Amidst escalating tension in Kosovo, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said: “No matter how difficult it is, there will be no surrender, Serbia will win,” he stated.
“We do not want conflict and we do not want war,” Vucic said in his speech.
He said: We will pray for peace and seek peace, but let me tell you right away. If they dare to start persecuting, harassing and killing Serbs, Serbia will win.”
Vucic also speculated that Pristina is trying to take advantage of the Ukraine crisis by provoking a conflict in which Kurti would be portrayed sympathetically as Kosovo’s version of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, with the Serbs cast in the role of Russia and President Vladimir Putin.
No Serbian troops have crossed the administrative line into Kosovo yet, the Defense Ministry in Belgrade said, describing such rumors circulating on social media as “disinformation” on behalf of Pristina.
On Sunday evening, Vucic held talks with the KFOR leadership from the headquarters of the Serbian General Staff. After emerging from the building shortly before midnight, he told reporters he was optimistic about a peaceful resolution.
Vucic said that the The NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) commander will hold talks on dismantling the roadblocks with the local authorities in Kosovska Mitrovica.
Media reports said:
Vucic said after a meeting at the nation’s General Staff on Sunday night that the arrival of the KFOR commander in northern Mitrovica is expected around midnight local time.
According to Vucic, Pristina’s move has been planned at all levels for a very long time. He also noted that the government asked international representatives to do everything possible to stop the crisis escalation in the region.
“It is important that the dialogue continues and that we try to solve things peacefully. I believe that we will have good news, I hope that this will be finished, not tonight, but tomorrow,” he said in an address, per a translation. “It remains for us to come to the preservation of peace. Everything they did show how prepared the attack on Serbia was.”
Furthermore, the president specifically addressed the Serbs in Kosovo’s northern areas, saying that the difficult political struggle is ahead of the nation, thanking his fellow Serbs for their “restraint and courage.”
“Thank you for keeping the Serbian name and surname in Kosovo and Metohija,” Vucic added.
Vucic emphasized that the government was working to calm the situation down.
The Serbian leader specifically thanked everyone who supported Serbia and “expressed correct views,” in particular Russia and its foreign ministry.
“I specifically want to thank, as we always forget to, because it goes without saying for us and for them, representatives of the Russian Foreign Ministry, who accurately noticed what was happening and reacted very, very correctly,” Vucic said.
He also thanked the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, and other EU representatives for the “correct reaction.”
Vucic visited the General Staff earlier in the night, when he spoke with the command of the Serbian army in light of the escalation in Kosovo.
Kosovo Government Postpones Decision to Impose Ban on Serbian Documents
Shortly after the Serbian president concluded his remarks, Kosovo authorities reportedly decided to postpone the implementation of changes in the region for one month.
The delay was accompanied by a demand from PM Albin Kurti’s government that the Serbs dismantle their barricades, according to Pristina-based TV station Dukagjini, which said that Kurti’s decision followed a request by U.S. ambassador to Kosovo, Jeffrey Hovenier.
According to the proposed changes in the procedure, Serbians in the northern part of Kosovo will be impacted by the forced re-registration of cars with Serbian license plates that is expected to start at the same time.
Kosovo Planning To Attack Serbs, Warns Belgrade
Earlier reports said:
Vucic accused on Sunday the ethnic Albanian government in Kosovo of planning to crack down on the local Serb population. He issued a plea for peace in the breakaway province, but added that Belgrade won’t stand idly by if ethnic Serbs are targeted for another pogrom.
The “regime” in Pristina wants to “impose on the people in northern Kosovo-Metohija things they have no right to impose,” Vucic said, using the Serb name for the province. He added that Kosovo police have been deployed to the administrative line with Serbia in order to confiscate Serb documents and license plates, starting at midnight.
“The atmosphere has been heated up, and Serbs will not suffer any more atrocities,” Vucic said in Belgrade on Sunday. “My plea to everyone is to try to keep the peace at almost any cost. I am asking the Albanians to come to their senses, the Serbs not to fall for provocations, but I am also asking the representatives of the powerful and large countries, which have recognized the so-called independence of Kosovo, to pay a little attention to international law and reality on the ground and not to allow their wards to cause conflict.”
Vucic’s comments came as Pristina prepared to implement a controversial law requiring ethnic Serbs living in the disputed territory to replace their Serbian-issued vehicle registrations with Kosovo plates, starting on Monday. Kosovo also may require the replacement of other types of Serbian-issued documents, such as identification cards, and it will make a renewed attempt to ban entry or issue temporary papers to travelers with Serbian-issued documents or license plates.
Church bells rang in alarm across the northern part of the province on Sunday, amid reports that armed ethnic Albanians were gathering for another pogrom of the remaining Serbs – as had happened in 2004.
The Serbian president claimed last month that the registration policy was part of an effort to force remaining Serbs out of Kosovo. He referred to the move as “a new Storm,” in reference to the Croatian military operation in 1995 that forced most Serbs to flee Croatia.
Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic told reporters on Saturday that “the Albanian side in Kosovo and Metohija is literally preparing to raise hell for Serbs.”
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, an ethnic Albanian, has denied that the transition to non-Serbian documents is anything more than applying “law and justice” equally to all citizens.
Vucic has claimed that “provocations” against Serbs living in Kosovo have increased since Kurti, a nationalist who champions the idea of Albanian unification, became prime minister last year. The number of such incidents, including attacks by ethnic Albanians on Serbian cemeteries and Orthodox churches, has jumped 50%, he told reporters on Sunday.
NATO occupied Kosovo in 1999, after a 78-day air war against what was then Yugoslavia. The province declared independence in 2008, with Western support. While the U.S. and most of its allies have recognized it, Serbia, Russia, China and the UN in general have not.
NATO-led Force On Alert
The KFOR peacekeepers were spotted late on Saturday in the city of Kosovska Mitrovica, located in the north of Serbia’s breakaway region of Kosovo.
The force was spotted guarding a bridge across the Ibar river, footage from the scene circulated by local media shows. The bridge splits the city into the northern Serb-populated part, and the southern one, inhabited predominantly by ethnic Albanians.
KFOR said in a statement on Sunday evening that it was “prepared to intervene if stability is jeopardized.”
The KFOR has been reportedly placed on high alert, with a large military convoy of some 30-40 vehicles spotted heading towards the frontier between the breakaway region and the rest of Serbia. Kosovo special police has been spotted actively moving its equipment and personnel as well.
Ethnic Serbs have reportedly set up barricades on several roads in Kosovska Mitrovica and its vicinity. At least one Serb has been reportedly beaten up by Kosovo police units as he tried to get through the barricades. The injured man reportedly ended up hospitalized.
Russia warns Kosovo Against Conflict
The government in Pristina and its backers in Brussels and Washington should stop their provocations and respect the rights of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Sunday. Serbian troops were put on high alert and local residents in the north of the breakaway province erected barricades, as ethnic Albanian police prepared for a crackdown.
Pristina’s decision is unreasonable and discriminatory, and their forced replacement of personal documents is “another step towards the expulsion of the Serb population from Kosovo, as well as the Kosovo Serb institutions that ensure the protection of the rights of Serbian residents from the arbitrary whims of radicals in Pristina,” Zakharova said.
Kurti is “deliberately escalating” in order to launch an armed crackdown, not just against the Serbs in Kosovo but against Belgrade, which the West wants to “neutralize” using the ethnic Albanians as proxies, added Zakharova.
Russia calls on “Pristina and the U.S. and EU behind it to stop provocations and respect the rights of Serbs in Kosovo,” the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.
Serbia Accused Of ‘Putin’s Playbook’ In Kosovo
Kosovo accused Serbia on Sunday of fomenting unrest and trying to undermine the “rule of law” in the breakaway province. Kosovo PM Kurti claimed the local Serbs had opened fire on Kosovo police, while the president’s cabinet said Belgrade was acting on behalf of Russia.
Kurti blamed Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and his commissioner for Kosovo Petar Petkovic for the “aggressive actions” and “threats” from Belgrade.
Meanwhile, the chief of staff of President Vjosa Osmani went on Twitter to accuse Serbia of playing a “spoiler role” in Europe on behalf of Russia. Blerim Vela accused Vucic of “a textbook repetition of Putin’s playbook“ – referring to NATO’s claims about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behavior in Ukraine – by spreading fear and lies, claiming the Serbs were being persecuted and “ramping up militaristic rhetoric.”