The US ambassador to Kosovo, Jeffrey Hovenier, announced Tuesday that Washington was kicking Pristina out of the US-led Defender Europe military exercises over its treatment of the ethnic Serb population of northern Kosovo.
The move was a punishment for Kosovo trying to forcibly install ethnic Albanian mayors in three Serb-majority towns. The mayors won office in elections that were boycotted by the Serbs, who have never accepted Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, which was formally declared in 2008.
When Kosovo police used force against Serb protesters on May 26, Secretary of State Antony Blinken slammed the move and blamed Pristina for the tensions, a rare rebuke from the US, one of the staunchest supporters of Kosovo’s independence. Blinken said Kosovo’s actions “will have consequences for our bilateral relations with Kosovo.”
Hovenier said suspending Kosovo from the Defender Europe exercises was one consequence and signaled other action might be taken. “For Kosovo, those exercises are over,” he said.
“We have asked [Kosovar Prime Minister Albin] Kurti to take steps toward reducing tensions in the north. He has not responded to these requests and we are analyzing what our other actions will be,” Hovenier said.
The US wants Kosovo’s government not to insist the mayors work from the municipal buildings that have been blocked by protesters and for police to withdraw from the buildings in the three northern towns.
NATO troops got involved in the stand-off on Monday and moved to disperse Serb protesters. The ensuing violence injured 52 Serb protesters and 30 members of NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) mission. In response, NATO is sending 700 more troops to Kosovo.