The nearly five-month stand-off in the majority Serb-populated northern Kosovo has taken a new twist. A Russian humanitarian convoy was stopped by EULEX at one of the troubled border checkpoints. Moscow says it is a purely political move.
The Russian convoy, consisting of 25 trucks with humanitarian aid, including power-generators, blankets, food supplies, furniture and other necessities, had been heading for Mitrovica, the largest city in Kosovo’s Serb-dominated north. Two trucks were able to enter Kosovo through the Jarinje border checkpoint, but the rest were not allowed through by the EULEX police in charge of the post.
EULEX said it wanted to escort the convoy on its way to Mitrovica, but Russia said the region was safe and there was no reason for EULEX to accompany its trucks. Conversely, Kosovo Serbs did not want to allow EULEX police through, as they saw it as an opportunity for Kosovo customs officials to sneak into their region.
EULEX also said Russia could use another checkpoint at Merdare. However, Russia refused this offer because the checkpoint is under Kosovo control, a country Russia does not recognize.
The Russian ambassador to Serbia, along with Russian Emergency Ministry officials and diplomats, arrived at the scene to negotiate with EULEX. However, at the end the day, the talks have not reached any resolution.
According to the Russian side, EULEX officials demanded that in order for the aid to be let through, the convoy needed to be escorted into Serbian Kosovo by Albanian forces. Or it could enter Kosovo through an Albanian-administered checkpoint.
Russian ambassador to Serbia Aleksandr Konuzin insists that the stoppage was an entirely political decision. “EULEX is blackmailing us,” he says. “By being asked to comply with these conditions, we are being forced to recognize institutions that neither Russia nor Serbia accept, and which exceed the UN mandate for Kosovo.”
For many Serbs, stopping the humanitarian mission is another display of muscle-flexing by the Albanian border officials. While the trucks are blocked and their drivers sit idle, the situation in Serbian Kosovo remains serious.
In November, 20,000 Kosovo Serbs signed a petition asking for Russian citizenship. The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected their request, but said Russia would help the Serbian population of Northern Kosovo with humanitarian aid.
Northern Kosovo has seen a surge in violence this year after the government of Kosovo tried to enforce its trade embargo with Serbia. Some Kosovo Serbs launched an attack on customs checkpoints set up by the Kosovo administration, resulting in NATO and EULEX becoming involved. Since the summer the local Serbian population has set up barricades to prevent international peacekeepers from using the main roads in the region.