Who Wants War in The Balkans?
By Darko Lazar
A July 27 meeting in Washington between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a high-ranking delegation from Kosovo attracted little media attention.
After the summit, Blinken wrote on Twitter that his government “supports Kosovo’s Euro-Atlantic and international integration,” and said the two sides discussed “critical issues of regional security.” Although he did not elaborate, it’s hard to imagine that those discussions didn’t at least touch on Kosovo’s plans to ban license plates and documents issued by the Serbian government for its own citizens in the breakaway province.
In fact, it’s safe to assume that the Secretary of State was perfectly aware that the leadership in Kosovo – a Western protectorate and host of one of the largest American military bases in Europe – was about to launch an operation that would provoke protests and gunfire on the border with Serbia.
After all, Blinken is no stranger to fireworks in the Balkans. During his stint in the Clinton administration, he was intimately involved in the violent fragmentation of former Yugoslavia, which grouped Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro. The Americans first crippled the federation financially, before flooding the secessionist republics with arms shipments earmarked for a consortium of fascist and Wahhabi militants, including Osama bin Laden.
By the late 1990s, Yugoslavia was reduced to only Serbia and Montenegro. Kosovo was one of the former’s autonomous provinces, where ethnic Albanian nationalists had used protracted violence over a period of several decades to drive out most of the Serbian population.
Before running Yugoslavia into the ground, Washington rebranded a terrorist and drug smuggling outfit into the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army, which became NATO’s ground force in the region.
Then, citing fictional genocides against the Albanians, the Western military alliance unleashed a ferocious 78-day bombing campaign against Serbia without UN Security Council authorization. The aerial assault was halted only when Serbia agreed to pull its forces out of Kosovo, which would go on to unilaterally declare independence in 2008.
Serbia, along with Russia, China and many other UN member states, does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, and Belgrade has vowed to protect ethnic Serbs still living in the province from further persecution.
For Serbs, Kosovo remains a cradle of its own civilization that was inhabited by outsiders and then ripped away by NATO, in violation of international law.
For NATO and the Americans, Kosovo and the broader Balkan region remain a success story of Western liberal interventionism and a zone under exclusive Western geopolitical influence.
And for the Russians, the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 and the alliance’s bloody march eastward mark a critical moment of awakening in Moscow. Many in Russia’s political and military establishment were shaken by the use of brute military force against another Orthodox Slav nation and the ease with which NATO casually discarded international law when it served its own interests.
So, while Yugoslavia was being erased from the map of the world and Serbia was dispossessed of Kosovo by an empire at the height of its power, the Russians drew up a blueprint for reasserting their sovereignty and challenging global Western hegemony. As such, current developments in the Balkan arena can be directly linked to Moscow’s special military operation in Ukraine, and its clash with the West within the economic, political and ideological spheres.
A terrible precedent
When NATO’s unrestrained expansionism triggered Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February of this year, Western interventionists claimed the moral high ground and accused the Kremlin of destabilizing the international order.
But many years earlier, in February 2008, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that it was the recognition of Kosovo's independence by several major world powers that set "a terrible precedent, which will de facto blow apart the whole system of international relations, developed not over decades, but over centuries."
Since then, Moscow has continued to support Serbia at the UN Security Council by blocking full-blown international recognition of Kosovo’s independence. For its part, Belgrade continues to infuriate the West as one of only two European governments that has consistently refused to join the unprecedented sanctions regime against Russia over Ukraine. Indeed, this repudiation is not because Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is eager to engage in a confrontation with Washington and Brussels. On the contrary, the European Union is a crucial trading partner for Belgrade and Vucic just happens to be the most pro-EU option in Serbia that’s actually electable.
But he is also the president of a country that is almost wholly energy-dependent on Russia, and Western pressure has thus far failed to push Belgrade into pursuing hostile measures against the Kremlin. Solidifying his status in the eyes of some Western elites as a direct threat to their interests, Vucic even inked a new, three-year gas deal with Russia’s Gazprom, allowed Russian state-run media outlets to keep operating in Serbia, and started pursuing both military cooperation with Russia-allied Belarus as well as increased trade with Iran.
That said, the latest outbreak of violence along the Kosovo frontier underscores Serbia’s vulnerability. This is a country surrounded by hostile nations and thousands of NATO troops. The rhetoric coming from NATO’s foot soldiers in Kosovo is telling, with at least one senior official accusing Vucic of looking at neighboring states “the very way Putin looks at Ukraine.”
Everyone in the region is fully aware of the tensions simmering beneath the surface. In this context, Pristina’s decision to deploy a detachment of special operation units to Serb-dominated municipalities in Kosovo, where they would attack and arrest anyone refusing to give up their ID or change their license plate, is a prelude to war.
To clear up any confusion about who is pulling the strings, NATO officially added its voice to the conversation by declaring that it was “prepared to intervene if stability is jeopardized.”
And after the distressing preview of what’s to come, the ban on Serbian IDs and license plates was hastily postponed until September 1, at NATO’s behest.
During this time, Vucic will be given another opportunity to turn his back on the Kremlin in exchange for saving the Serbs in Kosovo.
For its part, Moscow has thrown its weight behind Belgrade, but Russia will not engage in a direct military confrontation with NATO. And as the geopolitical transformations caused by the conflict in Ukraine give way to a more provocative and desperate West, the powder keg of Europe runs the risk of being reignited.