By Lee Jae-woong

It has been more than seven months since the war in Ukraine broke out. Europe is suffering from the most tragic conflict since World War II. There has been no tangible progress in diplomacy, and no one knows when the war will end. As Russia countered the sanctions by cutting supplies of oil and gas to European countries, people in Europe are worried about a stiff rise in the prices of heating and electricity in the coming winter.

Adding insult to injury, there are concerns that the Balkan region, often described as a powder keg in Europe in the early 20th century, could fall into another crisis caused by the ongoing conflict between Serbia and Kosovo.

In the 1990s, Serbia suffered under heavy sanctions as the main instigator of the civil wars among the countries of former Yugoslavia and during the Kosovo War (1998-1999). It was bombed by NATO in 1999. Eventually the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution No. 1244 settled the matter and ended the Kosovo War in June 1999. Since then, there have been dialogues going on between Serbia and Kosovo with little progress despite the efforts of both sides and U.N. and European Union mediators. In 2008, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia, and Serbia would not recognize Kosovo, causing tensions ever since.

Recently, albeit little known in Korea, the situation escalated, as the Kosovo government announced the introduction of new measures regarding ID cards and car license plates for ethnic Serbs mostly living in northern Kosovo from September, who, in return, defiantly protested against them. The last-minute efforts of the EU and the United States temporarily resolved the problem, as both sides agreed to allow the free passage of people. However, concerns still linger, as the Kosovo government argued that all cars in Kosovo should be registered with Kosovo plates before the end of October. This is a stark reminder that the security situation is fragile, where old disagreements are not settled, and memories of the Kosovo war remain fresh, with no tangible solution to be found in the foreseeable future.

Serbia is historically and geographically in a strategic location between East and West. Because of its location, the country has been implicated in constant struggles among the great powers since its liberation from the Ottoman Empire. And now, Serbia seems to be mulling over which path it should take amid a very volatile environment. After the Kosovo War and the subsequent political, economic and social turmoil, the Serbian government proclaimed its accession to the EU as a top-priority foreign policy.

At the same time, the country has maintained very close relationships with Russia and China for various reasons. Both Russia and China are staunch supporters of Serbia in opposing Kosovo in becoming a member of the U.N. Russia is exporting oil and natural gas to Serbia at cheaper than market prices, and China is a big investor in Serbia regarding infrastructure and other industries, including mining.

With the start of the Ukraine War, the EU wants all European countries united in condemning Russian aggression and imposing sanctions. However, Serbia didn't join and remained the only country in Europe ― except Belarus ― not to impose sanctions.

On the other hand, Russia wants Serbia on its side, believing that more trouble in Kosovo could divert the attention of the world from Ukraine and turn the war situation to its advantage. Well aware of that possibility, European nations have been acting vigorously to persuade Serbia ― and Kosovo ― to continue the dialogue to resolve the pending issues and seek long-term solutions so as to normalize their relationship.

Given the strong rhetoric from both Serbia and Kosovo, it is unlikely that they will find a solution very soon. But it is absolutely necessary for all relevant actors to work together to prevent another military conflict in Europe from happening given the dire political and economic situation the world is facing.

For the Korean government, proclaiming Korea as a "Global Pivotal State" armored with "value-centered diplomacy," should expand its realm of attention to regions like the Balkans in its effort to play a leading role in diplomacy in order to enhance the peace and security of the world.

It needs to collaborate closely with the U.S. and other like-minded countries in Europe in persuading countries like Serbia to stand with the international community as an unswerving advocate of fundamental principles of international law, such as the territorial integrity of a sovereign state, and promote peace and prosperity. Through the value-based approach, both Korea and Serbia can build a more sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship.

Lee Jae-woong is the Korean ambassador to Serbia.

QOSHE - What's happening in the Western Balkans? - Guest Column
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What's happening in the Western Balkans?

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28.09.2022

By Lee Jae-woong

It has been more than seven months since the war in Ukraine broke out. Europe is suffering from the most tragic conflict since World War II. There has been no tangible progress in diplomacy, and no one knows when the war will end. As Russia countered the sanctions by cutting supplies of oil and gas to European countries, people in Europe are worried about a stiff rise in the prices of heating and electricity in the coming winter.

Adding insult to injury, there are concerns that the Balkan region, often described as a powder keg in Europe in the early 20th century, could fall into another crisis caused by the ongoing conflict between Serbia and Kosovo.

In the 1990s, Serbia suffered under heavy sanctions as the main instigator of the civil wars among the countries of former Yugoslavia and during the Kosovo War (1998-1999). It was bombed by NATO in 1999. Eventually the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution No. 1244 settled the matter and ended the Kosovo War in June 1999. Since then, there have been dialogues going on between Serbia and Kosovo with little progress despite the efforts of both sides and U.N. and European Union mediators. In 2008, Kosovo........

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