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Turmoil in Kosovo Hurts Relations with US

Ethnic Albanians take part in a protest in the southern, ethnic Albanian-dominated part of Mitrovica, Kosovo, June 1, 2023.

Actions by the Kosovo government that reignited tensions with Serbia this week have opened a crack in relations between Kosovo and one of its most important partners — the United States.

Former U.S. diplomats said Washington hasn’t been this displeased with the Kosovo government in a long time and pointed to a statement by the top U.S. diplomat.

“The United States strongly condemns the actions by the government of Kosovo to access municipal buildings in the north of Kosovo by force, actions it took against the advice of the United States and Kosovo’s European partners,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

A veteran U.S. diplomat who participated in the process leading to Kosovo's independence says Kosovo cannot take American support for granted.

“This is certainly the biggest break in a long period of U.S.-Kosovo cooperation. This is the strongest fresh expression of American opposition to an act by the Kosovo government that I can remember,” Daniel Fried told VOA’s Serbian Service.

The current tensions rose from questions over the legitimacy of elections in four municipalities in northern Kosovo in April.

Violence broke out Monday after Kosovo authorities installed the ethnic Albanian mayors in offices in the country’s north, where the population is mostly Serbian. The mayors had been elected on a turnout of 3.5% after Serbs, who still want to be reunited with Belgrade, boycotted the vote.

Last Friday, police used tear gas in the town of Zvecan to disband a crowd of Serbs who were attempting to bar a newly elected Albanian mayor from entering his office.

The United States and several European governments have appealed several times for all parties in Kosovo to reduce tensions. And the presidents of Kosovo and Serbia held talks Thursday on resolving the crisis.

The United States also issued a joint statement with France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom, condemning the actions of Kosovo’s authorities.

Kosovo gained independence from Serbia in 2008, which Belgrade still does not recognize. Kosovo is largely made up of Albanians, who are Muslim, whereas Serbia is mostly Christian Orthodox.

“I suspect the United States urged the Kosovo government not to take certain steps and our request was ignored and the steps were taken, and the result was exactly what we feared,” Fried said.

Washington has communicated its displeasure with Kosovo by canceling the nation’s participation in the Defender Europe joint military exercise, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker said.

“Kosovo depends upon a very close relationship with the United States. So it is rash and imprudent for them to go ahead and take these actions without consulting with the United States. And I think that is reflected in the statement by Secretary Blinken,” Volker told VOA Albanian.

“At the same time, I think that the statement overlooks some of the U.S. and European Union responsibility for failing to keep some of these Serbian nationalist actions in check over time, which is what caused Kosovo to be frustrated to begin with,” Volker said.

Milena Durdic of VOA's Serbian Service and Keida Kostreci of VOA's Albanian Service contributed to this report.