The Kosovo authorities announced that from August 1, new regulations on license plates and identity documents will be implemented for Serbs in the territory (hereinafter referred to as the “license order”), requiring local Serbs to replace Serbian car license plates with license plates issued by the Kosovo authorities to enter Kosovo Serbs are required to apply for temporary documents. The “License Order” aroused strong dissatisfaction among the Serbs in Kokoro. The Serbs protested and boycotted it, and small-scale clashes broke out with Koko police. Serbian President Vucic said Serbia (Serbia) Ko (Sovo) is on the brink of military conflict. In the context of the escalation of the Ukraine crisis and the acceleration of the reshaping of the European security structure, whether Kosovo, as the “center of Europe’s powder keg”, will reignite disputes and then trigger regional conflicts has attracted widespread attention from the international community.
Border disputes and cross-border ethnic troubles are difficult to resolve
As Brzezinski pointed out in his 1997 book The Great Chess Game, the term “Balkans” conjures images of ethnic conflicts and regional rivalries between great powers. So where did the “gunpowder” of the “European powder keg” come from? Most of the Balkan countries had a “regional power dream” in history, such as Greater Serbia, Greater Greece, Greater Bulgaria, Greater Romania, Greater Croatia, Greater Albania, etc. The source of these dreams comes from these countries’ nostalgia for the splendor of the Middle Ages and even earlier, and is continuously released in the national liberation movements of the 19th century and the process of state-building in the 20th century. The “Great Ideal” movement of the Greeks, the “Natural Albania” proposition of the Albanians, and the “Serbian World” of Serbia are all manifestations of the aforementioned grand nationalism. Since the 1990s, the Balkans have begun the process of integrating into the Euro-Atlantic region. Although some disputes have been eased and resolved, many contradictions have only been temporarily covered up.
From the current point of view, the Balkans mainly have unresolved “big troubles” such as the Kosovo issue, the Bosnia-Herzegovina issue, and the Macedonian issue. There are also many border disputes, such as the dispute between Croatia and Slovenia over the Gulf of Piran, and the dispute between Croatia and Serbia in the Danube River Basin. Demarcation disputes, disputes over Aegean islands between Greece and Turkey, disputes over sea demarcation between Greece and Albania, disputes between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina over the Zvornik border and the ownership of parts of the city of Priboy. In addition, there are still a large number of cross-border ethnic issues in the Balkans, such as the cross-border Hungarian issues widely distributed in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia and other countries, and the cross-border Serb issues scattered in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and other countries. The problem of cross-border Turks in Bulgaria, Greece and other countries exists, and the problem of cross-border Albanians in North Macedonia, Greece, Montenegro and other countries. The same nation living across borders brings certain challenges to sovereignty and regional stability due to factors such as national consciousness and national interests. Endogenous conflicts in the Balkans, such as border disputes and cross-border ethnic groups, are further intensified with the participation of foreign powers.
U.S. and Europe step up intervention in the Balkans
For the past few decades, with the exception of the Kosovo war in 1999 and the Macedonian civil war in 2001, conflicts in the Balkans seemed to be overshadowed by a wave of peace. “European powder keg” seems to have entered a “dormant period”. On the one hand, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria and Croatia joined the EU in 2004, 2007 and 2013, and other members are also in the process of joining the EU; on the other hand, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2004, and Croatia and Albania in Joining NATO in 2009, Montenegro and North Macedonia also joined NATO in 2017 and 2020, respectively. Currently, only Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo remain in the Balkans that have not joined NATO. As a result, the Balkans have largely entered the coverage circle of the Euro-Atlantic structure, becoming not only the inner composition of the European security complex, but also a part of “us” in the eyes of the United States and Europe. For Europe and the United States, although there are still many unresolved issues in the Balkans, these issues and disputes are generally manageable and will eventually be resolved under the Euro-Atlantic structure.
In recent years, both Europe and the United States have stepped up their intervention in the Balkans. In February 2018, the European Commission adopted an expansion strategy for the Western Balkans. In this new strategic document, the EU once again clarified the accession prospects of the members of the Western Balkans, and stated that it will try its best to facilitate the accession of Serbia and Montenegro, which have already started negotiations on accession, as soon as possible. In 2019, when von der Leyen assumed the presidency of the European Commission, he declared that he would transform the European Commission into a “geopolitical committee” and was committed to enhancing the EU’s presence in international and regional hotspots. In 2020, the EU appointed Miroslav Lajčak as Special Representative for Western Balkans and Special Representative for the Seko Dialogue. In 2022, the EU started accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania after several delays. On the day the Ukrainian crisis broke out, the European Union’s Multinational Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina increased by 500 people. The United Kingdom and Germany also sent 40 officers and 50 soldiers to Bosnia and Herzegovina from June to August. These measures show the determination of the EU and European powers to intervene in the Balkans.
NATO peacekeeping troops in Kosovo patrol the street on September 20, 2022.
After the 9/11 incident, the United States shifted its strategic focus to counter-terrorism, and gradually handed over the overall situation to the European Union in terms of Balkan affairs. However, in recent years, it has begun to return to the Balkans and frequently intervene in regional affairs under the “pretence” of “confrontation” with Russia and China. . In August 2019, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Palmer was appointed Special Envoy for Western Balkans. In October of the same year, Trump appointed Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, as the special envoy for the Seko negotiations. On August 5 this year, U.S. Senators Van Hollen, Jenny Shaheen and Roger Wicker jointly submitted a bill called the “Western Balkan Democracy and Prosperity Act”, which proposed “through infrastructure construction, trade and anti-corruption” Initiatives support economic development in the region, including sanctions to deter destabilizing activities.” The bill uses the so-called “corruption” and “destabilization” as an excuse to attack Dodik, a Serb member of the Presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who have close ties with Russia, in the name of maintaining “democracy” and “security” in the Western Balkans. The flag hedges against Russian influence in the region.
Risk of renewed conflict in Seko remains
The conflict between Kosovo Serbs and the Kosovo authorities has continued since August this year, becoming the most intense confrontation between the two sides since Kosovo unilaterally declared “independence” in 2008. The Seko Dialogue has been stalled for more than a decade, and the process of normalizing relations has lacked substantive progress. Events such as the Gazivoda Lake dispute in 2018, the promulgation of new vehicle entry regulations in Kosovo in 2021, and the “license order” in 2022 have almost pushed Seko relations to the brink of military confrontation. In order to control the situation, in August this year, the United States and Europe pushed the Seko negotiation with the attitude of extreme pressure, and held several rounds of intensive dialogues with the two sides respectively, but in the end only reached a new agreement aimed at resolving the identity documents. Because the essence of the “license order” dispute lies in the struggle for “sovereignty”, it is difficult for both parties to make concessions. It is not easy for Europe and the United States to find a solution, and it is even more difficult to form a comprehensive agreement to promote the normalization of the relationship between the two countries. make it harder. Precisely because the struggle for sovereignty is as intractable as a “dead knot”, the risk of renewed riots or even skirmishes between the Sekos still exists. Since the end of July, Russia has also spoken out on the Kosovo issue many times, calling on Kosovo and the United States and the West to stop provocation, expressing firm support for Serbia and the rights of the Kosovo Serbs. In the context of the escalating crisis in Ukraine, the US and Europe do not want the situation to expand, but they will not give up the game with Russia in the Balkans. In the foreseeable future, disputes and confrontations within the Balkans may continue, and the game between great powers may intensify, but it will not slip into the situation of military conflict or even war.