”.
According to Stefanovic, the current situation, “in which Pristina violates freedoms of movement, imposing new unilateral measures, is a continuation of non-compliance with the Brussels Agreement.”
Stefanovic has also invited Russia to take part in the upcoming Partner 2021 military-technical fair, which will be held in Belgrade in October.
Serbia and Russia have traditionally maintained close relations.
The two countries do not recognize Kosovo’s independence, which was declared in 2008.
Russia votes against Kosovo’s accession to the United Nations, while Serbia, in return, refuses to impose sanctions on Moscow.
Precisely because of its cooperation with Russia, Serbia is the target of criticism from the West, because, as a candidate country for EU membership, it has not yet harmonized its foreign policy with that of Europe.
The West is also concerned about Serbia’s military cooperation with Russia.
In June, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for Serbia, Vladimir Bilcik, assessed that Serbia’s joint military exercise with Belarus and Russia did not help Serbia’s progress towards European integration.
Serbia has participated in the trilateral exercise “Slavic Brotherhood 2021”, with Russia and Belarus, which was held from June 8 to 19 in the Krasnodar Territory, southwest of the European part of Russia.
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