[Opinion] Don’t let aggression by destabilization pay

Daniel Serwer - Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies


By Daniel Serwer

Washington/Prishtina, 26 December 2022, – Northern Kosovo is in its third week of chaos. Serb houligans block the roads, attack journalists, and shoot at police and KFOR troops. The houligans are not random thugs. Belgrade pays and controls many of them. Whatever the initial justifications for this rogue behavior, the net effect is to undermine the dialogue with Pristina and prevent serious consideration of the still unpublished and therefore hazy French-German proposal for interim “normalization.”

What Belgrade wants ?

What Belgrade wants is Pristina’s commitment to its much-vaunted Association of Serb-majority Municipalities (ASM) inside Kosovo. But the disorder is proving beyond any shadow of doubt that yielding on that point under current conditions would be disastrous for the Kosovo state. The powers behind the barricades would then become the powers running an institution the Kosovo state had recognized and accepted. It would be beyond foolish to do that. Not least because those powers are criminal and tied to Serbia’s secret services.

The US and EU should be embarrassed

This should embarrass all those American and European diplomats who have pushed the ASM. Prime among them is Gabe Escobar, the State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Western Balkans, but State Department Counselor Derek Chollet and EU Foreign and Security Policy chief Josep Borrell share in the ignominy. They thought giving Belgrade the ASM would moderate its views. That was foolhardy. What they got instead were Vucic’s efforts at destabilization and a series of truly offensive tweets from his Prime Minister, aimed at the Germans and other Europeans. These make it clear Belgrade is uninterested for now in pursuing its declared ambition of EU membership.

What is to be done now ?

Hotter heads in Kosovo want KFOR to tear down the barricades, in cooperation with the Kosovo police. Unless carefully prepared and executed, that could make a first-rate mess and bring opprobrium on all involved. Far better, it seems to me, is to build up the forces in the north and negotiate an end to the disorder from a position of strength. Only if that negotiation fails should force be used, decisively and effectively. The ringleaders of the disorder should be arrested and either tried in Kosovo or expelled to Serbia, provided Belgrade promises convincingly to prosecute.

That is not enough

Europe and the US need to make it clear to Serbia that the promotion of disorder in Kosovo has consequences. I like Jasmin Mujanović’s proposal:

Specifically, the 5 EU non-recognizers must see how they’re facilitating Serbia‘s brinkmanship. Fully recognizing Kosovo’s sovereignty and allowing it to begin its EU/NATO membership processes is something the West can do today, req no input from Belgrade, Moocow, or Beijing.

This makes sense to me. Even if one or two of the non-recognizers were to proceed as Jasmin suggests it would make a big difference to Belgrade’s belligerency. This way or another, the West needs to show Serbia that destabilization is not in its interests and should never be repeated.

Why should anyone care?

Even I find it hard to focus on Kosovo while Ukraine is suffering a Russian war of aggression, despite my decades of engagement in the region. We should however care about Kosovo, because Vucic is pursuing in Kosovo Vladimir Putin’s 2014 strategy in Donbas. Any ambiguity about the Western reaction in Kosovo will feed similar moves elsewhere. Vucic has chosen to align himself with Russia. Aggression by destabilization anywhere cannot be allowed to pay.


Daniel P. Serwer is a Professor of the Practice of Conflict Management as well as director of the Conflict Management and American Foreign Policy Programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. This opinion of his was originally published at his website.     

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of   

scroll to top