Turkey steers NATO’s Kosovo Mission during rising tensions

Turkey steers NATO’s Kosovo Mission during rising tensions
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Erdogan's diplomacy faces a test as Balkan rivalries resurge.

Turkey is set to assume command of the NATO-led force in Kosovo, stepping into a volatile situation as tensions surge between Kosovo and Serbia, marking the worst clashes in the Balkans in a decade.

As reported by Bloomberg, On October 10, Turkey, boasting the second largest army in NATO, will succeed Italy in leading the mission, according to Rear Admiral Zeki Akturk of Turkey’s Defense Ministry. This transition comes at a pivotal moment, with Turkey's diplomatic and military roles intersecting due to its significant ties with both conflicting nations.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration has not only nurtured trade relationships with Serbia but has also provided military support to Kosovo, recently supplying the latter with combat drones. Erdogan’s personal rapport with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is seen as a potential buffer against escalating violence following a lethal confrontation in Kosovo last week.

The United States and the European Union have expressed grave concerns, urging restraint and accountability in the wake of the clashes. The EU is particularly apprehensive, given this is the gravest confrontation since Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008.

Turkey’s diplomatic intervention aims to advocate restraint and preserve the years of efforts to foster peaceful coexistence and normalization of relations between the two nations. Major General Ozkan Ulutas of the Turkish army, who arrived in Kosovo this Tuesday, will lead the mission that comprises about 600 Turkish personnel.

The NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo, which has been stationed since the 1990s war, currently has approximately 3,500 troops, a reduction from its peak of 50,000. Turkey's leadership in this mission underscores its enduring historical and ethnic connections to the Balkans, a region that was once part of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey’s strategic position is further complicated by its economic interests in Serbia. Turkish companies have established Serbia as a pivotal production hub for exports to Europe and Russia. The anticipated visit of President Erdogan to Belgrade in the coming months is expected to underscore these intricate diplomatic and economic ties.