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Russias war in Ukraine finds echoes in the Balkans

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A few months after launching Russias invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin tried to justify his war by pointing to the Western Balkans. In a gathering with US Secretary General Antnio Guterres, Putin pointed to the legacy of the NATO intervention in the former Yugoslavia in 1999, a bombing campaign that hit targets across that which was then combined Serbia and Montenegro in a bid to prevent Serbias onslaught against ethnic Kosovar Albanians fighting for autonomy. The brief war and subsequent peacekeeping operation resulted in the emergence of the independent nation of Kosovo.

The Western alliances actions then, Putin suggested, were no unique of what his forces sought to accomplish now in wanting to guarantee the independence of two pro-Kremlin separatist entities in the eastern Ukrainian region referred to as Donbas. Lots of states of the West recognized [Kosovo] being an independent state, Putin told Guterres. We did exactly the same according of the republics of Donbas.

There are many reasons to scoff as of this analogy, not least because Russia still will not recognize Kosovos independence and vociferously decried NATOs war against their Serbian ally. NATO airstrikes resulted in Serbian civilian casualties, however they also helped push away further rounds of violent ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and stabilize an emergency that had already seen thousands killed and thousands more displaced. Putins invasion, meanwhile, is defined by the Kremlins genocidal rhetoric and also garish reports of atrocities completed by Russian troops. It has resulted in an incredible number of Ukrainians fleeing their homes.

Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani sees an all-together different parallel. The NATO-enabled victory of Kosovos fighters on the regime of then-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was section of a broader struggle for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles. Twenty-three years back these values were on the line in Kosovo and beyond, Osmani explained throughout a Thursday interview in Washington. Twenty-three years on, its exactly the same these values are in stake in Ukraine.

Russias campaign in Ukraine doesnt deserve any patina of international legitimacy. It reflects simply, in Osmanis view, the sick, imperial tendencies of the Russian president.

“The independent, sovereign, free can be an irreversible reality that you’ve helped create. We shall interact with & other allies to ensure that the international standing of is strengthened & take our well-deserved invest the Euro-Atlantic community.” 3/3 pic.twitter.com/ebssCvSAOw

Vjosa Osmani (@VjosaOsmaniPRKS) July 27, 2022

Osmani was in Washington earlier this week alongside her countrys prime minister, Albin Kurti. That they had meetings with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and inked a landmark investment cope with the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. government entity, which committed $237 million in funding for Kosovos energy infrastructure.

However in her conversation with Todays WorldView, Osmani also warned of the wider perils facing her region, where Russian influence has historically played an outsize role.

Putins aim would be to expand the conflict in other areas of the planet, she said. Since his aim has constantly gone to destabilize Europe, we are able to expect that certain of his targets may be the Western Balkans.

Just this weekend, tensions flared between Kosovo and Serbia. Ethnic Serbs in northern municipalities in Kosovo blockaded roads and skirmished with detachments of police in reaction to Kosovo authorities decision to require vehicles that enter from Serbia to displace their license plates with Kosovo plates; the reverse is essential for vehicles from Kosovo entering Serbia.

The bureaucratic dispute belied the much larger tensions simmering beneath. Top officials engaged in a war of words. Kurti accused Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic of instigating the violence. Vucic said both parties had never experienced a far more complex situation than today but vowed Serbian victory regardless. The tiny NATO mission in Kosovo felt compelled to issue a statement, saying it had been ready to intervene if stability is jeopardized.

Also of immediate concern may be the situation in Bosnia, whose complex political arrangement that cobbled together its ethnic Bosniak, Croat and Serb populations is looking wobblier than ever before. Analysts believe Milorad Dodik, the first choice of the semiautonomous ethnic Serb republic within the Bosnian federation, is pushing for a far more clear-cut breakaway which could unleash new turmoil in your community. His efforts find close support in both Moscow and Belgrade.

Serbia is, in the end, a historic Russian ally and, in Osmanis words, fertile ground for Putins influence operations. Some of Europes leaders have pursued hostile measures contrary to the Kremlin, Vucic have not. He refused to become listed on the E.U. sanctions regime on Russia. He inked a lucrative gas cope with Moscow earlier come early july even as all of those other continent is wanting to wean itself off Russian energy exports. So when their own nationalist rule has resulted in an erosion of Serbian democracy and mounting concerns over press freedom, Vucic in addition has allowed Russian state propaganda outfits to remain operating in Serbia. They play a substantial role in fueling polarization in your community.

Analysts indicate a wider malaise. Instead of the vision of joining a peaceful, prosperous Europe, there exists a growing sense of stagnation where each countrys historical grievances and unfinished business fester as perennial top features of election campaigns and potential conflict triggers, noted a recently available report from the International Crisis Group. Leaders fan the flames with divisive rhetoric, attempting to divert attention from sluggish economies, low living standards, corruption and nepotism.

Serbian President Vui speaking on Kosovo tonight:

We we shall require peace, but Ill let you know immediately: you will see no surrender and Serbia will win. Should they make an effort to start persecuting Serbs, bullying Serbs, killing Serbs, Serbia will win!” pic.twitter.com/dgeJmcyteQ

Visegrd 24 (@visegrad24) July 31, 2022

Osmani views Vucics behavior as that of an autocrat who shouldnt be appeased. Beyond Serbias territorial claims in Kosovo, she points to Belgrades submit the instability provoked in Bosnia along with the alleged pro-Kremlin effort to foment a coup in Montenegro in 2016 to avoid its accession into NATO (The attempt failed plus some of its alleged ringleaders have already been jailed). Lingering visions of a larger Serbia animate Vucics movement.

On Sunday, a ruling party person in Serbias parliament even tweeted that Serbia can also be forced to begin with the denazification of the Balkans, invoking exactly the same spurious framing by which Putin justified his invasion of Ukraine. Vucic talks about our countries as temporary countries and tries to deny our very existence, Osmani said. It’s the very way Putin talks about Ukraine, Moldova along with other countries. It really is a similar strategy.

Serbia, unlike Russia, is really a candidate for EU membership and occupies a far more complicated position within Europe. However the new geopolitics set off by the Russian invasion of Ukraine has pushed Vucic right into a corner.

They will have chosen their path, Osmani said. At the moment, the Putin path and europe path are two different paths and also have never been further apart and you also cant walk on both.

If you have a neighbor that chooses to be on the incorrect side of history as of this very hard time for Europe and beyond, it damages ordinary people aswell.

Kosovo, meanwhile, knows which direction it really wants to go, nonetheless it includes a complicated road ahead. It lacks U.N. recognition; Russias Security Council veto remains a simple impediment; and a large chunk of the international community has yet to acknowledge its status as a sovereign, independent nation including five countries within europe.

Osmani believes that could change in today’s environment, with the war in Ukraine also giving a lift to Kosovos Euro-Atlantic integration. She cited Finland and Swedens dramatic accession bids to NATO.

Once we all know, to be safe is usually to be in NATO, Osmani said, urging the alliances member states to start out accelerated steps toward welcoming also Kosovo and Bosnia into NATO.

Earlier this season, europe also fast-tracked the procedure to confer candidate status to Ukraine, a mark of the continents admiration for the Ukrainian struggle. Some critics in the Western Balkans feared this might only further delay their very own nations stagnating membership bids.

But Osmani disagrees. For much too long, we felt and heard the enlargement fatigue within europe, she said. The openness europe shows toward Ukraine has turned the tide in a manner that finally the E.U. sees the enlargement process as a geostrategic process rather than bureaucratic one.

And what should that strategic vision be?

A Europe whole and free and at peace is impossible minus the Western Balkans, Osmani said.

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