On May 26 Serbian President and Supreme Commander in Chief of the country’s armed forces Aleksandar Vucic placed the military on high alert, according to reports from local media, ordering forces to immediately move to the administrative border of Kosovo and Metohija. These moves were made in response to reports of “violent tactics against the Serbian residents” by Kosovo’s Western-aligned administration. President Vucic also called on NATO officials to urgently end the violence against the Serb minority in Kosovo, where Kosovar law enforcement officers have attempted to seize administrative buildings in Serb majority areas. The deployment of Serbian forces follows an announcement by the deputy chairman of The Serb List political party Igor Simic, which represents the interests of the Serb minority of Kosovo and Metohija, that the population would fight back with “all available means.” Tensions in the region have been simmering for over a year, with Kosovar authorities repeatedly raising allegations of Russian intervention to destabilise their territory, although Western sources have frequently dismissed these claims as efforts to gain greater NATO support.
Although Kosovo continues to be recognised as part of Serbia by the United Nations and most of the leading non-Western UN member states, the territory declared independence in 2009 and has been under the protection of NATO forces preventing Belgrade from reimposing its authority. It has also come to host one of the largest American military bases in the region Camp Bondsteel. While Kosovo remains closely aligned with NATO, and has reportedly sent large numbers of contractors to support the ongoing war effort against Russian forces in Ukraine, Serbia by contrast remains one of a very small number of militaries in Europe not integrated into NATO. The country continues to use Russian and Chinese rather than NATO compatible equipment, with its most notable recent acquisition being that of Chinese HQ-22 mobile air defence systems which were delivered in April 2022. Serbia’s location surrounded by NATO and EU members has nevertheless allowed Western interests to bring considerable pressure to bear against the state over a range of issues, with the European Union and the United States recently escalating efforts to press Belgrade both to join the Western world in placing economic sanctions on Russia, and to recognise the secession of Kosovo as a separate state – which would pave the way to its UN membership. Serbia was also threatened over its acquisition of Chinese air defence systems, although these were seen as a more politically viable than its previously expected choice of Russian S-300 or S-400 systems. Although the country’s armed forces have frequently held exercises with NATO members, the Serbian Air Force has received considerable aid from Russia and Belarus including MiG-29 fighter aircraft from both countries.