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Nato should reestablish control of northern Kosovo or face continuing violence between ethnic Serbs and Albanians in the region, according to the prime minister of Albania.
Edi Rama, whose country is a member of the military alliance, spoke to the Financial Times after Serb paramilitaries took hostage a monastery in northern Kosovo, claiming at least four lives including that of an ethnic Albanian police officer.
“Kosovo is a hotspot,” Rama said. “It has become over the years a no-man’s-land where all kinds of crime combine with rising nationalism. The border between crime and politics has been blurred.”
Nato said it would deploy as many peacekeeping troops were needed to stabilise the situation, with Germany and the UK already pledging hundreds of soldiers on top of the existing 4,500-strong force to keep the region under control. Both Kosovo and Serbian leaders have also called on Nato to step up its presence and quell tensions.
Kosovo has blamed Serbia for sponsoring the attack and for moving army units close to the Kosovo border, in what indicated belligerent intentions. Belgrade denied having such plans but is harbouring the militia leader, Milan Radojičić, who carried out the monastery siege. Following the storming of that monastery, Kosovo authorities found a huge cache of weapons, including explosives, heavy artillery and military vehicles.
Albanians constitute by far the largest ethnic group in Kosovo, which broke away from Serbia in 2008. Belgrade has not recognised it as an independent nation — a step taken by the US and most EU countries. An ethnic Serb minority is concentrated in the northern part of Kosovo and has rejected Pristina’s authority, staging multiple protests and blockades over the past year.
The EU, the US and other western powers have tried to broker talks between Serbia and Kosovo but despite coming close to an agreement in March, the proposals disintegrated as a result of disputed municipal elections in northern Kosovo.
Rama advocated for a “high-level conference” involving the leaders of France and Germany and re-engaging the US. “That is the best [way] to get out of this never-ending madness.” The Albanian leader said he had already drawn attention to the deteriorating security situation in Kosovo during a Nato summit in July.
The goal, he said, was “full recognition of Kosovo in the EU and in the United Nations. It’s not easy to change the course of history, that requires leadership. But if France and Germany could do it [after the second world war], if Saudi Arabia and Israel can do it, then we know it can happen.”
Rama for a long time refrained from getting involved in the Kosovo conflict, instead building cordial ties with Belgrade as he sought to make progress on the EU membership path for the western Balkans. But given the rising security threat not just to Albanians in Kosovo but also to the region as a whole, Rama said he had to call a spade a spade.
Instability in the western Balkans serves Moscow’s interests, Rama said. Russia has long backed Serbia and has not recognised Kosovo’s independence. After Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine last year, Belgrade resisted western calls to impose sanctions on Russia.
“The Kremlin would also crave to see a little Donbas in Kosovo and set up a fire of separatism in the middle of Europe,” Rama said. While he offered no evidence of Russian involvement in the recent flare-up in tensions, he said the Kremlin’s meddling was “the simplest deduction you can make. They do this all over the world, from Africa to the Middle East, so of course they will try in Europe . . . Kosovo has also been a [tool] for Russians.”