President Vucic, Dear Aleksandar,
It is great to see you again, welcome back to NATO Headquarters. You have been here before, and I welcome this opportunity to sit down with you and to discuss the challenges we have seen in northern Kosovo over the last weeks.
We spoke earlier this month about the recent tensions in northern Kosovo and I appreciate the opportunity to meet in person today to continue our discussion.
And I will be meeting with the Kosovo leadership later today.
While the situation on the ground has improved, it is the responsibility of all parties, particularly officials from Belgrade and Pristina, to prevent escalation again.
I call on all sides to show restraint and to avoid violence.
NATO continues to monitor closely the situation on the ground.
Our KFOR peacekeeping mission remains focussed on its UN mandate.
Should stability be jeopardised, KFOR stands ready to intervene.
And will take any measure that is necessary
to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all the people of Kosovo.
Constructive dialogue is the only way to resolve differences in the region.
And the EU facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue is the platform to find a solution that respects the rights of all communities.
I welcome the next round of the dialogue taking place tomorrow.
I encourage all sides to engage in good faith.
To show flexibility.
And to be constructive.
We also discussed Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine.
It is important that the international community stands united in opposing Russia’s unprovoked aggression.
And that we all take steps to convince Russia to end this war.
The seizure of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant by Russian forces poses a serious threat to the safety and security of these facilities.
Raises the risk of a nuclear accident or incident.
And endangers the population of Ukraine, of neighbouring countries and of the international community.
It is urgent to allow the inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
And to ensure the withdrawal of all Russian forces.
So President Vucic, Aleksandar, once again great to see you here.
NATO values our long-standing partnership with Serbia.
And we will continue to work with your country to promote our goal of peace and security in the Western Balkans.
Thank you for being here today, and once again welcome to NATO Headquarters.
Q: Albanian media said in previous days that Serbian army violated international law and that it crossed administrative line. Does NATO have any proof? For the President of Serbia does aggressive behaviour of Albin Kurti and the Quint made you to think about offered Russian base in Serbia?
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: NATO’s role in Kosovo is based on a very clear UN mandate and we take that very seriously meaning that our responsibility is to be neutral. It’s not to be part of the conflict but to be a neutral actor that ensures the safety, the security of all communities, and also the freedom of movement of all communities, including of course the Serbs. Therefore, we are very careful doing anything that involves us into the conflict. We support the EU-facilitated dialogue, the political dialogue, and this is underpinned and supported by the military presence of KFOR in Kosovo. So that’s my main message is that we will not be involved we will be a neutral actor and conduct our presence there according to the very clear and strong UN mandate.
President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic: If you allow me I would partly answer the first question. Of course, Serbian army and Serbian armed forces, and Serbian police forces didn’t cross the administrative line in any moment. They lied like they’ve been lying for everything they’ve been lying for 180 days that we’re going to attack someone in the region. And nobody has said even once we’re sorry for the lies because it didn’t happen. It will not happen. I’m grateful to NATO because they did not come up with such untruths. Unlike some.
Regarding your second question, Serbia does not need anybody’s foreign bases. Serbia is a military neutral country, Serbia wants to preserve peace, we want to keep our population of country and our sky, and this is how we are going to act in the future.
Secretary General could you be more specific about KFOR’s statement that they would be ready to intervene if stability was jeopardized? When would that happen? What would that look like?
NATO Secretary General: First of all, we have now a significant mission, military presence, in Kosovo, close to 4000 Troops, and just that presence in itself helps to stabilize, helps to reduce tensions and help us also to prevent escalation and any type of conflict. Second, we are also, the KFOR Commander, KFOR is closely, is in close contact with authorities in Belgrade, with the Chief of the Serbian Defence but also with the authorities in Pristina, and having these open channels of communications is also a way to prevent a miscalculation, misunderstanding, and to act when we have situations as we saw the end of July. And then there was also again the direct contact between Serbia and KFOR that helped to reduce tensions. Then, of course, if needed, we will move forces, deploy them where needed and increase our presence. We have already increased the presence in the north, we are ready to do more. But of course, we will act when needed and we act in a proportionate way because our main aim is to help to reduce tensions and to ensure all communities the freedom of movement, the safety of all communities, including of course, the Serbs in Kosovo.
Q: I have two questions first for you Mr. President. Did you get any assurances and what kind of assurance did you get from Secretary General that KFOR on the ground will stop this violent intrusion by Pristina as we could see in the past incidents? And for Mr. Stoltenberg you said that KFOR will act when needed. Having in mind that you have the mandate in accordance with Resolution 1244 to preserve stability and peace in Kosovo, how do you have in mind all previous situations of intrusions in the North? How can you react quickly, how fast actually can you provide that safety and security in the North of Kosovo?
President of the Republic of Serbia: I don’t know what to tell you. I believe that Jens’ answer to this question is more important but all of us see this differently. It’s a different observation point from the Quint countries than us. They would say that the violence and they will read what […] said that the violence is on barricades and that the violence is not actually implementation of systematic of true and actual violence against Serbs. It is the question how different actors will interpret this. What we signed in the Brussels agreement is that special forces have very limited possibilities to enter North. They always justify this with fighting organized crime because each Serb that confronts them, anywhere is a criminal for them.
Quint will always support that, they will always have their back for that and we are in very difficult position in that regard, to be fully transparent. For us, this is a lose-lose situation. Simply it’s very difficult but you know when you have been put in the corner, and when you have no place to manoeuvre, I said this to Jens Stoltenberg and everybody else, please do not expect Serbs to enjoy and say how they’re having a really nice time. There is a new generation, young men, in the north of Kosovo and in the entire of Kosovo and they will not put up with this anymore and it has no longer anything to do with me, with Jens, we grew old. This new generation that will not put up with the terror, they do not see Kosovo as an independent state like 22 out of 27 countries of the EU, they see Kosovo as territory of Serbia and of course in accordance with 1244 Resolution in international public laws. So, there are a lot of problems and what’s important for us that with the help of KFOR we should preserve peace and preserve stability and we hope that they will be enough wisdom to reach a solution by compromise.
NATO Secretary General: NATO is ready to act and KFOR is ready to intervene, and of course we can do that also on short notice. We have the capabilities, we have the forces. They will be deployed where needed. We have presence, already in different places in Kosovo and we have increased our presence in the north, and our regular patrols, including in the north. I visited KFOR not so many months ago and I was updated in detail about their presence, their ability to deploy and to act and intervene when needed. But of course it will be proportionate, and it will be, and it will reflect the needs and the challenges we face. But just the fact that we have close to 4000 troops in Kosovo demonstrates a strong commitment and helps to defuse the situation. We have to remember now that the KFOR mission in Kosovo is now NATO’s biggest military mission outside the NATO, and at the Madrid Summit, Heads of State and Government recommitted to the KFOR mission, and I welcome that Allies and Partners continue to provide the forces and the capabilities to ensure that KFOR can fulfil its mandate. Let me also add that KFOR of course works closely together with other actors including the EU police mission EULEX. NATO is not the first responder but when things get really difficult, really dangerous, then we deploy and we act as we did at the end of July.
Q: I have two questions. First of all, Secretary General, given the rhetoric that we’ve been hearing in the recent incidents, how do you see the level of risk at the moment for a possible escalation in the region and then for President Vucic Prime Minister Kurti said earlier this week that there is a risk of Russian involvement in the Serbia Kosovo relations, increasing chances of a conflict. How do you respond to his concern?
NATO Secretary General: Well of course there is always the risk and therefore, it is important that we have the meetings taking place, today and tomorrow, and therefore also welcome the fact that president Vu?i? decided to come to NATO, and of course also engaging in the EU-facilitated dialogue tomorrow. I will meet Mr. Kurti later on today, then I will, of course, get his assessment. My message is fundamentally the same. That everything has to be done to prevent escalation. NATO will do its part by sending a clear message from KFOR by being very clear in our communications that we will intervene we will act when needed. The best thing is, of course, to prevent and avoid the need for increased NATO presence but we are there and just the presence and that the clear messaging come from the commander of the KFOR forces, from me, from the whole of NATO. I think it helps to deescalate and prevent escalation.
President of the Republic of Serbia: Thank you very much for asking that question. First of all, I don’t believe that there are any kind of concerns, real concerns from Albin Kurti and the Pristina side, but it’s about political narrative, political rhetoric, which you can use everything against the other side. It’s always easiest, you know, to tarnish someone and for me, it’s even much easier to refute all these claims. Because for 180 days so far, we’ve been listening about Serbia, Serbia, as possibility and Serbia’s wishes to invade either some entities or some countries in the region. And that was going to happen five months ago, four months ago, three months ago, two months ago, a month ago, now, and it didn’t happen, so far. Which means that they were actually lying about it. And there were no rebuking from anyone in the world about this kind of narrative against Serbia. And it’s always easier now just to use the current political situation against someone else with no real arguments. That’s why I was asking even NATO to scrutinize the situation in Kosovo to tell us when did it happen and where did it happen when Serbian forces crossed that, we will say administrative line, they will say country border or whatever you call it. It means that what we need, it’s a rational approach. What we need is talks. It’s compromising solution. And it’s not someone’s desires to find solutions in which someone might blackmail Serbia or someone might order Serbia how to act and we wait for mutual recognition if you don’t. And if that don’t happen it’ll be Serbia’s fault. We found a culprit finally and that’s it. No, it doesn’t work like that. You need to talk to each other. We need to see what would mean and what would be a real compromising solution and we are ready for that. But, for this kind of narrative and talks we can just deny it. And I also know that we’ll never hear a word sorry for all these false and fabricated claims against our country. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Speaking exclusively to The Pavlovic Today, Richard Grenell, former Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations, slams President Biden for ignoring the Kosovo crisis.