With Syria and Ukraine relatively quiet, it’s more likely that Putin will focus on Kosovo as the frontline of Russia’s anti-American agenda.
Putin has a simmering resentment of NATO’s 1999 intervention in Kosovo, as well as Washington’s role coordinating Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008. He wants to prevent countries from integrating into the EU and NATO, and adopting Western-style democracy.
To this end, the Kremlin vigorously obstructs Kosovo’s efforts to gain greater global recognition. It uses its permanent membership in the UN Security Council, UNSC, where Russia has a veto, to block Kosovo from joining the world body.
It also undermines the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue led by the EU and supported by the United States. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, insists the UNSC approve any deal between Serbia and Kosovo.
In addition to its diplomatic backing, Russia has armed Serbia with sophisticated offensive weapons. These include MiG-29 jets, with modern missiles, radar, and communication systems, as well as tanks and armoured reconnaissance vehicles. Serbia also seeks BUK anti-aircraft systems and S-300 surface to air missiles.
Extensive commercial ties include the energy sector. Serbia imports nearly two-thirds of its oil and gas from Russia. Gazprom, a Russian multinational energy corporation, has a significant position in Serbia’s state-owned energy company. Gazprom is Russia’s largest company in terms of revenue.
The Balkans are a tinderbox. Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia threatened to boil over in January 2017 when Belgrade provocatively sent a Russian-manufactured train to Mitrovica, in north Kosovo, that was decorated with signs in Cyrillic and Russian declaring “Kosovo is Serbia.” When the Kosovo government objected, Serbia threatened military action.
Kosovo Serbs also built a wall in Mitrovica and threatened to secede. They covered the wall with posters of Putin. Tensions were exacerbated by anti-NATO propaganda spread by Sputnik, a Kremlin-financed media conglomerate with a major hub in Belgrade. The Serbian information ecosystem is inundated with anti-NATO propaganda.
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