Belgrade, Serbia — The Serbian president on Sunday called on NATO to “do their job” in Kosovo, otherwise he says Serbia itself will step in to protect its minority in the breakaway province.
President Aleksandar Vucic’s fiery televised speech to his country followed the failure of political talks between Serbian and Kosovar leaders earlier this week, brokered by the European Union in Brussels.
Serbia, along with its allies Russia and China, has refused to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. A NATO-led intervention in 1999 ended the war between Serbian troops and separatists in Kosovo and halted Belgrade’s bloody crackdown on Kosovo’s Albanian majority.
The EU has overseen years of failed talks to normalize their ties, saying this is one of the key preconditions for Kosovo and Serbia’s eventual membership in the 27-nation bloc.
“We have nowhere to go, we are cornered,” said Vucic. “We will save our people from persecution and pogroms, if NATO won’t do it.”
He also claimed that Kosovar Albanian “gangs” should be stopped from crossing into northern Kosovo, where most Kosovar Serbs live. He offered no evidence for the claim.
In the West, there are widespread fears that Russia could encourage its ally Serbia to engage in armed intervention in northern Kosovo, which would further destabilize the Balkans and at least shift some world and NATO attention away from Russia’s war in Ukraine .
After the 1998-99 war, nearly 4,000 NATO-led peacekeepers are stationed in Kosovo and any armed intervention by Serbia or Russia would greatly escalate a simmering conflict in Europe.
After the failure of the EU-brokered talks, NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo have been deployed along major roads to the north, saying they are ready to protect the freedom of movement of all sides.
Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo rose again last month when the Kosovo government led by Prime Minister Albin Kurti declared that Serbian identity documents and registration plates would no longer be valid on the territory of Kosovo. Serbia has been implementing the same measures for Kosovo citizens entering Serbia for ten years now.
Minority Serbs in Kosovo reacted furiously to the proposed changes, erecting roadblocks, blaring airstrikes sirens and firing rifles in the air and at Kosovar police officers. No one was injured.
Under apparent pressure from the West, Kurti postponed implementation of the measure for a month until September 1, when more problems are expected if no compromise is reached by then.
Vucic said Serbia will “work hard” to reach a “compromise solution” in the next 10 days and accused the Kosovar leadership of being “only interested in abolishing every trace of the Serbian state in Kosovo”.
Vucic also claimed, again without evidence, that the Kosovo government wanted “the final removal of the Serb people from Kosovo” – something that has been repeatedly denied by Kosovar officials.
AP writer Jovana Gec contributed.
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