Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to stoke tensions in Eastern Europe in the hope of starting a new war on the continent, experts have said.
It comes as Moscow’s troops are continuing their violent invasion of Ukraine, with fighting intensifying in the east and south of the country.
But Putin has also got his eyes on simmering tensions in the Balkans, with Russian media stoking division between Serbia and Kosovo.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008 after separatist ethnic Albanians fought against Serbian rule. Belgrade tried to crack down on this when tensions heightened in the 1990s.
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NATO forces were able to force the Serbian troops away from Kosovo after a bombing campaign in 1999.
Serbia, Russia and some other countries still don’t recognise Kosovo’s independence, and Belgrade’s president has vowed never to recognise the country’s sovereignty.
Now, Russian media is publishing disparaging articles about Kosovo, with experts fearing Putin is hoping for a new conflict in Eastern Europe.
Speaking to the Daily Beast, Kosovo’s ambassador to the United States, Ilir Dugolli, said Russia is trying to stoke violence.
He said: “We’ve seen different attempts from Russia… and echoed of course in Serbia, about instigating violence, about portraying this… dire situation of Serbs in the northern parts of Kosovo in particular and also in other areas… to incite violent attacks and overall instability.”
Much of the media in Serbia is owned by oligarchs with links to the country’s president, Alexander Vucic.
Ruslan Stefanov, co-director and co-author of the Kremlin Playbook, added: “Looking at the Kremlin playbook… I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually caused by some desperation or sort of somebody somewhere along the line of chain of command saying, ‘Hey how about we cheer up our dear leader at some point and do something?’”
On the possibility of a new war, Mr Dugolli said: “The fact that the war [in Ukraine] hasn’t gone as Russia was hoping and the leadership in Serbia were hoping as well, maybe that created an initiative… they’re trying to reposition themselves.
“Russia would benefit from opening up another front.”
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