As Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine heads towards its one-year anniversary, another European flashpoint is in danger of reigniting a second war on the continent.
Kosovo was at the center of the last all out-war in Europe in the late ‘90s and tensions there have never fully dissipated.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has this week put his army on its “highest level of combat readiness” to protect ethnic Serbian areas in northern Kosovo he says are under threat from Kosovo. Vucic says his military will “take all measures to protect our people and preserve Serbia.”
On December 10, ethnic Serbs in the north erected nine roadblocks that essentially divide the area where some 50,000 ethnic Serbs live, angering the Kosovo government in Pristina, which is led by an Albanian majority.
Sunday, reports of a shooting near a NATO peacekeeping patrol unit set off the latest wave of tensions.
Kosovo was the sight of the last war in Europe, which ended when NATO launched a military campaign ordered by then U.S. president Bill Clinton in March 1999 that lasted for 78 days.
Serbia finally signed a peace accord, agreeing to leave Kosovo, but the two countries have never enjoyed real peace. NATO peace keepers have been present in the country since 1999. That war sent more than 600,000 Kosovo refugees into Europe.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, which Serbia does not recognize.
The latest tensions come amid warnings that factions in each country could take advantage of the world’s attention focused on Russia’s war in Ukraine. The Kosovo government has not confirmed or denied reports that it is planning an attack on Serbian ethnic areas in the north of the country.
The European Union, already battling war fatigue, has urged calm, calling for “maximum restraint and immediate action” to stop tensions, calling for the leaders of both nations to come to the table to “personally contribute to a political solution.”