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SERBIAN TROOPS PLACED ON COMBAT ALERT AFTER SHOTS WERE FIRED AT NATO FORCES IN KOSOVO

Region of Concern: Kosovo; Serbia

Written By Aleksandr Thomas; Edited by Amy McGee

Date: December 26, 2022


Zubin Potok in Kosovo[1]


Event: On December 25, shots were fired at a NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) patrol in the town of Zubin Potok in northern Kosovo. The gunmen have yet to be identified, but local pro-Serbian groups and Kosovar Police blame each other. No injuries were reported, but KFOR patrols have become more frequent in response to growing ethnic violence in Kosovo’s north. Serbian ground troops have taken up positions in the town of Raska along the administrative border with Kosovo.[2] Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, has ordered troops to be combat-ready and to “protect ethnic Serbs” in northern Kosovo.[3]


Significance: It is very likely that the deployment of Serbian Armed Forces will further intensify ethnic tensions between Kosovar Serbs and Kosovar Albanians. Local Serbians will likely violently clash with Kosovar authorities in rural northern settlements, where violence will likely be directed at ethnic Albanians. These clashes are also likely to occur at border crossings where Kosovar authorities exercise limited control. NATO will likely send additional equipment and manpower to support KFOR’s mission to mitigate violence, which will almost certainly be seen as a provocation by pro-Serbian activists and extremist groups. There is a roughly even chance Serbia will illicitly smuggle arms into the region to aid these groups and to avoid direct NATO intervention. It is likely that small-scale skirmishes between local Serbs and Kosovar authorities will occur if a diplomatic resolution is not reached soon. Should these clashes escalate into open conflict, there is a roughly even chance NATO could launch a limited air campaign against pro-Serb forces as a show of force against Serbian ally Russia.


Recommendations: Kosovo needs to reestablish order in its north by deploying additional local police and military to protect critical infrastructure throughout the region and at border crossings. These forces could dismantle pro-Serb barricades in urban centers and detain Serbian provocateurs. Pristina should deploy its Armed Forces to the north, and along the border, to deter potential military operations by Serbia. NATO member states’ Intelligence Communities need to monitor local communications of pro-Serb leaders and the movements of Serbia’s Armed Forces. This would boost physical security for KFOR patrols and operational security for Kosovar authorities. Serbia and Kosovo’s Presidents should meet in-person to de-escalate tensions and discuss a progressive withdrawal of armed forces from border regions. Pristina should warn civilians, especially Kosovar Albanians, to avoid travel to the nation’s north. Foreign dignitaries and citizens should also limit travel to Kosovo until physical security can be ensured for foreign nationals.

 

[1] "Zubin Potok in Kosovo 2018" by NordNordWest is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

[2] Shots fired near NATO forces in northern Kosovo as tensions remain high - report, The Jerusalem Post, December 2022, https://www.jpost.com/international/article-725808

[3] Serbian troops along Kosovo border placed on combat alert, Public Broadcasting Service, December 2022, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/serbian-troops-on-kosovo-border-placed-on-combat-alert

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