Joint military exercises of NATO and Serbia, tensions and conflicts in the north of Kosovo, the Union of Serbian Municipalities (USO) – all these were the topics of the meeting of the Secretary General of the Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić.
The day after his stay in Pristina, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg came to Belgrade, where he heard from Vučić that Belgrade is always in favor of the strongest possible cooperation with KFOR, the mission of the Western Alliance in Kosovo, “if there should be more in order to protect Serbia, who are the only ones at risk there”.
Stoltenberg said that the essence of the NATO mission is to protect the rule of law, that any violence is inadmissible and condemned the attacks on KFOR members during the riots in the north of Kosovo in May this year.
He also said that NATO is a municipality for the creation of a community that would give the Serbs in the north of Kosovo a greater degree of autonomy, to which Vučić continued: “To be completely frank with you, Mr. Stoltenberg, there is nothing from the ZSO and they will not form it as long as Aljbin Kurti (Prime Minister of Kosovo) in power”.
“They will only look for excuses, one will say he needs a signature, one will say he needs I don’t know what, even though everything was signed twice – in 2013 and 2015,” added the President of Serbia.
Stoltenberg said: “Dialogue is the only way to peace and stability, and the establishment of the Union of Serbian Municipalities is the key to the normalization of relations.”
Stoltenberg’s visit to the Western Balkan region was organized on the 29th anniversary of the Dayton Agreement, which established peace in the mid-1990s after the bloody war in the former Yugoslavia and established the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), composed of two entities – the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska.
He came to Belgrade from Pristina, where he met with Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani and Prime Minister Aljbina Kurti.
The visit of the head of NATO to Pristina and Belgrade followed another failed round of negotiations in Brussels, and a revised version of the plan on the way to form the Community, that is, the Association of Serbian Municipalities, was reportedly on the table, as reported by some media.
However, the EU headquarters say they do not want to talk about the documents while they are being negotiated.
KFOR, Zvečan and Banjska
This was Stoltenberg’s first visit to Belgrade since two major incidents earlier this year in the north of Kosovo, first in Zvečan, then in the nearby village of Banjska.
The head of NATO said that there is no tolerance for any violence.
“Some members of NATO were under attack in May, in September we saw another outbreak of violence in Kosovo. It is unacceptable, those who did it must be brought to justice,” Stoltenberg said.
In May 2023, in the north of Kosovo, there was a conflict between local Serbs and members of KFOR, when the newly elected presidents of local self-governments in three predominantly Serb municipalities came to the municipal buildings with the assistance of the Kosovo Police.
A new, more serious incident occurred in September, when a member of the Kosovo Police was killed in a firefight near the Banjska monastery, as well as three Serbs.
“After that violence, NATO deployed an additional 1,000 troops in Kosovo, the largest increase in the last decade,” Stoltenberg says.
“It shows that NATO is ready to preserve peace for all communities,” he added.
Watch the video about the clashes between Serbs and KFOR in Zvečan:
Vučić replied that it is not necessary for NATO to secure anyone in Kosovo, except Serbs.
“Only Serbs are threatened and only Serbs have been attacked since 2001, especially since Aljbin Kurti was in power,” he said.
He added that he told the head of NATO that 13 percent of Serbs left the north of Kosovo in the last year due to threats and pressure from the Pristina authorities.
“I know that the West is only interested in Banjska and Zvečan,” Vučić said and after a short pause said that those responsible for the events in the north of Kosovo will be held accountable in accordance with domestic law and legislation.
He also stated that Serbia will “preserve peace and stability”, as well as that within the dialogue it is doing everything possible to reach a compromise solution.
Stoltenberg added that the essence is in the “principle and value of the rule of law”.
“Every time we see a violation of the law, that innocent people are killed, the messages are the same – those responsible must be held accountable.”
He hinted at the increased presence of KFOR in the north of Kosovo, but did not give details.
Watch the video about the events in Banjska:
“I will ask again for exercises by the Serbian Army and NATO,” says Vučić
Although it insists on military neutrality, Serbia has been a member of the NATO program “Partnership for Peace” since 2008, and previously there were exercises by members of the Serbian Armed Forces and the Western Alliance.
Vučić says he wants those exercises to be held again.
“As the commander-in-chief, I will send a request to the Government of Serbia to consider the decision to resume joint exercises with NATO that we had before and with our other partners in the coming period,” he said.
Immediately after the September clashes near the Banjska monastery, Kosovo officials warned about the movement and deployment of the Serbian army and artillery near Kosovo.
European Union, United States and German officials immediately called on Serbia to stop military activities in the area.
Vučić then stated that their reaction was disproportionate, and that Serbia had no intention of sending troops to Kosovo.
The head of NATO told Vučić today that “the accumulation of forces of the Serbian army near the border (with Kosovo) would not contribute to the improvement of the situation”.
Vučić then said that the Serbian army did not exceed its rights and powers at that time.
“Where we will deploy the army in accordance with the Serbian constitution, without endangering anyone, is our business,” said Vučić.
“That they give us orders in Pristina where our army will be, at a distance of 10 or 15 kilometers, does not occur to us.”
He added that cooperation with NATO and KFOR forces is important in order to “as much as possible ensure the safety of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija”.
Vučić also had special words of gratitude for Stoltenberg.
“Thank you for the fact that I could always pick up the phone to call, to say what I was thinking, to ask for support, to ask for help.”
“We will have to improve our relations with NATO, to try to regain lost trust, but we will still jealously guard our military neutrality.”
What did Stoltenberg, Kurti and Osmani say?
The head of NATO first met with Vjosa Osmani, who spoke the most about the conflict in Banjska.
“Serbia is behind the attack, both in terms of organization, as well as in terms of supplying weapons and equipment, as well as in terms of financing and training in military bases in Serbia,” Osmani said, reports the Kossev portal.
One of the participants in that conflict was Milan Radoičić, until recently a high-ranking official of the Serbian List, the strongest party of the Kosovo Serbs, which cooperates closely with Belgrade.
Radoičić later claimed responsibility for the attack.
He was detained and interrogated in Belgrade, and then released.
“Instead of extraditing terrorists, Serbia unfortunately continues to support them in planning new attacks, against Kosovo, against regional stability,” claims Osmani.
Stoltenberg replied that the events in Banjska “raised concerns that widespread conflicts could return to the Western Balkans”.
“Such attacks (in Banjska and Zvečan) are unacceptable and those behind them should be held accountable.”
“We will do everything necessary to maintain a safe environment and ensure freedom of movement for all people in Kosovo,” he said.
During the meeting with Stoltenberg, Kurti said that Serbia is a “permanent danger”, stating what kind of military equipment it has near Kosovo, reports Kossev.
He also showed Stoltenberg the findings of the Kosovo authorities, which he claims “confirm the direct involvement of the state of Serbia” in the clashes near the Banjska monastery.
Watch the video: Fight in the Assembly of Kosovo, Kurti doused with water
Peleven years after the declaration of independence, Kosovo was recognized by about 100 countries. However, the exact number is not known.
Pristina cites a figure of 117 countries, and in Belgrade they say that there are far fewer.
Among the countries of the European Union that have not recognized Kosovo are Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus, Greece and Romania, and when it comes to world powers, they are Russia, China, Brazil and India.
Since 2008, Kosovo has become a member of several international organizations, such as the IMF, the World Bank and FIFA, but not the United Nations.