VLADIMIR Putin ally Serbia is using Russian tactics to intimidate their neighbour Kosovo, the country’s president Vjosa Osmani has warned.
Ms Osmani spoke exclusively to The Sun Online at the European nation’s parliament building in the capital of Pristina.
She delivered a sober assessment of the volatile situation between the two neighbouring states amid overarching fears of a dangerous situation brewing in the Balkans.
Tensions have flared up repeatedly between pro-European Kosovo and Russian-linked Serbia as the shadow of the war in Ukraine is cast over Europe.
Ms Osmani told The Sun Online that while she still thinks a full-scale invasion is at this stage unlikely – she is troubled by the Putin-esque tactics being used by Serbia and its Russian linked President Aleksandr Vučić.
She compared the brewing situation to when Russia first annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Ms Osmani said Mr Vučić is “deeply connected” with Putin – and she has previously accused Serbia of planning an operation to grab Kosovar territory, just like Russia did in Crimea.
Serbia and Kosovo’s border has historically been one of the most incendiary in the Balkans.
Paramilitary groups, feared to be backed by the Serbian state and supported by Putin’s war criminal mercenaries The Wagner Group, are active in the north Kosovo.
Ms Osmani compared them to Putin’s infamous “little green men” deployed in Crimea – soldiers who bore no insignia and spearheaded Putin’s annexation.
Mr Vučić also has some 48 military bases around his nation’s border with Kosovo – just as Russia massed its forces before steaming into Crimea in 2014 and again into wider Ukraine in 2022.
“I believe he is showing what his intention is,” she told The Sun Online at The Assembly Building.
Serbia is also be feared to be arming and funding paramilitary groups, just as Putin did to the breakaway pro-Russian forces in the Donbas after taking Crimea.
Ms Osmani warned: “All of this shows that it’s the exact same plan.”
The language being used by some Serbian politicians is also eerily similar to Putin’s remarks on Ukraine.
Chilling rhetoric from within Mr Vučić’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) saw one MP calling for the “denazification of the Balkans” – a popular trope often used by Putin to justify his bloodshed.
Lack of peace and security in the Western Balkans means a destabilised Europe.President Vjosa Osmani
Ms Osmani urged the West to continue to support them, warning conflict in the Balkans will further destabilise an already fragile Europe.
“This is not a faraway problem,” she told The Sun Online.
“Peace in the Western Balkans is very much connected to peace in London, in New York, in Washington, in Paris, in Berlin, because history shows that the lack of peace and security in Europe is lack of peace and security internationally.
“And that lack of peace and security in the Western Balkans means a destabilised Europe.”
Ms Osmani has said it’s difficult to “understand the mind of autocrats” like Mr Vučić – saying while the invasion threat seems low now, that could change.
She told The Sun Online: “Invasion doesn’t seem very likely. However, a lot of people said that it was unlikely in Ukraine just two days before it happened.
“We were all at the Munich Security Conference and the vast majority were saying that Russia would never do that.
“Well, they did.”
Kosovo and Serbia share a tumultuous past, with a war lasting from 1998-1999 – ending when NATO initiated an aerial bombardment campaign against Yugoslavia.
The Western-backed intervention thwarted Serbia’s genocide of Albanian Kosovars, which was led by Serbia’s then-President Slobodan Milošević.
In the two decades since the conflict ended, tensions have been simmering, with strained relations coming to a head again in December of last year.
Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo erected barricades in the divided city of Mitrovica using trucks loaded with rocks – crippling the region.
Serbia still refuses to recognise Kosovo’s statehood, and flare-ups between the Balkan neighbours stoked fears of a return to blood-soaked conflict.
At the Munich Security Conference the vast majority were saying that Russia would never do that.
Well, they did.President Vjosa Osmani
Populist leader Mr Vučić was the former Minister of Information for Milošević – who was indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity in a four-year-long trial.
Ms Osmani tells us Mr Vučić would hold speeches criticising Milošević “not because he disagreed with the crimes”, but because they were not “harsh enough against ethnic Albanians”.
Now, there are renewed concerns that Mr Vučić’s support for Milošević’s policies could serve as a dangerous pretext for escalation.
Ethnic Serbs living in North Kosovo continue to terrorise minority ethnic Albanian Kosovars in the region – as well as peaceful Kosovar Serbs.
Serbian paramilitary forces and criminal organisations help to keep the violence going in north Kosovo, with Russia importing weapons and military uniforms, Ms Osmani said.
She continued: “Serbia has been openly supporting these groups in northern Kosovo and committing crimes, including committing crimes against Serbs who live in the north.”
Imminent armed conflict seems unlikely, as NATO forces and other international troops maintain a heavy presence in Kosovo after the bloody genocide in the 1990s.
Ms Osmani has said her country is certain Serbia will fail if they try to invade and reclaim the territory.
Yet Russian infiltration into Serbia remains a threat for Kosovo – a country striving to gain EU and NATO membership.
In the most recent talks, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Mr Vučić engaged in negotiations for nearly 12 hours.
The summit – held in the town of Ohrid in North Macedonia – picked over an 11-point plan unveiled by the EU last month.
The proceedings ended in a lukewarm verbal agreement, with Serbia refusing to put pen to paper, despite willing cooperation from Kosovo.
The proposed agreement, backed by the EU, states that neither side would engage in violence to abate disputes.
The key demand from Kosovo was for Serbia to agree not to prevent them from joining the European Union or other international bodies.
It would also result in de-facto recognition between the two sides, with Kosovo and Serbia accepting the other’s travel documents, diplomas, licence plates and customs stamps.
However, there is no mention of Serbia explicitly recognising Kosovo as an autonomous state – an omission Ms Osmani fears will only prolong tensions between the two nations.
She said: “We are absolutely disappointed that mutual recognition is not explicitly included in this agreement, because that is the only solution that can lead to long lasting peace and stability.
“Serbia needs to come to the point where they understand that the reality of Kosovo as an independent sovereign country is a reality that will exist forever, we’re not going back, this is not going to change.
“So the quicker and the more our partners say that and make that clear to Serbia, the better for Serbia, the better for the region, and of course, for our relations.”
Another concern for Kosovo is Mr Vučić’s close alliance with Putin, resisting pressure to support sanctions against Russia.
The appeasement of autocrats has never led to long lasting peace.President Vjosa Osmani
Ms Osmani said: “It’s an illusion to believe that Mr Vučić will detach himself from Russia – he will certainly play games and tactics and pretend like he does, but he will continue to play to the same Russian and Serbian intentions of destroying neighbours and destroying peace.
“I believe that it is time that Europe stops appeasing him, because appeasement of autocrats has never led to long lasting peace.”
New reports have revealed Russian-funded Serbian paramilitaries have smuggled weapons into Kosovo with the help of the notorious Wagner Group, Russia’s criminal paramilitary organisation.
A week ago, Kosovo sanctioned the notorious private militia after widespread reports of their involvement in destabilising the western Balkans.
Ms Osmani has said Serbian paramilitary groups have clearly organised cooperation with Wagner.
A leader of a far-right party in Serbia visited the Wagner Group in Russia, and referred to it as “an honour” to Russian media, while also mentioning that he knew Serbs who were with the group already.
Vučić previously addressed the allegations of Serbian involvement with the group, and cited laws on Serbs joining foreign wars.
The law states “participating in and organising participation in a war in a foreign country is a criminal offence in Serbia, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.”
Source : The Irish Sun