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NATO reinforced peacekeeping force following deadly clashes in northern Kosovo; Serbia and Kosovo leaders met in Brussels amid intense international pressure.
Tensions ran high in northern Kosovo as NATO bolstered troop presence. NATO reinforced its peacekeeping mission in Kosovo following deadly attack on Kosovar police officers in northern Kosovo late Sept. Notably, UK 1 Oct announced deployment of around 200 soldiers, Romania 3 Oct promised some 100 troops and Germany 6 Oct pledged 155 troops. Meanwhile, U.S. 2 Oct welcomed Serbia’s announcement to withdraw some troops from border but emphasised continued concern about “cycle of rising tensions and sporadic violence in northern Kosovo”.
EU and U.S. urged Pristina and Belgrade to resume dialogue. Leaders from EU and Western Balkans nations 16 Oct held ninth Berlin Process summit in Albanian capital Tirana, aimed at boosting cooperation and reconciliation to advance EU integration. During summit, European Council President Charles Michel and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged Pristina and Belgrade to return to EU-mediated dialogue on normalisation. Serb President Aleksandar Vučić did not attend, instead travelling to China for Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. PM Kurti and Vučić 26 Oct met on margins of European Council in Belgian capital Brussels, but were unable to reach agreement; France, Italy and Germany 27 Oct called on Kosovo to launch procedure to create Association of Serb-majority Municipalities and on Serbia to “deliver on de facto recognition” of Kosovo.
Fragile calm in north shattered as group of heavily armed Serbs clashed with Kosovo police, leaving one officer and three Serbs dead; coming weeks could see more violence.
Heavily armed Serbs clashed with Kosovo police. Kosovo Police officers 24 Sept arrived at Serb-majority Banjska village in northern Kosovo after receiving reports that two trucks without license plates had blocked bridge. Around 30 heavily armed Serbs ambushed patrol upon arrival, killing one police officer before forcing their way into nearby monastery; shootouts ensued as police mounted “clearance operation”, leaving three Kosovo Serbs dead. Minister of Internal Affairs Xhelal Svecla same day said police had “regained control” of area, made several arrests and seized large amounts of military-grade weaponry including mortars, grenade launchers and anti-tank rockets; weapons indicate Serbs in north are preparing for a fight, raising risk of further escalation in Oct.
U.S. warned of Serbian military build-up along border amid rising tensions. PM Kurti 24 Sept blamed “Serbian-state supported troops” for attacks; Serb President Aleksandar Vučić denied accusation and condemned killing of police officer, but added that gunmen were local Kosovo Serbs who “do not want to suffer under Kurti’s terror anymore”. Former VP of Serbian List – largest Serb political party in Kosovo – Milan Radoičić 29 Sept assumed responsibility for attack, claiming he acted alone without informing Belgrade. U.S. 26 Sept said attack “was coordinated and sophisticated” and that “the quantity of weapons suggests this was serious, with a plan to destabilise security in the region”. U.S. 29 Sept accused Serbia of military build-up along border while NATO allies authorised additional forces, warning of “increasing tensions”.
EU-mediated Kosovo-Serbia dialogue failed to yield progress. Ahead of escalation, EU High Representative Josep Borrell 14 Sept mediated talks in Brussels, Belgium’s capital, between PM Kurti and Serb President Aleksandar Vučić to advance normalisation process, afterward saying “it was not possible to bridge the differences”; he noted Vučić’s acceptance of EU’s compromise proposal but said “Kurti was not ready” to move forward on establishing Association/Community of Serb municipalities in north, key provision of 2013 and 2015 Brussels agreements. Kurti same day claimed his sequencing plan was “the only proposal on the table”.
Pristina took further de-escalatory steps in Serb-majority northern municipalities, though tensions remained high; EU stepped up pressure on Pristina and Belgrade to resume normalisation efforts.
Kosovo police further reduced presence at municipal buildings in north. Authorities 3 Aug announced 25% reduction of police presence around municipal buildings in north, second such reduction in two months, while PM Kurti next day described security situation as “calm”. NATO-led force KFOR 4 Aug and EU 10 Aug welcomed move. Tensions simmered, however, after authorities in North Mitrovica town 22 Aug ordered Serbia’s parallel govt institutions to “vacate” their premises within three days; EU 24 Aug condemned move and town’s mayor 25 Aug postponed deadline by two weeks.
EU maintained pressure on Pristina and Belgrade to de-escalate. Following reduced police presence in north, Pristina called for removal of EU’s punitive measures, imposed in June. EU 10 Aug demanded additional de-escalatory steps, however, while stating readiness to impose “punitive measures” against Serbia unless it too works to de-escalate. French President Emmanuel Macron 28 Aug threatened Pristina and Belgrade with “review” of EU visa liberalisation and economic cooperation amid growing EU pressure on sides to resume efforts on normalising relations. EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák same day met with PM Kurti, 30 Aug met with Serb President Aleksandar Vučić ahead of possible trilateral meeting in Sept.
Pristina promised steps to reduce tensions in Serb-majority northern municipalities, and PM Kurti announced acquisition of Turkish combat drones.
Govt agreed to reduce police presence at northern municipal buildings and hold elections. Amid stepped-up pressure from European Union (EU) on Pristina to de-escalate tensions in Serb-majority northern municipalities, which soared after govt late May installed newly-elected ethnic Albanian mayors, EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčác 10 July met with Deputy PM Bislimi in Slovakian capital, Bratislava. Following meeting, Pristina 11 July announced reduction of police presence around municipal buildings in north by 25% and expressed support for “the holding of new elections”; EU High Representative Josep Borrell 12 July welcomed news but said EU expected further de-escalatory steps. In meeting with Serb President Alexsandar Vučić, NATO Sec Gen Jens Stoltenberg 19 July urged Belgrade and Pristina to “prevent escalation and engage in the EU-facilitated dialogue”; Vučić same day requested “a more significant role for [NATO-led force] Kosovo Force (KFOR) in easing tensions”. Chief negotiators for Kosovo and Serbia 19 July met separately in Brussels with Lajčác, who reportedly saw “need for additional coordination” before trilateral meeting occurs.
Serbia condemned Kosovo’s acquisition of Turkish drones. PM Kurti 16 July confirmed purchase of Turkish-made Bayraktar drones, saying security spending is making Kosovo safer; KFOR next day reiterated its “primary authority over the airspace above Kosovo”. Serbian Defence Minister Milos Vucevic 21 July accused Kosovo of acquiring “offensive weapons”, including drones, and warned that Belgrade is “carefully watching what is happening”.
Tensions continued to spiral in Serb-majority northern municipalities as European Union (EU) and U.S. ratcheted up pressure on Pristina and Belgrade to defuse situation.
Situation deteriorated further in northern Kosovo. Following protests late May in four northern Serb-majority municipalities, which broke out after authorities seized municipal buildings and installed newly elected ethnic Albanian mayors, protests and violent clashes continued. Notably, Kosovo Serbs 13 June targeted police with stones following arrest of an individual accused of organising attack on NATO forces 29 May. Month also saw increase in explosions and other attacks, primarily targeting govt institutions: notably, two bombs 19 June exploded near police station in Zvečan town. Meanwhile, PM Kurti 14 June announced Serbian armed forces had detained three Kosovo police officers, fuelling tensions further, though Serbia 26 June released them. EU High Representative Josep Borrell 23 June expressed alarm at reports of extrajudicial arrests of Kosovo Serbs and subsequent “heavy rhetoric from Serbia”, warning escalation is “becoming dangerous”.
Month saw flurry of EU and U.S. diplomatic activity aimed at defusing tensions. International actors urged de-escalation between Kosovo and Serbia, with particular pressure exerted on Pristina to suspend police operations in north and have mayors temporarily perform duties “in premises out of the municipal buildings”. EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák and U.S. Special Envoy Gabriel Escobar 5 June also reiterated calls for fresh polls to elect new mayors in northern municipalities during talks with Kurti, who 12 June sent Borrell five-point plan to calm tensions. Borrell 14 June warned Kurti’s plan had failed to address “key elements that triggered the current crisis”, 22 June hosted series of crisis management meetings with Serb President Aleksandar Vučić and Kurti, without immediate breakthrough. EU 28 June warned Kosovo it is preparing number of punitive measures, which are “temporary and reversible” if sufficient steps are taken to de-escalate situation; Kurti 29 June announced willingness to “decrease Kosova Police presence” and “organise early elections”.
Protests following elections in Serb-majority northern municipalities turned violent, while tensions simmered with Belgrade over these municipalities’ political status.
Clashes broke out in north following April’s municipal elections. After tense municipal elections in April boycotted by most Kosovo Serbs, newly elected mayors in northern municipalities 26 May attempted to enter municipal buildings amid increased police presence. Small groups of Kosovo Serbs sought to block new mayors from buildings in three communes; in Zvecan town, police intervened, leading to clashes with protesters. Serbian President Vučić same day placed army on high alert and ordered “urgent movement [of troops] to Kosovo border”. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 26 May criticised police’s use of force, which “unnecessarily escalated tensions”, while European Union (EU) urged “everyone” to de-escalate. Unrest continued, however, and NATO-led force KFOR 29 May moved to disperse Serb protesters, leading to clashes that left dozens injured, including NATO troops; NATO next day announced deployment of additional forces. Tensions began to ease end May.
Frictions with Belgrade over political status of northern Serbs persisted. PM Kurti 2 May met with Vučić in Brussels as dialogue on agreement to normalise relations, mediated by EU High Representative Josep Borrell and EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák, continued. Sides discussed draft statute proposed by Kosovo Serbs to establish “Association/Community” of Serb municipalities in north, which would enable them to form self-governing association. Kurti said he could not accept draft, fearing arrangement would result either in northern municipalities’ secession or internal fracturing reminiscent of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska; Borrell same day emphasised draft statute was “a starting point”.
Belgrade and Pristina established Monitoring Committee as normalisation efforts proceeded, local elections in north saw meagre turnout, and trial against former president kicked off in The Hague.
EU-mediated dialogue on normalising relations with Serbia advanced. Kosovo and Serbia 18 April created Joint Monitoring Committee to oversee “implementation” of March agreement on normalising relations and its Implementation Annex. Meanwhile, Council of Europe Ministers’ Committee 24 April forwarded Kosovo’s application for Council membership to Parliamentary Assembly, which Kosovo leaders hailed as “historic step”.
Kosovo Serbs boycotted municipal elections. Largest Kosovo Serb party Serbian List 21 April urged Serb community to boycott “undemocratic” elections, held 23 April in four Serb-dominated northern municipalities. Under 4% of eligible citizens voted, leading to victories for ruling Vetëvendosje party and opposition Democratic Party of Kosovo. VP of Serbian List, Milan Radoičić, same day warned that Serbs “would never allow” officials elected with such low turnout to govern in northern municipalities. EU 24 April said low turnout “shows that this process is not and cannot be considered business as usual”.
Trial against former President Hashim Thaçi and three others began. Kosovo Specialist Court in The Hague, which has jurisdiction over crimes committed in Kosovo 1998-2000, 3 April commenced trial of Thaçi and three other former Kosovo Liberation Army leaders for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes; all have pleaded “not guilty”. Thousands 2 April protested in capital Pristina in support of Thaçi.
European Union (EU) announced Kosovo and Serbia had struck deal to normalise relations, but sides stopped short of signing final agreement.
Despite progress, Kosovo and Serbia failed to sign final deal on normalisation. After tacitly approving EU proposal on normalising relations late Feb, PM Kurti and Serb President Vučic 18 March reached verbal agreement on implementing annex, which provides further details on path to normalising relations and outlines plans for Joint Monitoring Committee. EU High Representative Josep Borrell also noted that Kosovo had agreed to begin negotiations to ensure “self-management for the Serbian communities in Kosovo”. Sides, however, failed to sign final deal; Borrell 18 March also admitted parties had not accepted “a more ambitious text” but that agreement nonetheless “will become an integral part of their respective EU paths”. U.S. 20 March hailed “historic” and “legally binding” agreement. Deal saw some opposition. Notably, leader of largest opposition party, Democratic Party of Kosovo, 20 March criticised Kurti for accepting agreement that maintains “frozen conflict with Serbia for years to come”, while Serb demonstrators 5, 17, 24 March protested deal in Serb capital Belgrade.
In other important developments. EU 10 March approved visa-free travel for Kosovar citizens. Serbian List – largest political party of Serbs in Kosovo – 21 March reconfirmed non-participation in local elections scheduled for April.
Kosovo and Serbia edged closer to deal on normalising relations following European Union (EU)-mediated talks in Brussels.
PM Kurti and Serb President Vučić tacitly approved EU proposal on normalising relations. Following meeting in Pristina with EU Special Representative Lajčak, PM Kurti 6 Feb accepted Franco-German proposal on normalising relations with Serbia as “good basis”. EU High Representative Josep Borrell 9 Feb confirmed inviting leaders to EU-mediated dialogue 27 Feb, 10 Feb said proposal is “the only way to solve the problems and normalise relations”. Vučić 17 Feb confirmed readiness for dialogue on condition that Kosovo Association of Serb Municipalities – which would enable Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo to form self-governing association – is discussed. Borrell 27 Feb announced sides agreed that “no more discussions are needed on the European Union proposal” and expressed readiness to “proceed with implementation”. Talks will now focus on leaked annex, which spells out timeline for reaching final deal.
International actors showed support for normalisation process ahead of talks. Turkish President Erdoğan 3 Feb expressed “support” for dialogue. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Quint ambassadors (France, Germany, Italy, UK and U.S.) 7 Feb reiterated importance of making “concrete progress” in EU-facilitated talks. European Council 9 Feb “underlined the urgent need for progress in the normalisation”. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 15 Feb said normalisation “will bring security and prosperity” to region.
Western envoys sought to advance Kosovo-Serbia normalisation, and tensions over license plates persisted.
Western envoys visited Kosovo and Serbia to push for normalisation. Delegation of representatives from European Union (EU), U.S., France, Germany and Italy 20 Jan met with PM Kurti in capital Pristina and Serb President Vučić in Serb capital Belgrade to discuss Franco-German proposal on normalising relations. Kurti same day said meeting was “good basis for further talks” while Vučić expressed willingness to work on implementing agreement. Vučić 23 Jan claimed that EU had warned of delays to Serbia’s European integration and economic isolation if Belgrade did not accept proposal and said Serbia must “take part in dialogue and continue its European road”. EU Special Envoy Lajčak 20 Jan reiterated that Kosovo’s “overdue implementation of the Association of Serb Municipalities” – which would enable Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo to form self-governing association – is “crucial” for achieving normalisation; Kurti 27 Jan remained defiant over proposal. Meanwhile, European Parliament 12 Jan approved visa liberalisation for Kosovo.
Kosovo and Serbia exchanged blame for “violating” license plate deal. Interior Minister Xhelal Sveçla 18 Jan said authorities barred some vehicles with northern Mitrovica city license plates (KM abbreviation) from entering Kosovo, accusing Serbia of renewing these license plates in Dec 2022 and thus breaching 23 Nov EU-brokered deal; Belgrade same day said Kosovo’s actions constituted “flagrant violation” of agreement. EU 19 Jan urged both parties to respect agreement: “This means that Kosovo will refrain from any action against those owners that have KM license plates and effectively maintain the status quo until a more sustainable solution is reached in the dialogue. This also means that Serbia does not issue new KM license plates”.
Violent protests erupted in northern Kosovo following arrest of Serb police officer, but tensions eased late Dec and protesters removed barricades.
Arrest of Serb police officer sparked violent protests in northern Kosovo. Authorities 10 Dec arrested former Serb police officer Dejan Pantic for alleged attacks on municipal election commission offices in North Mitrovica town; Pantic had resigned in Nov along with some 600 Serb officers over license plate dispute before Pristina and Belgrade reached deal on 23 Nov. Pantic’s arrest prompted hundreds of Kosovo Serb protesters 10 Dec to erect roadblocks in northern Kosovo; security forces reported exchanges of fire with protesters and said one stun grenade targeted vehicle of European Union (EU) Mission in Kosovo. EU High Representative Josep Borrell 11 Dec said EU “will not tolerate attacks on EULEX Kosovo or the use of violent, criminal acts in the north” and urged protesters to remove barricades. Thousands 22 Dec demonstrated in Rudare locality, calling for withdrawal of Kosovo police units from Serb-majority north.
Tensions eased late Dec and protesters removed barricades. Serb President Vučić 16 Dec submitted request to NATO-led force KFOR to send up to 1,000 police and military forces to northern Kosovo to “defuse tensions and protect Serb population”; KFOR same day said they are “evaluating” demand but Kosovar President Osmani dismissed idea. Serbia 26 Dec placed security forces at border with Kosovo in “full state of combat readiness” while Kosovo 28 Dec closed Merdare border crossing with Serbia. Vučić 28 Dec announced barricades would be removed after authorities released Pantic and placed him under house arrest; protesters following day began removing barricades, while some border crossings reopened, reducing tensions.
Kosovo formally applied to join EU. Pristina 15 Dec formally submitted application for EU membership, although normalisation with Serbia remains crucial condition for Kosovo’s candidacy. EU ambassadors 20 Dec approved text on visa liberalisation for Kosovo, still to be ratified by European Parliament and EU Council.
Authorities reached deal with Belgrade over license plates, ending nearly two-year dispute that had fuelled worrying rise in tensions.
Pristina and Belgrade 23 Nov struck European Union (EU)-brokered deal to end license plate dispute amid growing concerns of possible violence. According to EU High Representative Josep Borrell, “Serbia will stop issuing licence plates with Kosovo cities’ denominations”, while Kosovo will cease demands to re-register vehicles with Serbian plates. Borrell added that priority is now Franco-German proposal “on the normalisation of their relations”, details of which were leaked by news agency Euractiv 9 Nov. Deal came as tensions peaked during first part of month. Interior Minister Xhelal Sveçla 3 Nov suspended northern Kosovo’s police chief for refusing to issue warnings of fines to drivers with Serbia-issued license plates, as per govt plan. In protest, hundreds of Serb lawmakers, judges and police officers 5 Nov resigned, while reportedly thousands next day rallied in northern Mitrovica city. EU mid-Nov deployed 130 police officers from Poland and Italy to take over patrols in northern Kosovo after resignation of some 600 police officers. NATO 7 Nov urged “both to refrain from unilateral action” while EU and U.S. 21 Nov urged Kosovo to “immediately suspend” next phase of license plate plan. Kurti same day agreed to “48-hour postponement” of fines before parties reached final deal two days later.
Authorities delayed license plate rule in bid to ease tensions, as discussions on Kosovo-Serbia normalisation continued.
Kosovo govt announced new license plate rules. As tensions simmered over govt’s 31 Oct deadline for switch of all Serbia-registered vehicles to temporary Republic of Kosovo plates, U.S. Special Envoy Gabriel Escobar 19 Oct said that “Quint” countries (France, Germany, Italy, UK and U.S.) asked PM Kurti to extend deadline for implementation of license plate rule by ten months; EU 21 Oct joined call for postponement. Serb party in Kosovo 28 Oct warned that Serb minority would once again block roads if govt did not delay implementation of rule. Kurti same day announced phased deadlines: until 21 Nov, users of Serbia-registered cars will be given warning, after which they will receive fine; full implementation will be established 21 April 2023. EU 29 Oct said decision was “step in the right direction” but called for longer transition period to “maintain calm”.
Franco-German proposal for normalisation with Serbia sparked debates. Following Sept rumours of Franco-German draft proposal on normalising Serbia-Kosovo relations, Serb President Vučić 8 Oct confirmed its existence, claiming it proposed UN membership for Kosovo in exchange for Serbia receiving financial aid and fast-track to EU membership; FM Donika Gervalla 9 Oct also confirmed document’s existence, said it was “basis for discussion” rather than final proposal.
Kosovo French and German leaders urged compromise over normalisation with Serbia, tensions over license plate dispute persisted.Diplomatic efforts to sustain Belgrade-Pristina dialogue continued. After govt reached agreement with Serbia late Aug allowing border crossings with existing ID cards, French President Macron and German Chancellor Scholz 4 Sept asked PM Albin Kurti and Serbian President Vučić to prepare for compromise in Serb-Kosovar normalisation. In positive development, Kosovar deputy PM and education minister 5 Sept visited southern Serbia, while Serbian PM Ana Brnabic 6 Sept visited northern Kosovo with message of “peace, stability and tolerance”.Tensions over license plate dispute persisted. Amid govt’s 31 Oct deadline for switch of all Serbia-registered vehicles to temporary Republic of Kosovo plates, assailants 20 Sept set fire to Kosovo Serb police officer’s car for displaying Kosovo-issued license plates. Interior Minister Xhelal Sveçla same day blamed “illegal structures”, allegedly supported by Vučić, for attacks and accused Vučić of trying “to intimidate Serb citizens living in Kosovo”. NATO Mission in Kosovo 22 Sept announced arrival of reserve troops “as part of normal contingency planning” amid heightened concerns as deadline nears, added that “other reserves” could arrive if required.
Following sharp rise in tensions late July, govt reached agreement with Serbia allowing border crossings with existing ID cards, but failed to resolve license plate dispute. Uptick in tensions late July continued into Aug over govt plans to issue temporary IDs and license plates to Serbs entering country. Notably, PM Albin Kurti 10 Aug warned of “possibility of rising tensions and new conflicts”; NATO 17 Aug confirmed increase in troop numbers and reiterated readiness to “deploy them”; and Serbian President Vučić 21 Aug accused Pristina of seeking “final removal” of Serbs, warning that if NATO did not protect them, Serbia “will save our people from persecution and pogroms”; PM Kurti 26 Aug asked NATO for additional troops to “improve security”. However, following unsuccessful talks earlier in Aug, EU High Representative Josep Borrell 27 Aug announced Kosovo and Serbia had reached deal to resolve dispute over temporary IDs, agreeing that neither side will require additional documentation for crossing border. However, sides failed to resolve license plate dispute as govt planned to begin policy of making all Serbia-registered vehicles switch to temporary Republic of Kosovo plates at border from 1 Sept; EU Special Envoy Miroslav Lajcak 31 Aug said “we have two months to find a solution”, referring to 31 Oct deadline set by Pristina for switch to local license plates. Meanwhile, in accordance with June agreement struck with Serbia, govt 10 Aug transferred $40 million to cover Serb minority’s energy costs until Nov, when Serbs will take over payments.
Tensions rose late month amid govt plans to issue temporary IDs for Serbs entering country, with protesters in Serb-majority area setting up roadblocks and reportedly shooting at police. Following decision late June to issue Kosovo ID cards to citizens entering with Serb-issued documents, and to give drivers until 30 Sept to obtain Kosovo licence plates, authorities 25 July said all preparations were complete for new rule to begin by 1 Aug. However, decision fuelled frustration in northern Kosovo, prompting some to take to streets. Notably, protesters in majority Serb North Mitrovica town 31 July set roadblocks at two border crossing points with Serbia while police reported shots fired, harassment of passing Albanian civilians and attacks on cars. Govt condemned unrest while pledging to postpone implementation of new rule until 1 Sept. Serbian President Vučić same day said “Serbs will not suffer any more cruelty” but that Serbian govt “would try to preserve peace at all costs”; PM Kurti meanwhile defended reciprocity measures. NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo same day stated readiness “to intervene if stability is jeopardized in the north of Kosovo”. Earlier, European Parliament 6 July called for “comprehensive, legally binding normalisation agreement” between Serbia and Kosovo to further progress on EU accession; Serbian President Vučić same day said Serbia “won’t consider” mutual recognition of Kosovo and Serbia. EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina dialogue Miroslav Lajčák 10 July announced that Serbian and Kosovar leaders had agreed to meet during month; similarly, Kosovar President Osmani 4 July said she believed “there will be a meeting” between leaders. Lajčák 20 July said Kosovo and Serbia needed to agree on meaning of normalisation and conceded that “it’s better to wait a little and make sure the meeting is successful”; he nonetheless stipulated that meeting should not be postponed again and that it should take place by Sept. Meanwhile, European Council 18 July reconfirmed “desire to intensify the EU-facilitated Dialogue” by extending Lajčák’s mandate until Aug 2024.
Authorities struck long-awaited energy deal with Serbia to support Serb municipalities, but restricted entry for Serbs entering country, sparking Belgrade’s condemnation. Following Nov 2021 announcement that Kosovo would cut energy supply to Serbian municipalities, Kosovo and Serbia 21 June signed agreement in EU-facilitated dialogue to implement previous energy deal signed in 2013; deal paves way for Belgrade-backed company to supply energy to Serbian municipalities, which have not paid for electricity since end of Kosovo-Serbia war in 1999. EU Special Representative Lajčák same day called deal “major step forward”. Govt 29 June announced that citizens with Serbian ID cards entering country would be given temporary Kosovo-issued documents; stipulated that cars with Serbian licence plates must re-register with Republic of Kosovo plates by 30 September. Belgrade accused Pristina of seeking to “expel Serbs” from territory and of launching “general attack on northern Kosovo”. During visit by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to capital Pristina, PM Kurti 10 June announced plan to submit EU membership application by end of 2022; Scholz reiterated that Kosovo and Serbia could only become EU members if they found “political solution” to dispute over Kosovo’s independence “with a comprehensive, sustainable agreement that also contributes to regional stability”. European Council President Charles Michel 15 June visited Pristina, calling for “rapid progress in implementing past agreements” within EU-led Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, which “is essential for advancing on the EU path”. At EU Western Balkan’s summit, President Osmani 24 June claimed she had received “strongest [support] so far” from EU leaders on Kosovo’s EU perspective and visa liberalisation.
Germany urged govt and Serbia to resume dialogue as Pristina advanced membership bid for Council of Europe, prompting protest from Belgrade. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz 4 May held meetings in German capital Berlin with PM Kurti and Serbian President Vučić, urging both to resume dialogue for “regional stability”; EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák same day hosted trilateral talks with both leaders. Meanwhile, govt 12 May submitted membership bid to Council of Europe, Europe’s leading human rights body, with German and Montenegrian support. Vučić 6 May claimed bid “violates the Washington Agreement” — deal signed in Sept 2020 in presence of former U.S. President Trump in which Kosovo agreed to halt joining international organisations for one year — warning “our response will be stronger than they think” and will involve “diplomatic offensives” urging states to withdraw recognition of Kosovo’s independence; Serbian FM Nikola Selakovic 13 May claimed four countries had derecognised Kosovo, but FM Gervalla-Schwarz same day claimed that information is either “untrue or they have been working for a long time” on derecognition campaign. After temporary agreement for license plate dispute expired in April, EU-mediated talks between chief negotiators of Kosovo and Serbia 13 May ended without new agreement. Former president Hashim Thaçi and three others 12 May pleaded not guilty to war crime charges at Kosovo Specialist Chambers.
Amid war in Ukraine, regional tensions ran high as authorities warned of Russian and Serbian threats in Western Balkans, and blamed series of small-scale attacks on Belgrade. President Osmani 5 April accused Russia of having interest “in attacking Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina”, while stating Serbia may feel “emboldened by what is happening in the continent of Europe right now”; Osmani also stated that NATO membership is “becoming indispensable, especially in light of events in Ukraine” and EU’s “active appeasement policy” toward Serbian President Vučić is “big mistake”. Following Serbian elections, PM Kurti 12 April claimed that removal of Albanian voters in Serbia’s south from election lists equated to “silent ethnic cleansing” and called polls “neither free nor democratic”. Interior minister 15 April announced four attacks, including one with use of rifles and grenades, on police officers in previous three days in Zubin Potok, Serb-majority municipality in north; PM Kurti same day alleged attacks were “coming from Serbia”, prompting EU and U.S. same day to caution against “speculation”. Temporary agreement with Serbia forged in Sept 2021 that resolved license plate dispute expired 21 April as EU-facilitated talks failed to produce new permanent deal, while reports indicated temporary measures would remain in place; EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák same day warned against actions that “jeopardise the security on the ground”. Meanwhile, at UN Security Council briefing on UN Mission in Kosovo, govt and Serbia exchanged barbs: FM Gervalla-Schwarz 22 April accused Serbian FM Selaković of trying to “manipulate facts” and said Vučić “propagated genocide as something heroic”; Serbian counterpart claimed Gervalla-Schwarz ignored past “crimes committed by the Kosovo Albanians”.
Govt sought to advance NATO membership bid in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while dispute over Serb participation in Serbia’s April polls continued. Amid war in Ukraine following Russia’s Feb invasion, President Osmani 17 March reportedly asked U.S. President Biden to “advance” NATO membership bid, underscoring “we are exposed to persistent efforts by Russia to undermine Kosovo and destabilise the entire Western Balkans”. Govt 2 March opened “security fund” for donations by citizens and diaspora to security forces. PM Kurti 23 March warned of “danger” from Serbia, arguing Serbia might “imitate Russia”. Govt 23 March approved all “sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russia and Belarus”. Polish authorities 9 March reportedly stopped two Kosovars heading to Ukraine to join resistance forces; Kosovo’s Head of Special Prosecution Blerim Isufaj same day told media “the law prohibits participation” in foreign conflicts. Meanwhile, govt during month reportedly rejected proposal to permit Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to organise polling stations for Serbian elections on its territory, reversing its policy; PM Kurti 21 March insisted on need for formal “agreement” on issue with Serbia. In response, Serbian President Vučić 22 March announced sanctions and France, Germany, Italy, UK and U.S. 23 March criticised govt, saying policy “is not in line with our values and principles and will undermine their European aspirations”. Judicial review body 24 March suspended presiding judge of Mitrovica court after she appeared at meeting with Vučić; Chairman of Serb opposition party Srpska List Goran Rakic next day called on Kosovo Serbs to boycott Kosovo institutions until judge is reappointed, as several hundreds of protesters reportedly rallied in northern Mitrovica city.
Country marked 14th anniversary of statehood and govt expressed willingness to resume dialogue with Serbia. Ahead of country’s National Day on 17 Feb, which marks 14th anniversary of statehood for Kosovo, U.S. President Biden 15 Feb congratulated country on its “independence”; at ceremony in parliament, PM Kurti 18 Feb declared “Europe is where we belong, while NATO is a condition for peace for all of us”, same day asked EU for “more funds” to continue reform process. Following meeting with EU High Representative Josep Borrell, Kurti 20 Feb affirmed willingness to dialogue with Serbia “if there is the same will from the Serbian side”. After Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov 18 Feb alleged mercenaries were recruited from Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia to fight in Ukraine in order to “destabilize Russia” (see Ukraine), authorities 21 Feb rejected “false” Russian allegations. Kosovo’s and Serbia’s negotiating teams 23 Feb engaged with dialogue facilitators in Belgian capital Brussels in attempt to resume dialogue; meeting ended without decisive progress.
Assembly banned international organisations from facilitating voting in Serbia’s referendum on Kosovo territory, prompting criticism from Serbia and Western countries. Assembly 15 Jan passed resolution to ban international organisations from facilitating voting on Kosovo territory in Serbia’s constitutional referendum that took place next day; referendum seen as effort to strengthen independence of judiciary and enhance rule of law institutions in Serbia. Ban prompted Kosovo authorities to confiscate ballots, prevent setting up of polling stations, and deny entry to Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) planning to recover ballots. Director of Serbia’s Office for Kosovo and Metohija, Petar Petković, 15 Jan accused Kosovo of “open confrontation with the Serbian people”; France, Germany, Italy, UK, U.S. and EU 14 Jan expressed regret over decision to prevent OSCE from collecting ballots of eligible voters and urged Kosovo and Serbia to “engage constructively in the EU-facilitated Dialogue”. After govt late Dec expelled Russian official from UN Mission in Kosovo for alleged “harmful activity”, UN Sec-Gen Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric 1 Jan stated that designation of persona non grata “is not applicable to United Nations personnel”; Russian foreign ministry 4 Jan called expulsion “continuation of the provocative line for aggravation of interethnic relations”. Opposition Social Democratic Party 29 Jan called for protests over spiking energy prices; thousands reportedly gathered in capital Pristina, which led to scuffles with police. U.S. Special Envoy Gabriel Escobar and EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak 31 Jan visited PM Kurti in Pristina in effort to reinitiate dialogue with Serbia.
EU and dozens of civil society organisations emphasised importance of continuing Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. Deputy PM Besnik Bislimi 7 Dec alleged Serb’s “parallel structures [inside Kosovo] are now more powerful than before”, hindering progress in Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue; 47 civil society organisations from Kosovo and Serbia 10 Dec jointly demanded resumption of EU-led Belgrade-Pristina dialogue due to “deep concern for the deterioration of the situation on the ground”. EU and Kosovo 7 Dec held fourth meeting of Stabilisation and Association Council, agreeing on “importance of constructive engagement in the EU-facilitated Dialogue to negotiate and achieve a comprehensive legally binding normalisation agreement with Serbia”. Likewise, during EU-Serbia Accession Conference on 14 Dec, EU renewed condition of Serb-Kosovar normalisation for progress in Serbia’s EU accession. After leaders of Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia late Nov met for Open Balkans Initiative, Kosovo FM Donika Gervalla 3 Dec claimed initiative could obstruct Kosovo’s regional integration. Kosovo 9 Dec arrested Serbian citizen at border suspected of war crimes during Kosovo war.
PM Kurti expressed dissatisfaction with ruling Vetëvendosje party’s performance in second-round municipal elections. 21 municipalities 14 Nov voted in second round of municipal elections; EU Electoral Observation Mission 16 Nov described elections as “well administered and competitive”. Opposition Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) candidate Perparim Rama won in capital Pristina in run-off against Vetëvendosje party; Vetëvendosje won four of 12 municipalities it competed in, which PM Kurti described as “unsatisfactory” results for his party. Serb Srpska Lista party won ten municipalities, most in second round. Following Sept arrest of Kosovo Liberation Army Veterans’ Association leaders Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj for allegedly revealing confidential information about protected witnesses, Haradinaj 8 Nov accused Kosovo Specialist Court, located in Netherlands’s capital The Hague and with mandate over crimes commenced or committed in Kosovo in 1998-2000, of bias; court 17 Nov confirmed trial next month for possible offences against administration of justice. Electricity network system operator KOSTT 23 Nov announced end to subsidies for electricity supply to four Serb municipalities; Pristina Basic Court in Oct annulled Energy Regulation Office decision to pay Serb municipalities’ bills.
EU brokered temporary agreement to resolve tense standoff with Serbia triggered by licence plate dispute, while police and Kosovo Serb protesters clashed. Following govt’s implementation of regulations affecting Serbian licence plates that triggered unrest in north and dispute with Belgrade, NATO mission 2 Oct deployed to border crossing points with Serbia in northern Kosovo in support of EU-brokered temporary agreement. EU deal 4 Oct came into force, requiring covering up national symbols on licence plates and establishing Working Group to find permanent solution to dispute. Working Group 21 Oct met for first time in Belgian capital Brussels, due to report back on their findings at High-Level Dialogue in six months. Meanwhile, authorities in Mitrovica city in northern Kosovo 1 Oct charged ten ethnic Albanians with involvement in Sept ethnically motivated attack against Serbs. In worrying incident, police 13 Oct clashed with Kosovo Serb protesters who reportedly threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police during anti-smuggling operation in Mitrovica; incident left six officers and one protester injured. Serbian President Vučić same day met Kosovo Serb representatives, who asked for weapons and Serbian troops in or out of uniform, and stated: “If they [Kosovo authorities] start violence, you protect your people and we will be with you”. Meanwhile, U.S. 13 Oct urged for calm and EU 14 Oct warned against “unilateral actions”. In first round of municipal elections held 17 Oct, ruling Vetevendosje party failed to secure victory in any of 17 constituencies that produced clear winner; 21 remaining constituencies due to be decided in run-off votes.
New govt regulations on licence plates triggered protests at Serbian border and escalated tensions with Belgrade. Govt implemented regulation beginning 20 Sept requiring replacement of Serbian licence plates with temporary Kosovo ones when entering Kosovo; govt said move imposes “reciprocity” with measure similar to long-time Serbian practice with Kosovo-registered cars. Rejecting decision, hundreds of Kosovo Serbs 20-21 Sept blocked roads leading to Jarinje and Brnjak border crossings, prompting armed police 20 Sept to deploy to border, where they fired tear gas at blockades. European Commission immediately called on both parties to exercise restraint “without any delay”. Serbian President Vučić 21 Sept held National Security Council meeting to discuss possible economic and political sanctions “if Kosovo does not change its decisions”. Serbian defence ministry 24 Sept said President Vučić gave order to heighten alert for army and police units; Serbian fighter jets 26 Sept flew close to Jarinje border crossing. Police 25 Sept said Serbs set fire to car registration office in Zubin Potok town and threw two hand grenades (which did not explode) at civil registration office in Zvecan town near border crossings in Mitrovica district, northern Kosovo; PM Kurti same day accused Serbia of attempting to “provoke a serious international conflict”. EU and NATO next day called on Kosovo and Serbia to de-escalate situation in northern Kosovo. Meanwhile, Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, Netherlands, 15 Sept began first case against former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander Salih Mustafa for atrocities committed during Kosovo War.
Parliament failed to adopt non-binding resolution calling for implementation of U.S.-brokered 2020 deal with Serbia. Opposition Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) 6 Aug introduced resolution to parliament calling on govt to implement Sept 2020 Washington-backed deal with Serbia; deal concerns economic issues and notably requires Serbia to pause efforts aimed at de-recognition of Kosovo; 57 ruling Vetëvendosje party members – out of 83 MPs present – abstained from vote.
EU-led Belgrade-Pristina talks continued in Brussels, concluding without significant progress. Following talks in June, PM Kurti and Serbian President Vučić 19 July participated in their second face-to-face meeting as part of Belgrade-Pristina dialogue hosted by EU in Belgian capital Brussels; dialogue focused on missing persons and other issues. After closing of talks, EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčak 20 July said “very little progress” had been made, with both parties accusing other of unwillingness to make compromise; parties agreed to resume talks in Sept. Vučić 20 July told media that Serbia had accepted points in EU proposal reportedly refused by Kurti, such as bolstering efforts to identify remains of missing persons, refraining from destabilising actions, and holding monthly meetings to prepare for high-level talks; Kurti same day stated, however, that Vučić had rejected his six-point “Declaration of Peace” along with request for elimination of alleged barriers to free trade. Parliament 7 July adopted resolution condemning 1995 Srebrenica massacre and recognising it as genocide; representatives from Serb party boycotted vote.
EU- and U.S.-led Kosovo-Serbia dialogue resumed in Brussels. EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary and Special Representative for Western Balkans Matthew Palmer 1 June concluded two-day visit to Kosovo; envoys met with PM Kurti, President Osmani and opposition representatives. In press conference, Palmer stressed that “it is up to the sides to agree on parameters” of dialogue. During joint visit to Serbia, EU and U.S. envoys 3 June met with President Vučić and PM Ana Brnabić; Brnabić declared that dialogue with Kosovo was priority and Vučić same day commented he believed in “compromise solution”. Belgrade-Pristina dialogue 15 June resumed in Belgium’s capital Brussels. After meeting, Vučić accused Kurti of “complete lack of responsibility” because Kurti allegedly demanded recognition of Kosovo and refused to discuss 2013 deal to establish Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo; Kurti defined meeting as “constructive”, while noting Vučić refused his new proposals on issues related to free trade, peace treaty, and mutual recognition and reciprocity. In letter to Kurti publicised 28 June, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “We want to see Kosovo advance more quickly on its European path” and urged next dialogue meeting with Serbia to take place “as soon as possible”.
Tensions persisted between Kosovo and Serbia at regional summit while Pristina announced intention to file genocide lawsuit against Belgrade. During summit of Western Balkan nations in Slovenia, dispute between Serbian President Vučić and Kosovo President Osmani 16 May surfaced over wording of resolution on sanctity of state borders; Vučić reportedly opposed resolution as it would indirectly recognise borders of former breakaway province of Kosovo. At summit, Osmani declared that “Republic of Kosovo as a sovereign and independent country is a permanent project” while Vučić commented that Kosovo “would like to interpret the borders as it wishes”. Kosovo PM Albin Kurti 7 May confirmed that Kosovo intends to file genocide lawsuit against Serbia in International Court of Justice. Osmani 19 May dismissed 12 of country’s ambassadors following foreign ministry proposal to recall those who were political appointees of former govt. EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajčák and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary and Special Representative for Western Balkans Matthew Palmer 31 May began visits to Kosovo; talks with PM Kurti, Osmani and other leaders aimed at preparing for dialogue with Serbia in June.
Parliament endorsed Vjosa Osmani as new president while EU and U.S. continued to call for normalisation talks with Serbia. Parliament 4 April elected Vetëvendosje party candidate Vjosa Osmani as new president, with 71 votes in favour out of 120; vote was boycotted by two opposition parties and ethnic Serb community party; in response, President Osmani said that peace with Serbia “would be achieved only when we see remorse and an apology.” In congratulatory letter to Osmani, U.S. President Biden 20 April urged Kosovo institutions to prioritise dialogue with Serbia, underscoring that “normalisation of relations with Serbia is essential for Kosovo to realise its potential and fully integrate into Euro-Atlantic institutions”. German FM Heiko Maas 23 April called on Serbia and Kosovo to resume talks on normalising bilateral relations. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 27 April expressed hope that Serbia and Kosovo will resume normalisation talks on 11 May; PM Kurti next day rejected offer after meeting with senior EU officials, including Borrell and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in Brussels 27-28 April.
Parliament confirmed new govt led by Albin Kurti as PM, while EU special representative sought to reignite Kosovo-Serbia dialogue. Following landslide win of Vetëvendosje party in snap parliamentary elections in Feb, Central Election Commission 4 March ratified results and parliament 22 March approved new govt headed by Vetëvendosje party leader Albin Kurti. Newly confirmed PM Kurti said govt would prioritise fight against corruption, economic development and missing persons issue in dialogue with Serbia. Serbian President Vučić 23 March accused Kurti of violating Kosovo constitution by not including two Serbian ministers in newly formed govt. Prior to formation of new govt, EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák 1-2 March visited capital Pristina and met with Kurti, then Acting President Vjosa Osmani and then Acting PM Avdullah Hoti. After meetings, Lajčák 2 March stated that under incoming govt “there are no obstacles to reaching a comprehensive agreement between Kosovo and Serbia”; Osmani said that end goal of dialogue should be EU membership for both countries, and that Kosovo could “no longer make concessions”. Lajčák 3 March met with Serbian President Vučić in Serbian capital Belgrade, and stated that “dialogue is key for [Kosovo and Serbia] to advance on their European path”. Belgian authorities 16 March arrested former commander of Kosovo Liberation Army Pjeter Shala under indictment issued by Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague.
Opposition Vetëvendosje party won landslide victory in snap parliamentary elections, while U.S. renewed calls for Kosovo-Serbia mutual recognition. Govt 14 Feb held snap parliamentary elections resulting in landslide victory of Vetëvendosje party with 48% of votes, while Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK) came in second with 17%; acting leader and PM candidate for PDK Enver Hoxhaj 15 Jan congratulated Vetëvendosje on results. Vetëvendosje will control at least 53 of 120 seats in parliament. Germany and France 22 Feb congratulated Vetëvendosje on victory and called for swift govt formation. Meanwhile, U.S. President Biden 7 Feb urged Serbian President Vučić to reach “comprehensive normalisation agreement with Kosovo centred on mutual recognition”; in response, Vučić same day said Serbia is ready to continue dialogue but will not recognise Kosovo. European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee 23 Feb endorsed Committee report which called on member states to recognise Kosovo in order to contribute to normalisation of Kosovo-Serbia relations; Serbian FM Nikola Selaković next day condemned report as “gross violation of the existing practice of Brussels”. FM Meliza Haradinaj Stublla and Israeli FM Gabi Ashkenazi 1 Feb signed joint declaration establishing diplomatic ties; next day, Selaković expressed dismay over Israeli recognition of Kosovo, and EU said decision diverges from its position on Jerusalem. Lawyers representing former President Thaçi and three other former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla leaders at war crimes trial at Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague 16 Feb accused prosecution of hampering investigations by not properly disclosing evidence.
Acting President dissolved parliament and announced snap elections, which Central Election Commission banned former PM Kurti from running in. Following Constitutional Court ruling in Dec that PM Hoti’s govt was illegitimate, acting President Vjosa Osmani 6 Jan dissolved parliament and announced snap parliamentary elections scheduled for 14 Feb. Former PM and leader of Vetëvendosje party Kurti and Osmani 14 Jan confirmed they would run together as part of Vetëvendosje’s electoral list. In controversial decision, electoral commission 20 Jan banned Kurti and 46 other candidates from running, citing criminal convictions in last three years (Kurti was handed suspended sentence in Jan 2018 for throwing tear gas in parliament). Vetëvendosje, Alliance for Future of Kosovo and four smaller parties subsequently appealed commission’s decision; in response, outgoing PM Hoti 22 Jan said parties had obligation to respect ban, while Osmani 24 Jan urged commission to act impartially otherwise she would “be obliged to take all measures to protect the integrity” of commission and electoral process. Meanwhile, Osmani 11-12 Jan travelled to Brussels and met with EU Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, European Parliament Speaker David Sassoli and EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák; during meetings, Osmani emphasised that Kosovo had fulfilled all formal requirements for visa liberalisation and encouraged EU “to be more vocal in relations with Serbia ... to implement the agreement signed in Brussels”.