The Kosovo Crisis, which started in April 2022 and led to widespread protests in November 2022 with the decision to introduce uniform identity cards and license plates, moved to a new phase in May 2023 with the inauguration of the elected mayors in the Serb-majority regions in the north of the country and violent protests took place in the said region.
As predicted, this process has brought the Belgrade administration, which does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, and Pirishtina into confrontation. Belgrade, which embraces the ideal of “Greater Serbia” and claims to be the protector of all Serbs in this context, has not remained indifferent to the developments in the Serb-majority regions in the north of Kosovo. As a matter of fact, the Serbian Army being put on alert and the extremely harsh statements coming from Belgrade confirm this.
Kosovo, on the other hand, sees the Serbian boycott of the elections in the north of the country as a provocation against its sovereignty and independence. Moreover, it considers the support of Kosovo Serbs by Serbia as an interference in its internal affairs. This leads to an escalation of tensions on the Belgrade-Pristina line.
Apparently, the escalation of tensions between the parties is closely related to the internal dynamics of the Balkans and the rising Serbian nationalism in this context. However, the escalation of the crisis is not only caused by regional developments but is also influenced by geopolitical developments in the global equation. In this sense, the region’s geopolitically fragile fault lines make the Balkans one of the playgrounds of the global power struggle. As a matter of fact, the fact that the crisis has been on the agenda since April 2022 cannot be read independently from the Russia-Ukraine War that started on February 24, 2022.
Currently, Kosovo is a country that is close to the United States of America (USA) and where the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Kosovo Task Force (KFOR) is active. Indeed, it gained its independence with the support of the West.
On the other hand, Russia, like Serbia, does not recognize Kosovo’s independence. In fact, Kosovo’s declaration of independence in spite of Russia was a clear defeat for the pan-Slavism policy of the Kremlin administration, which wanted to instrumentalize the Serbs in line with its own interests in order to increase its influence in the region. In other words, Kosovo was the place where Russia was reminded by the US and its allies of the limits and limitations of pan-Slavism. Nevertheless, Moscow wants to be influential in the Balkans through Serbs and Serbia within the framework of pan-Slavist arguments. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the crisis escalated in the wake of the Russian-Ukrainian war. In fact, the war in Ukraine is closely related to the growing influence of pan-Slavism in Russian foreign policy.
Exhausted by the collective sanctions imposed by the West and unable to achieve the desired results on the ground due to the military support to Ukraine, the Moscow administration is sending a message to the European Union (EU) through the Balkans, i.e. Southeastern Europe, that it can destabilize its immediate neighborhood. In other words, the Kremlin hints that a war in which it would be defeated could evolve into a process in which the West, and especially Europe, would lose.
In this regard, it should be emphasized that Serbia’s EU membership aspirations prevented the crisis from spiraling out of control and Belgrade’s delicate balancing act kept the negotiation channels open. As a matter of fact, the EU, which does not want a crisis in its immediate neighborhood, is also making an effective effort in mediation. It is obvious that if weapons explode in the region, the EU will face a serious migration burden, radicalization in the context of the far right and the heavy economic cost of the process. Therefore, the EU has been trying to reconcile the two actors by bringing the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia together on various platforms. In other words, the EU is trying to prevent conflicts from turning into wars.
The latest example of these initiatives was the visit of the EU Special Representative for the Western Balkans Miroslav Lajcak, together with the US Special Representative for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar, to Pirishtina and Belgrade. On June 12, 2023, Lajcak made statements regarding these visits, stating that the EU is continuing its efforts to reach a political solution to the crisis between the parties, and that despite some positive signals, tensions between Kosovo and Serbia are still high.
Apparently, this statement reveals that the differences between the parties are very evident and that the EU is not yet close to achieving a concrete result in stabilizing the Balkans, which it considers in the context of its own security. This reveals the fragility of the process and shows that the possibility of a hot conflict remains.
Overall, the EU believes that if things get out of control in the Balkans, it will be negatively affected by the process and does not want conflict and crisis in its immediate neighborhood. Therefore, it is intensifying its mediation efforts between Kosovo and Serbia. However, reconciliation between Pirishtina and Belgrade does not seem easy. Because, although the crises enter a phase of détente from time to time, there are still structural disputes between the parties. Of course, these issues are not easy to resolve. However, it is possible to predict that the EU will continue its mediation initiatives.
 “Lajčak: Nadali smo se boljem rezultatu posjete Prištini i Beogradu”, Al Jazeera, https://balkans.aljazeera.net/news/balkan/2023/6/12/lajcak-nadali-smo-se-boljem-rezultatu-posjete-pristini-i-beogradu, (Date of Accession: 14.06.2023).