EU-brokered negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo collapsed again following another violent clash between international peacekeepers and Serbs from northern Kosovo.
Commentators said the clash, the second since August, had seriously weakened the pro-European coalition of Serbian President Boris Tadić ahead of the elections scheduled for spring 2012.
During an operation at the Kosovo-Serbia border on 27 September led by NATO's Kosovo force KFOR, international forces opened fire at demonstrators, wounding six people. The operation's aim was to remove Serb barricades set up at the Jarinje and Brnjak border crossing points between Kosovo and Serbia.
In the clash, the demonstrators threw a handmade bomb at KFOR, injuring four peacekeepers, who then responded. Serbia accused KFOR of having used live ammunition against civilians.
As a result of the escalation, a round of EU-brokered talks between Belgrade and Pristina, due to take place in Brussels on 27 and 28 September, was indefinitely adjourned.
According to BETA, EurActiv's partner agency in Serbia, Serbian President Boris Tadić and the ruling coalition had certainly been aware of the international forces' intention of removing the barricades and demonstrators from the northern border crossings before this new, seventh round of talks between Belgrade and Pristina.
Following consecutive attacks by Kosovo and Serbian forces at the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings last July, Serbia lost control over the two checkpoints. Now, both are controlled by EULEX, KFOR and a Kosovo customs officer.
Serbia losing face
Reportedly, the Serbian authorities initially wanted to resolve the stalemate by putting the issue on the agenda of the regular dialogue with Pristina, but the Kosovo government refused to discuss it.
Belgrade then decided to talk about the dispute over the placement of one Kosovo customs officer each at the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings outside of the regular dialogue, with representatives of the EU and the US. However, the chances of Belgrade winning a solution that would restore the conditions at the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings to the ones prior to the conflict are apparently non-existent, BETA commented.
Analysts at the Serb news agency said Belgrade's intention was to gain time and simultaneously ensure its long-term presence in northern Kosovo, in which it failed. The matter of controlling the northern Kosovo border is now being resolved in a state of crisis and tension, for which Belgrade is forced to suffer the consequences.
The escalating violence has left Tadić in a position where he can only protest, condemn the use of force and urge all sides involved to remain calm, demonstrating a glaring lack of influence over developments on the field.
On the other hand, the nationalist political parties in Serbia have now a free hand to use the situation in the north of Kosovo as a very efficient means when dealing with the ruling, so-called "pro-European", coalition.
These parties can now easily incite protests, aggravate the tensions and begin to accuse the government of betraying Serbian interests and losing Kosovo.
The Democratic Party of Serbia, led by the former Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica, and the Serbian Progressive Party led by Tomislav Nikolić both wield a substantial amount of influence in the north of Kosovo and are both taking advantage of the current crisis to further their respective positions.
The ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, another political party with a lot of clout in the north of Kosovo, has assumed a very similar attitude.
The external factor is not to be neglected either, BETA further writes. Russia has shown growing interest in the Kosovo situation lately and seeks support among the conservative and nationalist-oriented parties in Serbia, among them the Democratic Party of Serbia, the Serbian Progressive Party and the Serbian Radical Party.