Tensions have been high recently between enemies Serbia and Kosovo. A series of incidents and clashes involving the two countries, the most recent dating back to late September, have raised the specter of an impending crisis as the sides exchanged strong words. Amidst all this, Türkiye took command of the NATO Force in Kosovo (KFOR) on October 9, when Major General Özkan Ulutaş officially took charge in a ceremony at the Pristina headquarters , the capital of Kosovo.
This transfer of power comes as Turkey and Serbia continue to develop their defense and military relations, with a common goal of peace and stability in the Balkans. Turkey is also among the countries that formally recognize Kosovo since gaining independence from Serbia in 2008. Belgrade has never recognized Kosovo and still claims it as its own territory.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Nemanja Starovic, state secretary of the Serbian Defense Ministry, said: “Although Belgrade and Ankara disagree on Kosovo’s independence, they remain focused on preservation of peace and stability through dialogue.”
“We have a different view on an issue that is close to our hearts and which concerns our territorial integrity,” he added.
“But what binds us now is our common wish to preserve peace and stability in the entire Western Balkans,” Starovic said, stressing that Serbia appreciates Turkey’s role as the current commander of KFOR.
“What we accomplished in our previous talks with Major General Ulutaş and Defense Minister Yaşar Güler is to identify common goals and interests and recognize that Turkey will truly do whatever is necessary. in its power… to preserve peace and stability. Serbia greatly appreciates this fact,” he also said, stressing that Belgrade has “a lot of hope… that we will see more security for Serbs living in Kosovo on the ground since Turkish troops were on the ground.”
“Major General Ulutaş and Minister Güler assured us that the Turkish contingent within the KFOR mission will carry out outreach to local communities to provide them with the basic services they currently lack,” Starovic said .
Among NATO’s 27 member and partner countries, Turkey has the second largest KFOR contingent, with 780 of its approximately 4,500 troops. “Turkey is the largest country in the Balkans and Serbia, with a central position in the region… we understand that there is a common interest and that it is very important to cooperate and work together to maintain the calm in the region,” he said. “We understand that this is the most important for Ankara and Belgrade. It provides a perfect and solid basis for further improvement of security and defense relations.”
According to Starovic, the two countries have “concrete plans” to strengthen their defense ties.
He said the two sides had “very frank and very open” discussions during Güler’s visit in late October, including discussions about “intentions to purchase highly sophisticated military equipment from Turkey, as well as the Turkey’s desire to purchase part of the military equipment produced in Serbia. “.
“Superpower” in Türkiye
Perko Matovic, director of the Center for National Policy in Serbia, also praised Turkey’s ability to ensure stability in the Balkans, as well as the potential for closer ties between Ankara and Belgrade.
He pointed out that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was one of the first leaders to call President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to offer support on the night of the defeat. July 2016 coup attempt.
“Erdoğan is a strong leader who defended his country against the coup attempt. After that, Serbia and Turkey began to deepen their relations. Normally, political stability and cultural relations are followed by relations of defense,” he said.
He said that the Turkish command of KFOR is “very good for Serbia and the Serbs living in Kosovo.” “We are very, very happy that there is a Turkish command and professional Turkish soldiers. We expect professionalism. We expect balance, stability and security for our citizens,” he said.
Matovic also stressed that he does not recognize Turkey as a regional power but as “an international superpower.” “Turkey is very capable of influencing many world affairs. President Erdoğan is responsible for this at this point. We can learn a lot from Turkey,” he said. In the Balkans, Turkey constitutes an essential stabilizing factor, in particular because it has a balanced position, he added.
“Regarding the issue of Kosovo, we do not agree with Turkey, but regardless of these differences, Turkey was one of the few international powers which, although it had a firm stance on independence of Kosovo, was very, very balanced,” Matovic said. “Turkey has never favored any position. Turkey has always taken our opinion into account and that is why we are very grateful to Turkey.”
He said differences over Kosovo will not dissuade Ankara and Belgrade from further developing their bilateral relations.
“Serbia and Turkey will be able, thanks to economic and political stability, to overcome their differences and perhaps in a few years we will have much more aligned interests, even in our foreign policy,” the analyst said . “Serbia’s military neutrality opens up opportunities with Turkey to develop relations in all areas.”
According to Turkish Ambassador Hami Aksoy, relations between the two countries are in a golden age, with cooperation in all areas.
“Our relations with Serbia have reached their highest level in the last ten years,” he told AA. “We receive great support from Serbia in our fight against the Gülenist Terrorist Group (FETÖ). Serbia is the only country in the Balkans that unconditionally supports us against the FETÖ,” Aksoy said.
The ambassador also highlighted Turkey’s close historical ties with the Balkans, stressing that it is “impossible to think about the region without Turkey.”