Kosovo as the youngest country in Europe, who declared its independence unilaterally on February 17, 2008, just after many years of armed conflict, is dealing with a prominent issue under the shadow of the Ukrainian War. Kosovo, whose population is mostly Albanian, is one of the sides of the Albanian-Serbian ethnic tension that has been increasing in the Balkans in recent days. Especially after the “Serbian Republic Day” celebrations led by Milorad Dodik, who is the highest political representative of Serbian people in Bosnia-Herzegovina, to be celebrated on January 9, 2022, against the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s laws, and the following American sanctions, the tension in the region continues to rise day by day. The organization of demonstrations for supporting territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the city of Prizren in Kosovo, which is the second country with the highest number of Serbian ethnicities on its borders after Bosnia and Herzegovina, shows that a possible ethnic tension will have some reflections on Kosovo. As a result of the increasing tension in the region, “identity and license crisis” emerged between Serbia and Kosovo on July 31, 2022. The background of the relations between the two countries points out that there may be new tensions in the upcoming period. This issue between Serbia and Kosovo is the biggest obstacle to obtain the full membership of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) for these two countries.
General Condition of Kosovo Serbs
Although the borders of Kosovo and Serbia were separated with the declaration of independence of Kosovo in 2008, it was not possible to separate the Kosovar and Serbian people from each other, who lived together under the umbrella of Yugoslavia for many years. Today, on the one hand, there is an Albanian minority on the border with Serbia, on the other hand, there is a Serbian population within the territory of Kosovo, especially in the areas close to the Serbian border. As of 2014, approximately 100,000 Serbs live within the borders of Kosovo and approximately half of this population resides in the north of the country. The Serbian population in the country constitutes the second largest ethnic community after Albanians and corresponds to approximately 5% of the general population.
Local governments in Kosovo are organized according to the decision by United Nations Interim Administration Mission (UNMIK) on July 27, 2000. Within the scope of the decision, 30 local government units were established in the country. Among these local governments, there are 10 local government units formed by the Serbian numerical majority. These are the municipalities of Northern Mitrovica, Leposavić, Zvečan, Zubin Potok, Gračanica, Trpce, Novo Brdo, Ranilug, Parteš and Klokot. The functioning of municipalities in Kosovo is determined according to the European Charter of Local Self-Government. In September 2012, a new process started under the leadership of EU representative Catherine Ashton and an agreement was signed between the two countries on April 19, 2013. As a result of the agreement, broad rights were granted to the Serbian-dominated municipalities.
The Issue of the Union of Serbian Municipalities
The Serb-dominated municipalities within the borders of Kosovo continue to be a major prevention to the relations between the two countries. In the past days, such an intense diplomatic traffic on this issue has been managed between the two countries under the leadership of Miroslav Lajcak, the EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue. While Serbia is trying to establish a “Union of Serbian Municipalities” consisting of 10 municipalities held by the Serbs in Kosovo, Kosovo opposes this with the concern that it may lead the country to division in the future. While supporting the establishment of the Union of Serbian Municipalities, Lajcak stated that they would oppose this situation evolving into a possible Serbian Republic within the borders of Kosovo. Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani clearly expressed his opposition to any autonomy given to Serbs living in the country, including the establishment of the Union of Serbian Municipalities. According to Osmani, a “Union of Serbian Municipalities” to be established within the borders of Kosovo will not serve any purpose other than the “Bosnianization” of the country.
With the diplomatic talks between the two countries are ongoing, especially the Mitrovica region on the Kosovo-Serbia border is like a bomb which is ready to explode and hosts various provocations. In the past days, approximately a 250-meter Serbian flag was unfurled by demonstrators in that area. Despite the peaceful dispersal of the demonstrators, tensions continue in the region. Again, in this area, a series of security cameras were detected that are not under the control of the Kosovo police. Some claims were put forward that these cameras belong to Serbian municipalities. However, the mayors of Zvecan, North Mitrovica and Zubin Potok denied these allegations.
Computers used for crypto assets, which became widespread after the 2008 global crisis, have started to become a huge burden for countries in the days when we are going through a global energy crisis. In these days, when the rising energy prices and global climate change continue to increase their impact, the prohibition of crypto mining by countries such as China has led some who want to exist in “the market” to new searches. In this framework, the region where Serbs live in Kosovo has become one of the new bases of crypto currency mining due to its unstable geography and the illegal use of electricity by the local Serbs. However, Kosovo’s infrastructure is not ready to handle it. Struggling with the deepest energy crisis of the last decade, Kosovo declared a 60-day emergency in December of the last year due to the energy crisis. Unable to sustain this situation any longer, the government resorted to banning crypto-asset mining across the country.
The Kosovo police, which carried out simultaneous operations on crypto asset mining addresses, captured a huge number of devices. The fact that the region where the operations were carried out is populated mainly by Serbs ignited a new debate. The Kosovo police, which carried out two different operations in the municipalities of Mitrovica and Podujeve, confiscated 70 devices. Chairman of the Economic Committee of the Kosovo Parliament, Ferat Shala, stated that a significant part of the activities related to crypto-asset mining is carried out in the regions where Serbs live in the northern region of Kosovo. Crypto asset mining using illegal electricity in places such as attics, basements and garages in this region has resulted in an establishment of a strong market by taking advantage of the Albanian-Serbian tension in the region. A local crypto-asset miner told Reuters that he pays around 170 euros per month for electricity and earns an average of 2400 euros per month from crypto-asset mining. Cryptocurrency operations in Kosovo show that there is a remarkable potential for various problems between the Serbian minority living in the country and the central government in the coming period.
Increasing Influence of Serbia in the Region
With the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Serbia, which regards itself as the heir of this country, continues to put effort to increase its influence in the region. The Serbian administration, which manages the pandemic period well, is implementing a “food diplomacy” towards other Balkan countries by stocking up on basic foodstuffs, especially wheat and corn, during this time. As a result of these policies implemented, other Western Balkan countries are becoming more and more dependent on Serbia in terms of food. With the onset of the Ukraine Crisis, bipolar world diplomacy was revived in the countries of the region, and this resulted in the siding of Russia and Serbia together, whose historical codes overlapped each other. Aleksandar Vucic administration, which did not take part in the sanctions which are implemented against Russia, reassured by getting 60% of the votes in the elections held on April 3, 2022.
The factors of Russia and China played a very important role in Vucic’s winning the elections. Although there is no definite information, there are some allegations that these two countries provided financial support to Vucic before the elections. It seems that the Belgrade administration will continue to support these two countries, which have an impact on their success in the elections. As a matter of fact, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabik has already expressed her support for China’s possible intervention, stating that they support China’s “One China” policy and taking Taiwan as a part of it. Russia’s attempts to establish the Iskender-M tactical ballistic missile system in Serbia may come to the fore more in the coming days, despite the United States’ (US) increasing military presence in Albania and Kosovo, which used the Ukrainian War as an excuse. In addition, the statements of the Russian Ambassador to Belgrade, Aleksandar Botsan Harchenko, that his country could establish a military base in Serbia, are also developments that came to the agenda in parallel with this process. Pointing out that Russia also provides Serbia’s energy security, Harchenko stated that the cooperation between the two countries will increasingly continue in the coming period.
Serbia has some advantages in natural gas because of its close relations with Russia. In the upcoming period, many European countries are expected to experience serious difficulties due to Russia’s natural gas restrictions. Serbia will be in a more advantageous position compared to other European countries due to the dependence of the countries in the region in Russia in terms of natural gas. Serbian President Vucic has announced that the country’s natural gas reserves have increased to the highest level in history. Although it is emphasized that the reserves are stocked only for Serbia’s use, Serbia has a very high potential to use its natural gas reserves as a diplomacy instrument, especially for the Western Balkan countries, in the coming winter months, like it has turned its food stock into food diplomacy. In the Open Balkan Initiative, which initially included North Macedonia, Albania and Serbia, and whose last meeting was attended by Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, aiming to remove borders between member states, the Open Balkan Initiative, which looks like a miniature version of EU, has been influenced by Serbia in parallel with current developments is increasing day by day. This initiative which increases the interdependence of the Western Balkan countries with each other, may eventually result in the isolation of Kosovo in the region and having stricter policies of Serbia on Kosovo.
License Plate and Identity Crisis
The energy wars in the region lie behind the tension between Serbia and Kosovo on July 31, 2022. Three days before the tension arises, an investment agreement of 236 million was signed between the two countries in the field of renewable energy during the visit of the Kosovo delegation, which includes the president and the prime minister, in the US. Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti underlined that the entire amount will be given as a grant. The Kosovo Assembly signed the agreement with the US the next day, ratified by 89 out of 120 deputies. In the session held in the afternoon of the same day, the Government of Kosovo, in a statement in Albanian and Serbian, announced that as of August 1, people who are entering Kosovo will have to carry temporary documents instead of their Serbian identity cards during their stay in the country. On 31 July, there were reports that sirens sounded in the evening hours in the city of Mitrovica, where Serbs are majority. Hours before August 1, Serbs began sounding alarms and setting up barricades in northern Kosovo. According to the announcement made by the Kosovo Police, it was reported that the border gates between Serbia and Kosovo were closed to vehicle traffic, but there was no information about any injuries so far. Kosovo Government announced that it has postponed the reciprocity decision for license plates and IDs, which it planned to put into effect on August 1, to September 1 due to the latest crisis. Many times before, the region in question hosted various crises between the two countries over license plate and identity. Even though the recent events have flashed and ended like a straw flame, it is among the possible possibilities that new crises will occur in the coming period.
The tension in the Balkans, which started with cryptocurrency operations in Kosovo and continued with the US sending troops to Albania and Kosovo, was also reflected in the diplomatic field. The motivation of European Union membership constitutes an important driving force for countries to resolve such disputes. However, the fact that the election law negotiations in Bosnia and Herzegovina carried out under the leadership of the US and the EU did not yield any results and the uncertainty in the situation of the Serbs in Kosovo shows that the Western alliance is insufficient to solve these two problems. Parallel to this situation, there is a risk that the situation of Serbs in Kosovo will evolve from a political crisis to a rapidly deepening security crisis. If Bosnian Serbs unilaterally declare independence, there is a possibility that a pro-Russian state let like Abkhazia will form on the borders of two NATO countries, Croatia, and Montenegro. The same is applicable for Kosovo. In such a case, the tension between the two countries will not only be a problem for the countries in the region, but also for the NATO alliance. NATO’s regional influence and problem-solving ability will be questioned in terms of the countries in the region, and the psychological superiority will pass to the Serbs and therefore to Russia.
The “Association of Serbian Municipalities” planned to be established in Kosovo will create a space that could lead to the division of Kosovo and result in the enlargement of Serbia. The reason why the US and the EU, which are against Serbian expansionism in every aspect and see Serbia as a front post of Russia in the region, act softly on this issue is an element that needs to be examined separately. In the event of a possible separatist movement in the future, it is highly likely that these forces will play the heroic role to maximize their activities in the region, claiming to protect the integrity of Kosovo. Although the “identity and license plate crisis” between Serbia and Kosovo is not different from the conflict routine that Kosovo is regularly exposed to, the Kosovo-Serbia conflict is seen as Russia’s new confrontation with the West, since it took place in the shadow of the Ukraine Crisis. In this way, Russia can pursue a strategy of putting the quagmire in Ukraine off the agenda and establishing the front as far as possible in its struggle with the West.
Given the historical background and current political stalemate, the license plate issue will not be the last conflict between Kosovo and Serbia unless the status issue is addressed. In this context, the vicious circle of repeated tensions in Kosovo will not be broken anytime soon. Even if there is a potential here, the smallest conflict that may arise can be reflected in the Sanjak region of Serbia, first of North Macedonia, and then to Serbia. The population living in Serbian municipalities has lost one of its most important sources of income, with the government’s operation against crypto currency miners in the region where Serbs live in Kosovo and banning crypto currency mining in the whole of Kosovo. This reason alone gives us an idea that in a period when global recession expectations continue to increase, the discomfort in the region may come to the fore with different variations. In the same period as the recent tension between the two countries, Serbia’s announcement that it stocked natural gas and Kosovo’s grant agreement with the USA on renewable energy set an example for the ethnic and political consequences of energy struggles.
 Fred Cocozelli, “The Serbs of Kosovo”. In Ramet, Sabrina (ed.). Ethnic Minorities and Politics in Post-Socialist Southeastern Europe. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-316982778.
 “Kosovo”, CIA The World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/kosovo/, (Date of Accession: 24.07.2022).
 “Serb Community”, European Center for Minority Issue Kosovo, https://www.ecmikosovo.org/uploads/Serbcommunity1.pdf, (Date of Accession: 24.07.2022).
 Kosova Anayasası, Madde 123.
 “Text Of Leaked Copy Of Serbia-Kosovo Recognition Deal”, Radio Free Europe, https://www.rferl.org/a/text-leaked-copy-serbia-kosovo-agreement-brussels/24963542.html, (Date of Accession: 24.07.2022).
 Lajcak: “Aklı Başında Hiç Kimse Kosova’da Bir Sırp Cumhuriyeti İstemez”, Balkan News, https://www.balkannews.com.tr/kosova/lajcak-akli-basinda-hic-kimse-kosovada-bir-sirp-cumhuriyeti-h2273.html, (Date of Accession: 24.07.2022).
 Osmani: “Kosova’nın kuzeyindeki Sırplara özerklik verilmeyecek”, Balkan News, https://www.balkannews.com.tr/kosova/osmani-kosova-nin-kuzeyindeki-sirplara-ozerklik-verilmeyecek-h2371.html, (Date of Accession: 24.07.2022).
 “Kuzeyde Sırplardan Provokasyon”, Kosovaport, https://www.kosovaport.com/kuzeyde-sirplardan-provokasyon/, (Date of Accession: 24.07.2022).
 Concern over ‘Uncontrolled’ Security Cameras in Serb- Dominated North Kosovo, Prishtina Insight, https://prishtinainsight.com/concern-over-uncontrolled-security-cameras-in-serb-dominated-north-kosovo/, (Date of Accession: 24.07.2022).
 “Kosova’da Enerji Krizi: Kripto Para Madenciliğine Yasak”, Yeni Balkan, http://www.yenibalkan.com/tr/ekonomi/kosova-da-enerji-krizi-kripto-para-madenciligine-yasak, (Date of Accession. 24.07.2022).
 Perparim Isufi, Kosovo Police Seize Crypto-Mining Equipment After Govt Ban, Balkan Insight, https://balkaninsight.com/2022/01/07/kosovo-police-seize-crypto-mining-equipment-after-govt-ban/, (Date of Accession: 24.07.2022).
 “Sırbistan’da Seçimi Cumhurbaşkanı Vucic Kazandı”, BBC News Türkçe, 4 August 2022, https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-dunya-60978493, (Date of Accession: 10.08.2022).
 “Brnabic: Sırbistan, Tayvan’ın Çin’in Bir Parçası Olduğunu Düşünüyor”, Slobodenpecat.mk, 5 August 2022, https://www.slobodenpecat.mk/tr/brnabikj-srbija-smeta-deka-tajvan-e-del-od-kina/, (Date of Accession: 10.08.2022).
 “Rusya, Sırbistan’a Üs Mü Kuracak?”, Balkan News, 9 August 2022, https://www.balkannews.com.tr/balkanlar/rusya-sirbistana-us-mu-kuracak-h4003.html, (Date of Accession: 10.08.2022).
 “Sırbistan Doğalgaz Depoluyor”, Balkan News, 10 August 2022, https://www.balkannews.com.tr/sirbistan/sirbistan-dogalgaz-depoluyor-h4018.html, (Date of Accession: 11.08.2022).
 “ABD’nin Kosova Elektrik Şebekesine Yapacağı 237 Milyon Dolarlık Yatırım Anlaşması İmzalandı”, Euronews Türkçe, 28 July 2022, https://tr.euronews.com/2022/07/28/abdnin-kosova-elektrik-sebekesine-yapacagi-237-milyon-dolarlik-yatirim-anlasmasi-imzalandi, (Date of Accession: 11.08.2022).
 “Kosova-Sırbistan Gerginliği: İki Ülke Arasında Neler Yaşandı?”, BBC Türkçe, 2 August 2022, https://www.bbc.com/turkce/articles/c28gzrj70p7o, (Date of Accession: 11.08.2022).