NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Serbia and Kosovo not to escalate tensions and stated that NATO was ready to intervene to maintain stability.
Stoltenberg, at a joint press conference held after his meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic at NATO headquarters, called for the easing of tensions between Kosovo and Serbia in recent months.
Stoltenberg noted that the situation on the ground has improved in recent days, and that Belgrade and Pristina have a responsibility to prevent the escalation of tensions. Calling for restraint on the parties, Stoltenberg said:
“NATO continues to closely monitor the situation on the ground. Our KFOR peacekeeping mission is focused on the mandate given by the UN. If stability is threatened, KFOR is ready to intervene. KFOR will take the necessary measures to ensure a safe environment and freedom of movement for the people of Kosovo”.
Stoltenberg emphasized that Serbia and Kosovo should establish a dialogue to resolve their differences and said that they support the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue process and that the parties should be constructive in this process.
Serbian President Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti met with the European Union High Representative for Foreign Relations and Security Policy Josep Borrell in Brussels as part of the dialogue process.
“We want to avoid any possibility of conflict”
Vucic also stated that he expects the Thursday meeting to be difficult, and that he has disagreements with Kosovo on almost all issues.
“We want to prevent the possibility of escalation or any conflict,” said Vucic, adding that they respect NATO’s role in Kosovo and that they want to increase cooperation with NATO.
Vucic said that peace and stability are vital for Serbia and that his country is acting responsibly.
“I know that the Balkans are tired of everyone in Brussels or in the world. Everyone is tired of listening to our laments,” said Vucic, adding that the attacks against the Serbian people have increased and the accusations of border violations against Serbia are not true.
NATO: We will do whatever is necessary for the security of all communities in Kosovo
After meeting with Vucic, Stoltenberg met with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti. At the joint press conference with Kurti, Stoltenberg called for restraint in the Kosovo-Serbia tension and advised to pay attention to the rhetoric.
Reiterating his call for dialogue between the parties, Stoltenberg reiterated that the NATO Kosovo Force (KFOR) is neutral and is ready to intervene if stability in the region is under threat.
Stoltenberg emphasized that KFOR, which has 3,700 soldiers from 20 NATO allies and 7 NATO partner countries, will continue to ensure the security of the people of Kosovo.
Stating that they can increase the NATO presence in the north of Kosovo, as in recent weeks, Stoltenberg said, “Our actions will be proportional and measured. We will do whatever is necessary to prevent the escalation of tensions and for the freedom and security of all communities in Kosovo.” said.
“We must be vigilant against our northern neighbor”
Kosovo Prime Minister Kurti stated that NATO has made great contributions to Kosovo’s infrastructure and security, that they want to be involved in all NATO operations, and that they aim to become a NATO member.
Stating that the threats, risks and challenges faced by NATO in the current security environment are also felt by Kosovo, Kurti said, “As Kosovo, we must be vigilant against the destructive approach of our northern neighbor (Serbia) to us and the region, under Russia’s damaging agenda towards Europe.” he said.
When it was announced that everyone, including Serbs living in Kosovo, would be required to have a Kosovo identity card and plate, the Serbs in Kosovo reacted and closed the border crossings in the north of the country, and tensions increased in the country at the end of July.
The Kosovo government decided to postpone the implementation, which caused the crisis, until September 1, after all the barricades placed on the roads leading to the border gates with Serbia were removed.
After the tension increased, Kosovo Prime Minister Kurti said that the risk of a new conflict between Kosovo and Serbia was high, and Serbian President Vucic claimed that the Kosovo administration was planning to attack the north of the country where Serbs live.
Serbia considers Kosovo, which declared its independence unilaterally in 2008, as its territory.
Kurti and Vucic will meet with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell in Brussels on 18 August after the tension.