Ukraine: The Latest - Putin using Serbia-Kosovo tensions to 'destabilise the West'

Kosovo police officers patrol, in the aftermath of a shooting incident, in Banjska village, Kosovo
Kosovo police officers patrol, in the aftermath of a shooting incident, in Banjska village, Kosovo - Ognen Teofilovski/REUTERS

Today on the Telegraph’s Ukraine: The Latest podcast, we discuss reports of Ukraine’s new drone army, hear exclusively from Britain’s new Defence Secretary, and evaluate the political crisis in the Balkans, and what it tells us about Putin’s strategy to undermine NATO.

Joining the podcast today is Dr Ivana Stradner of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies to discuss her piece for The Telegraph on concerning events taking place in the Balkans. She begins by contextualising the situation:

Three decades after the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia, recent clashes between Serbia and Kosovo have actually brought a simmering of tensions to the point of boiling over.

As the world recently watched the chaos in Nagorno-Karabakh, there is another frozen conflict in Europe about to be unfrozen. 

Dr Strander continues by summarising her article:

I argued that I don’t believe right now Putin can attack Poland or the Baltic States, but he has been looking for weak links. And despite NATO’s overall military superiority, it has a weak hand in the Balkans; Putin continues to outmanoeuvre it there.

What happened last week was, in my view, one of the worst confrontations since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, when 30 masked men opened fire on a police patrol, near the village of Banska when four people died.

They went to the nearby Serbian Orthodox Monastery and they barricaded themselves. Police found an arsenal of weaponry, such as vehicles and armour, personal carrier, mines, grenades, missile launchers and a lot of ammunition.  They also even found like a communication, you know, equipment, uh, with people and they were arrested. 

And the real question is, who gave him this? And why did they have such a thing?

She continues her analysis of this alarming development:

The Serbian president totally denied any involvement. For me, it would be impossible to carry such a terrorist attack without knowing and without providing equipment to the Serbs. He said Serbia will never recognise the independence of Kosovo. 

This is worries me a lot, because I’ve been watching the Balkans for a very long time; this is not the first crisis that occurred. Serbia already put its army on high alert several times. There were numerous problems with license plates in the past. Just a few months ago, 30 NATO peacekeepers were even injured by the Serbs over there. 

Washington actually stated that this was an unprecedented Serbian military buildup and the White House says that Serbia deploys sophisticated tanks and artillery, which the Serbian president denied. And even the U. S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, had a conversation with Aleksandar Vučić and asking to immediate the de-escalation and return to a dialogue.

I don’t believe that Russia wants to roll in tanks and jets. They don’t have to do that. Putin does not need to occupy the territory of the Balkans, but what Putin perfectly understands and he is. He understands how much ethnic tensions, the identity politics, play in the region, something that a lot of Western analysts and policymakers do not understand, and he has been weaponising that. 

Listen to Ukraine: the Latest, The Telegraph’s daily podcast, using the audio player at the top of this article or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast app.

War in Ukraine is reshaping our world. Every weekday The Telegraph’s top journalists analyse the invasion from all angles - military, humanitarian, political, economic, historical - and tell you what you need to know to stay updated.

With over 40 million downloads, our Ukraine: The Latest podcast is your go-to source for all the latest analysis, live reaction and correspondents reporting on the ground. We have been broadcasting ever since the full-scale invasion began.

Ukraine: The Latest’s regular contributors are:

David Knowles

David is Head of Audio Development at The Telegraph, where he has worked for nearly three years. He has reported from across Ukraine during the full-scale invasion.

Dominic Nicholls

Dom is Associate Editor (Defence) at The Telegraph, having joined in 2018. He previously served for 23 years in the British Army, in tank and helicopter units. He had operational deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.

Francis Dearnley

Francis is assistant comment editor at The Telegraph. Prior to working as a journalist, he was chief of staff to the Chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board at the Houses of Parliament in London. He studied History at Cambridge University and on the podcast explores how the past shines a light on the latest diplomatic, political, and strategic developments.

They are also regularly joined by The Telegraph’s foreign correspondents around the world, including Joe Barnes (Brussels), Sophia Yan (China), Nataliya Vasilyeva (Russia), Roland Oliphant (Senior Reporter) and Colin Freeman (Reporter). In London, Venetia Rainey (Weekend Foreign Editor), Katie O’Neill (Assistant Foreign Editor), and Verity Bowman (News Reporter) also frequently appear to offer updates.

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