Could War Erupt in Kosovo?

Members of the Kosovo Security Force stand on armored vehicles.
ARMEND NIMANI/AFP via Getty Images

Could War Erupt in Kosovo?

Will Putin bring war closer to Europe’s heart?

You wake up in the morning, leave the house, and buy a copy of the newspaper. Today’s headlines read:

  • “Austria Formally Declares War on [Serbia]; Russia Threatens, Already Moving Troops; Peace of Europe Now in Kaiser’s Hands”
  • “Czar’s Forces Mass on Eastern Border”
  • “War Drums Beating Along the Danube—Manifesto by the Emperor”
  • “France Expects to Be Drawn In”

These headlines were from the New York Times on July 29, 1914, in coverage of the outbreak of World War i. The backstory of the conflict is more complex, but the opening shots were fired when Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia. Some estimate the war’s total death toll could be as high as 21.5 million people. And it was started with a crisis in the Balkans. No wonder recent headlines like the following are making people nervous:

  • “Shots Fired Near NATO Patrol in Kosovo’s Volatile North, NATO Says” (Reuters, December 25)
  • “Kosovo Calls for NATO Intervention After Weekend of Violence Amid Rising Ethnic Tensions” (cnn, December 12)
  • “Serbian Right-Winger Says [Russia] Ties Could Help If There’s ‘Conflict in Kosovo’” (RadioFreeEurope-RadioLiberty, December 6)
  • “Kosovo: Serbia Puts Troops on High Alert Over Rising Tensions” (bbc, December 27)

What’s going on in the Balkans? Could Serbia and Kosovo go to war? Will this draw the rest of Europe in? Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows that war—major, catastrophic war—is a very real possibility for modern Europe. Nobody can assume that diplomatic crises can now simply blow over.

Some background: Kosovo is a territory in southeastern Europe that, for decades, was an autonomous region within Serbia. It is populated mostly by Albanian Muslims but territorially is the medieval heartland of Serb civilization. After a war in the late 1990s and the collapse of Yugoslavia, the United Nations administered the territory. Backed by the United States and several European states, Kosovo declared independence in 2008. Serbia—along with such influential countries as Russia and China—never recognized this. Since then, different groups have tried to mediate between the two sides. U.S. President Donald Trump made the most progress most recently. But the two states still see each other as enemies.

The current tensions have a variety of sources. The Kosovar government was cracking down on use of Belgrade-issued drivers’ licenses in Serb-majority areas. Serb judges and policemen resigned from duty en masse in protest. On December 10, a Serb ex-policeman was arrested. These and other complications prompted Kosovar Serbs to put up roadblocks at the Serbia-Kosovo border.

The situation threatens to turn violent fast. The day the ex-policeman was arrested, there were three armed skirmishes between Kosovar authorities and Serb gunmen. Somebody also attacked a European Union force with a stun gun. On December 25, shots were fired in proximity to a North Atlantic Treaty Organization patrol (nobody was injured). Many fear the clashes will escalate into all-out conflict.

The Kosovar government has responded by saying if nato doesn’t remove the roadblocks, Kosovo, as the bbc put it, will “take matters into its own hands.”

The Serbian government isn’t afraid to demonstrate saber rattling, either. On December 26, Serbian Defense Minister Miloš Vučević said, “Serbia’s president [Aleksandar Vučić] ordered the Serbian Army to be on the highest level of combat readiness.” Vučić said that same day he would “take all measures to protect our people and preserve Serbia.” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić said last week the Kosovo situation is “on the brink of armed conflict.”

Serbia isn’t Russia. It’s a functioning democracy coming to terms with a disputed political situation. It even has the support of many EU member states, like Spain and Greece. And it’s not like Kosovo is an innocent victim in the matter. Serbia accuses Kosovo of violating the 2013 Brussels Agreement, which was to give Kosovar Serbs autonomy. Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti has dragged his feet in implementing this. He claims this would make northern Kosovo a Serb “state within a state.” Serbia claims Albanian antagonism is pressuring Belgrade to protect its people.

But Serbia is still a close partner of Russia and not a fan of Western hegemony in the region. Russian President Vladimir Putin is very influential in Belgrade. Everybody is wondering if Putin would likewise take advantage of the Serbia-Kosovo issue to further his goals.

Would war happen? Serbia is a tiny country without a coastline and surrounded by EU and nato members. It would stand no chance in a war, and everybody in Belgrade knows this. But two circumstances could bring Serbia to war.

If the Kosovar government responds to the crisis by using the military against Serb civilians, Belgrade might see this as a provocation and feel compelled to act despite the unfavorable odds. Such a scenario isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound. One of the reasons nato troops are in Kosovo in the first place is to protect Serbian Orthodox holy sites from attacks by Albanians. If Kosovo started the conflict, nato would have to intervene but probably wouldn’t go to war with Serbia. War in any form is of course not ideal. But the above scenario likely wouldn’t spiral out of control and bring all of Europe into a quagmire.

That wouldn’t be the case for the second scenario. Serbia might also declare war if Russia guarantees of support were strong enough. In other words, if Moscow egged Serbia on and convinced the Serbs that war was worth it. This “might” is what is putting everybody on edge. It would almost certainly involve a full-scale war between nato and Serbia. And this is where things get interesting.

Russia is trying to take over Ukraine. But Western aid to Ukraine has allowed Kyiv to punch above its weight. If Putin wants any chance of ending the war on favorable terms, he needs to stop the weapons and money crossing Ukraine’s western borders. He can do this in two different ways. He could threaten a nuclear war, like Moscow did during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But the last time that happened, nuclear war almost did break out. Putin’s goal is not to end civilization, and he probably doesn’t want a repeat of 1962.

His second option is to kick-start a local war closer to Europe’s doorstep. This may be more tantalizing. Europe wouldn’t be so concerned with sending euros and weapons to sponsor a foreign war if it had to deal with a war at home.

If Putin wanted to go to war with Europe, he probably would have already done so. So he most likely wouldn’t do so for Serbia’s sake if war in the Balkans breaks out. But he could make Serbia think that he would, and then just sit it out. Serbia would never forgive him for that backstabbing, but Putin has a record of throwing allies under the bus if it advances his agenda (like Armenia during the recent Nagorno-Karabakh War). Alienating a minor partner like Serbia would be a small price to pay to kick the West out of Ukraine. And once someone opens Pandora’s box of war in the Balkans, the resulting pandemonium would be hard to contain.

For Putin, starting war between Serbia and Kosovo would be the perfect way to hit Europe where it hurts without needing to actually get involved.

Because of this, analysts are taking Russian influence in the Balkans seriously. The Council on Foreign Relations claimed on December 2 that the Ukraine war is “shifting the calculus” in the Balkans and accused Putin of seeking to “leverage simmering tensions” to cause problems for nato. George Friedman, writing for Geopolitical Futures, stated December 13 that a Kosovo war could “cause the Americans to lose some focus” it has on Ukraine. “At any rate,” he wrote, “Russia has little to lose and Serbia is always ready to tangle with Kosovo.” Richard Grenell, former U.S. envoy to the region under President Trump, said during a December 12 Newsmax interview that “we could see war in this part of the world.”

Putin doesn’t even need to spark a war immediately. The current crisis could blow over, but Serbia-Kosovo tensions aren’t going away anytime soon. Kosovo is a wildcard Putin can keep in his back pocket for whenever he needs it.

The point of the matter: World War i was the end result of a powerful ruler green-lighting war in the Balkans. Back then, that powerful ruler was Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph. Many in Europe see Putin as Europe’s modern “Franz Joseph” today. They see him as a man with the intent and means of bringing war back to Europe’s heartland. This scares them—and Putin knows this. The question is: Would he be bold enough to try? Everybody is afraid to learn the answer.

The Trumpet pays close attention to Russia-Europe relations because of prophecies in Ezekiel 38 of a powerful Russian “prince” to play a significant role in the world. The Trumpet identifies this “prince” as Vladimir Putin. (Please request a free copy of Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry’s booklet The Prophesied ‘Prince of Russia’ for more information.)

Notice what Ezekiel 38 and related prophecies say about this ruler of Russia:

  • “You shall sweep up like a storm, covering the country like a storm-cloud, you and all your hordes” (verse 9; Moffatt translation).
  • “[Y]ou will concoct an evil design, thinking, ‘I will invade this land of villages, I will attack this quiet folk who are all living in security’” (verse 10; Moffatt).
  • Speaking of a European leader: “But rumors from the east and from the north [the direction of Russia from Europe] will alarm and disturb him [from a word meaning ‘to trembleto be terrified, confoundedto flee in trepidation’Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon]” (Daniel 11:44; Amplified Bible; emphasis added throughout).

This “prince of Russia” knows how to use his military to be intimidating. And this “terrifies” and “confounds” Europe. He creates fear, like few other individuals could. This is where Mr. Flurry has focused his Russia-Europe analysis. Notice the following quotes from Mr. Flurry:

  • Ezekiel 38 “contains some world-staggering news about the powerful Russian empire and its widely feared ‘prince.’ … [Putin] is a famous and greatly feared world leader” (The Prophesied ‘Prince of Russia,’ 2022).
  • “Note the amount of fear Russia’s attack generated …. [Eastern Europe knows] what Russia can and will do—and they fear it in a way that is hard for us in the West to even imagine” (“The Crimean Crisis Is Reshaping Europe!”, 2014).
  • “Russian elections have recently moved President Vladimir Putin much closer to becoming a dictator. This strikes intense fear in Europe” (“Russia Frightens Europe—and Fulfills Bible Prophecy,” 2004)

For years, when describing the Europe-Russia relationship, the best-fitted word is fear. In his article “The Crimean Crisis Is Reshaping Europe!”, Mr. Flurry mentioned the words “fear” or “fears” 16 times. Much of Mr. Flurry’s coverage on Putin was written well before the Ukraine war. Europe’s fear of Russia has only multiplied since then.

But starting a war in the middle of Europe’s heartland would bring this “fear” to the next level.

In his long time in office, Putin has already done a lot to get Europe to “tremble.” Even if nothing happens between Serbia and Kosovo, the consternation that the tensions are causing shows how much fear Putin can generate. As Putin’s influence grows in Eastern Europe, we can only expect Europe’s fear to also grow. The same Bible that prophesies of Russia’s fear-generating also prophesies that crises like that will bring profound and lasting changes to Europe. These changes will affect not only Europe but the whole world. And with what is happening in Russia, the seeds are being sown right now.

To learn more, please request a free copy of The Prophesied ‘Prince of Russia.’ Also request a free copy of Germany’s Conquest of the Balkans to learn about the prophetic importance of the Balkan region.