Just in time for the media’s attention span, a new/old conflict seems to be brimming on the horizon in Eastern Europe. Veterans of the last half of the 90’s will remember Kosovo and its conflicts well, but for the rest of us, NATO-KFOR (Kosovo Force)’s twitter feed dropped us a reminder of our involvement.
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To be clear, if Serbia really were to attack Kosovo, under the terms of the peacekeeping mission NATO has been operating in Kosovo since 1999, KFOR says it would intervene. If this happened, it would pit the western military alliance directly against a long-time staunch ally of Russia. Even as Serbia has been looking more economically west of late, its cultural and political ties to Russia are not loosening. Oddly, the primary instigating factor right now seems to be license plates, if you can imagine. New rules in Kosovo would require residents replace Serbian-issued plates for new Kosovar ones. Serbia has yet to recognize Kosovo’s decade and a half old declaration of independence, and this reminder seems to have pushed some over the edge. There are no injuries as of this writing, but the situation is tense. Cooler heads seem to be prevailing for the moment, likely bolstered by NATO-KFOR’s summary declaration.
What exactly this would mean for NATO-Russia relations is unclear, but in an already hostile environment surrounding what amounts to a proxy war between Russia and the West, the list of options is not a happy one. Russia could decide that this is the last straw, and do all sorts of things that would ultimately harm itself as much as anyone else. They could also use negotiations surrounding Serbia as leverage to find a way to exit their current war of attrition in Ukraine while attempting to save face by coming to Serbia’s aid diplomatically. This might be the best possible option, but it’s at the top of a very short list of good ones.
If we’ve learned anything from the last 6mo of Ukrainian resistance, it’s that conventional warfare in the modern era isn’t likely to play out in real life the way it looks on paper. Whichever news source you believe regarding the Ukr/Rus conflict, it’s fair to say nobody expected it to last this long, and the Ukrainians have, in several arenas, seemingly made bricks without straw. From commercial drones carrying rifle grenades adapted into homemade aerial bombs with 3D printed fins and release mechanisms, to their rapid, effective implementation of lend-lease style weapon shipments they had no prior experience on, they’ve surprised just about everyone.
Serbia is no Russia, and Kosovo is certainly no Ukraine, but the Serbs have dragged us all into a meatgrinder once already in the last century or so. Lets hope they don’t stage an encore.