Turkish Bayraktar drone sales to Kosovo spark anger in Serbia

by Cristian Florescu

Turkey’s decision to provide Kosovo with drones has caused anger in Serbia, which has deemed it “unacceptable”

There have been increasing tensions between the two neighbouring countries in the past year, leading to a recent incident of violence in northern Kosovo, where a significant Serb population resides. This unfortunate event resulted in the injury of Nato soldiers and police officers.

Kosovo has expressed concerns that Belgrade may be contributing to tensions in the northern part of the country, which Serbia considers to be its own territory. This is due to their alleged support of militants who have been attacking state institutions and attempting to undermine Kosovo’s sovereignty. However, Kosovo’s decision to publicize its new military capabilities has caused Serbia’s displeasure this week.

During the weekend, Albin Kurti, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, took the opportunity to highlight the country’s newest acquisition of Bayraktar TB2 drones. This model has been notably utilized in Ukraine with significant success against Russian targets.

Kosovo’s display of its new defensive equipment was intended to caution its influential neighbour that Pristina would protect itself, if necessary, from any efforts by Serbia to undermine the nation’s borders, according to Sidita Kushi, an assistant professor in political science at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.

She expressed that, given the apparent decrease in Western support for Kosovo and the numerous conflicts between ethnic Serbs and Kosovo police and KFOR troops in the north, it is important to provide reassurances to the population of Kosovo regarding their future security.

Turkey has shown great willingness to take on the role that the European Union and the US appear to be considering leaving, in their efforts to attract Serbia away from Russia’s sphere of influence.

According to a source close to the Kurti government speaking to MEE, the Kosovo government has previously chosen to maintain a public distance from the Turkish administration of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, despite having strong institutional relations. This decision was made out of concern that being too closely aligned with Erdogan might raise suspicions in the West. However, it is important for Western leaders to recognize that Kurti is a pragmatic politician who understands realpolitik and adjusts to changing circumstances. Within Kosovo’s leadership, the increasing appeasement of Serbia by the West has highlighted the strategic importance of Turkey. As a result, it is likely that Turkish influence in Kosovo will significantly strengthen, leading to enhanced bilateral ties, particularly in the defence sector.

In response to the sale of drones to Kosovo, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic expressed his disappointment by stating last month that his country had decided to cancel the planned drone purchases from Turkey. Nemanja Starovic, the state secretary at the Ministry of Defence in Serbia, shared that the Turkish ambassador to the country was invited for a discussion following the recent drone purchases by Pristina. Starovic further explained that his country wanted to convey its serious concerns regarding the support provided by certain NATO member states, including Turkey, in promoting illegal militarization on the ground through training and supplying the so-called Kosovo Security Force, with the intention of transforming it into a fully-fledged army. Starovic emphasized that this purchase would have an impact on the bilateral relations between the two countries.

”However, we are fully committed to strengthening our ties with Ankara, as we recognize Turkey’s significant role as the largest country in the Balkans,” Starovic politely emphasized. “Furthermore, our strong economic relationship with Turkey over the past few years has been mutually beneficial and has fostered greater understanding on a political level,” he added. “Nevertheless, this does not mean we should refrain from expressing our concerns” regarding Kosovo’s weapons acquisitions. Despite facing minimal regional threats, Serbia has been actively acquiring drones and other weapons. Earlier this year, Vucic announced the country’s intention to purchase loitering munitions from the UAE, in addition to its existing arsenal of Chinese drones. Moreover, Serbia is currently developing its own drones. “It is unlikely that this incident will cause a significant rift,” commented Bojan Elek, the deputy director at the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy. “Apart from the strong language used, Serbia also announced its decision to shift from Turkey as a supplier and instead opt for Chinese drones, which is perhaps the most significant consequence of this situation,” Elek stated in an interview with MEE. “Serbia maintains a principled stance on Kosovo and its statehood, including its military aspects,” Elek added, referring to Belgrade’s refusal to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Kosovo media has reported that as many as five drones may have been purchased in addition to other military equipment, including vehicles. 

The current tension between the two countries dates back to April when Kosovo Serbs boycotted local elections. As a result of the low turnout, ethnic Albanians took control of the local councils, which were predominantly Serb. 

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