The Russia-Ukraine War, which started on February 24, 2022, is a result of the Russia-Western rivalry in the background, even though it is a war between Moscow and Kiev on the field and as a result of the disagreements between the two actors. Undoubtedly, the war in question has made the global security equations fragile and crises in various geographies have escalated. In this context, one of the escalating crises as a reflection of the Russia-West struggle is the Kosovo Crisis.
Although the Kosovo Crisis is basically related to the internal dynamics of Kosovo and the orientations of the regional states as a reflection of the demographic heterogeneity in the Balkans, the fact that the Balkans is also Southeastern Europe triggers the escalation of the crisis. In other words, Russia, which had to face the pressure of the West and could not achieve the desired picture in the war in Ukraine, said to the West through the Balkans, “I can destabilize you through the crises in your neighborhood.” gives the message. In this sense, the Kremlin implies that a war that Russia loses to Ukraine will evolve into a process in which the whole world will lose. At this point, the Balkans draws attention as an area where it is desired to increase the pressure on the West through crises and conflicts. Undoubtedly, the Serbs, whom the Moscow administration can influence in the context of pan-Slavism, have a great role in conveying the message in question.
Considering Serbia’s ideal of “Greater Serbia”, it can be said that the Belgrade administration acts with the aim of being the guard of all Serbs. For this reason, the situation of the Serbs living in the north of Kosovo may lead to a confrontation between Serbia and Kosovo in particular, and even Albania, and Russia and the West in general, since the majority of Kosovo’s population is Albanian.
This is why Russia’s pressure on the West through the Balkans escalated after the war in Ukraine. As a matter of fact, the election debates in the north of Kosovo since April 2022 and the license plate and uniform identity crisis that broke out in November 2022 brought the Pristina administration and Kosovo Serbs face to face. This led to the ringing of war bells in the region. The point where the tension finally reached is in the north of Kosovo; that is, the protests that took place with the oath of three mayors elected after the elections held in the shadow of the Serb boycott call in the region where Serbs are concentrated. Despite the protests targeting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Kosovo Task Force (KFOR), the Kosovo police stated that the situation is under control but the Serb List, the largest party of Serbs in Kosovo, announced that the protests would continue.
Understandably, the situation in Kosovo is extremely fragile. KFOR is responsible for ensuring the security of this Kosovo. Moreover, as a result of the call made by Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti after the developments in the region, NATO announced that it would send 700 more soldiers to the country in question. This can be interpreted as Russia’s attempt to destabilize the region through the Serbs, through pan-Slavist arguments, and the West’s tendency to increase its influence in Kosovo.
Another point that should not be ignored is the division within the West itself. The USA is in an attitude that provokes Russia in various geographies and wants to wear it down through conflicts. Washington administration is one of the leading actors who want to prolong the war in Ukraine. On the other hand, the European Union (EU) avoids the heavy costs of crises and is concerned about the possibility of insecurity. Following this, in his statement on 30 May 2023, EU High Representative for Foreign Relations and Security Policy Josep Borrell stated that he is working to organize a dialogue between the parties. Similarly, in the statement made by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs on May 30, 2023, it was stated that easing the tension in Kosovo is important for the security of Europe. Another name who expressed his concerns about the developments is Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. This is closely related to the sensitivity of the Tirana administration on Kosovo. However, it can be said that Tirana has the ideal of “Greater Albania” and if things get out of control, the Balkans can be Balkanized once again.
Another point that should be emphasized is that although Russia wants to achieve some of its goals through the Serbs, the Belgrade administration actually wants to implement a multi-dimensional and multidimensional foreign policy, taking into account the balances between power centers like any state that takes into account its own national interests. In other words, while Serbia is a state that wants to maintain its relations with Russia and refrains from imposing sanctions on Moscow in this context; On the other hand, it is an actor with a Western orientation. In this sense, one dimension of Serbia’s foreign policy is the goal of EU membership. It can be said that the said target offers an opportunity to prevent the deepening of the crisis. However, despite everything, there is a possibility that the process will force Belgrade to make a choice.
To explain the situation, the independence of Kosovo was basically the event where the limits and limitations of the pan-Slavism policy were shown to Russia. Likewise, this independence showed Belgrade that the ideal of “Greater Serbia” is disconnected from reality. However, both Russia and Serbia do not recognize the independence of Kosovo. In this sense, it is possible that Belgrade, which has to make a choice, will have to break away from the West.
Basically, this possibility stems from the division within Serbia itself. As a matter of fact, on May 29, 2023, Serbian President Alexander Vucic called on Kosovo Serbs not to engage in conflict with NATO elements, noting that the process resulted in NATO increasing the number of soldiers in the region, and stated that the protests served Kurti’s purposes. Unlike Vucic, who takes care to stay on rational grounds and develops a prudent discourse due to his EU membership goal, there is a strong political tendency in Serbia that can be described as the far right. This is why protests criticizing the President’s stance were held in Belgrade after Vucic’s statements.
Ultimately, the aforementioned protests point out that a Belgrade, which has to make a choice, can internalize a policy understanding that coincides with Russia’s expectations. This is in contrast to the Serbian leader’s approach to pacifying the crisis in the EU context; In the future, Serbia will not only be in Kosovo; It is a harbinger of the possibility of developing strategies that will lead to the rise of Serbian nationalism in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the same time, this situation will increase the ethnic tension in the Balkans and thus the region will become more open to the intervention of foreign powers in the context of West-Russian rivalry.
It should be stated that; The Balkans has a fragile security equation due to its ethnically heterogeneous structure. This situation causes the states of the region to come into conflict with each other easily. Developments in Kosovo also confirm this. Although the process takes place in the triangle of Kosovo, Kosovo Serbs and Serbia, it is seen that Albania also closely follows the developments in the regional dimension.
The fact that the Russia-Ukraine War accelerated the reckoning between Moscow and the West has also accelerated the struggle between Russia and the West in the Balkans, which has fragile geopolitical fault lines. It is possible to see the reflections of this in the Kosovo Crisis. As a result, it can be said that the Balkans are at risk of being Balkanized once again through Kosovo.
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