The White House is raising the alarm on escalating tensions between Kosovo and Serbia after a series of violent clashes in the Balkans over the past few months that are threatening to spiral out of control.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby on Friday said a shootout last weekend that left four people dead in northern Kosovo — home to ethnic Serbians — was “well-coordinated and planned” and not carried out by just an isolated, small group.
Kirby said the attack, which killed three Serbians and one Kosovo police officer, involved 30 fighters, 20 SUVs and military-grade equipment.
“This is not the kind of an attack that’s carried out randomly, or ad hoc or by some small group,” he told reporters during a background call. “The amounts and the types of arms that were found represent a threat to the safety of not only Kosovo personnel, but international personnel, including NATO troops.”
He said Kosovo is conducting a thorough investigation of the incident and the U.S. was hoping Pristina will get to the bottom of the incident.
“Everyone who is involved in planning and carrying out this attack needs to be brought to justice,” he added.
The White House spokesperson also said the U.S. and Western allies were monitoring a “large Serbian military deployment along the border with Kosovo that includes an unprecedented staging of advanced Serbian artillery, tanks and mechanized infantry units.”
“We believe that this is a very destabilizing development,” he warned, noting the U.S. was working closely with European allies to defuse the tensions.
NATO, which acts as a peacekeeping force in Kosovo, is bolstering its troop presence in the Balkan country after the Sunday shootout, which saw masked men bunker in a monastery and fire at a police patrol.
Kosovo has accused Serbia of carrying out the attack. Belgrade has denied the charges, but Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić painted the gunmen as heroes.
Authorities in the country also said they are inquiring into a potential Russian role, with Moscow allegedly trying to degrade the Balkans to distract from the war in Ukraine.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti welcomed the decision to bring more NATO troops in an interview with the Associated Press.
“We need NATO because the border with Serbia is very long and the Serbian army has been recently strengthening its capacities and they have a lot of military equipment from both the Russian Federation and China,” he said.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade has never recognized the separation.
The two nations fought a war in the late 1990s following the breakup of the Yugoslavia republic and NATO conducted a bombing campaign to end the conflict.
Tensions flared up again in May after ethnic Serbians in Kosovo boycotted local elections in the north, which led to ethnic Albanian authorities taking charge. This sparked more protests and the activation of NATO troops.
The U.S., along with Europe, has been trying to cool down the conflict for months, to little avail, but Washington appears to be growing more concerned.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Vučić on Friday, urging for immediate de-escalation.
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Abhinav Thawait is a globe-trotting correspondent with a passion for international affairs. With a background in international relations, he offers a global perspective on the most pressing issues around the world. Abhinav’s curiosity takes his to the far corners of the earth, where he seeks to share untold stories and diverse viewpoints.