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What is NATO's plan for the Balkans?

What is NATO's plan for the Balkans?

The Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, this week in a few days visited several countries of the Western Balkans to show the support and commitment of the North Atlantic alliance in a region that has on several fronts at the same time several unquenchable hotbeds of fire that endanger security. "This region is strategically important for NATO, and there are some reasons for concern," Stoltenberg told a press conference in Skopje on Wednesday at the end of the Balkan tour. "We see threats of secession in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a fragile security situation in Kosovo, and a stalemate in normalization between Belgrade and Pristina."

Since the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, NATO has played an important role in stabilizing the region. It intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo in the bloody wars that also marked the end of Yugoslavia and the creation of independent states. Today, three of the six countries of the Western Balkans are in NATO. Albania, Montenegro and North Macedonia. Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina are not part of the alliance.

Disturbing developments in Kosovo

Enmity between the Serbian ethnic minority and the Albanian majority in Kosovo, recognized only by 22 out of 27 EU countries and the US, has increased. Serbia and Russia deny the independence of Kosovo. In May, NATO troops were injured trying to reduce tensions in northern Kosovo, near the Serbian border. Kosovo Serbs have a deep distrust of the Kosovo authorities and maintain close relations with Serbia. On September 24, four people were killed in fighting between Kosovo police and ethnic Serbs who barricaded themselves in a monastery.

As a result, NATO reinforced troops in Kosovo with 1,000 soldiers and patrols in the Serb-dominated north. KFOR troops thus reach 4,500 people, according to the Reuters agency. Stoltenberg in Pristina said on Monday that NATO will do what is necessary to maintain security, peace and freedom of movement for all people in Kosovo. "We are now reviewing whether we should have a permanent escalation to ensure that the spiral does not spiral out of control and create a new violent conflict in Kosovo or further in the region."

Republika Srpska threatens to secede from Bosnia

Meanwhile, in multi-ethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina, Republika Srpska threatens to secede. This republic constitutes about half of the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina with about 1.2 million inhabitants, most of them ethnic Serbs. Republika Srpska was created during the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in a bloody context. The EU, which took over the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina from NATO in 2004, is not at all popular in Republika Srpska, which maintains close ties to Serbia and Russia.

Message for Moscow

Before these crises, at the end of his Balkan tour in Skopje, Stoltenberg in a statement at the head of NATO's allied countries. Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia were partially addressed to Moka. NATO looks to Russia to play a destabilizing role, especially since the start of the invasion of Ukraine. "Authoritarian states like Russia seek to undermine our democracies with cyber and hybrid threats," said Stoltenberg, who is expected to step down as head of the North Atlantic alliance.

According to Bojana Zoric from the European Institute for Security Studies, in general, Russia's goal in the region is to stop the expansion of NATO and their inclusion in the EU. The war in Ukraine has made the existing divisions clear. "The Western Balkans are not unified when it comes to the response to the war in Ukraine." This works in Moscow's favor, according to Zoric. "Russia always wants to seize every opportunity to produce tensions and rekindle old enmities in the region and somehow use ethnic divisions for its own benefits," Zoric told DW.

Taken from Deutsche Welle

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