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Vreme čitanja: oko 11 min.

EXCLUSIVE: What NATO spends millions on in Serbia, what are plans for Kosovo and what is happening in Bosnia?


Vreme čitanja: oko 11 min.

NATO's Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Operations Burcu San has spoken exclusively for Telegraf.rs

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Burču San intervju

Foto: Ministarstvo odbrane

In an exclusive interview for Telegraf.rs, NATO's Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Operations Burcu San, who was on an official visit to Serbia in February, revealed how NATO views the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, where the strengthening of cooperation with Serbia is headed toward, and how many members of KFOR there are in the north of Kosovo and Metohija.

She also touched on the current consequences of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict for the whole of Europe, and NATO's next steps.

  • We hear more and more often that Serbia is a "stability factor" in the region. How do you rate this assessment and what exactly made Serbia important when it comes to the peace in the Western Balkans?

Serbia plays an important role in the region and our long-standing partnership based on political dialogue and practical cooperation represents an important platform to boost regional stability.

NATO has a long track-record of promoting peace and stability in the Western Balkans. Our new Strategic Concept - approved at the NATO Summit in Madrid last year - reaffirms the strategic importance of the region for the Alliance. Allies are committed to our presence in the region, including our KFOR peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and our offices in Sarajevo and Belgrade.

Our cooperation with the European Union and other partners remains essential and we will continue to work together to preserve stability and support reform in this strategically important region. Strengthening NATO-Serbia cooperation can thus be beneficial for the Alliance, Serbia and the Western Balkans.

  • NATO often points out that it respects Serbia's military neutrality. What does that actually entail? Does NATO stand by Serbia? How would you assess the current cooperation with Serbia and what do you expect in the coming period? More specifically, what projects are you working on with Serbia, and what are the plans for the future?

NATO’s fundamental principle is that each nation has the sovereign right to choose its security arrangements freely. We fully respect Serbia’s stated policy of military neutrality. Within this framework, we seek opportunities to develop a mutually beneficial partnership.

Our partnership – including its practical cooperation element – has evolved throughout the years, guided by Serbia’s wishes and requirements. Currently, it is articulated across many domains and it is tailored to Serbia’s specific needs.

We work together to be better prepared for civil emergences such as floods and forest fires. We are helping Serbia to develop its defence capabilities. Serbian soldiers train to NATO standards and participate in United Nations and European Union missions. NATO Allies have invested millions of euros to help Serbia destroy hundreds of tons of obsolete ammunition. This has helped to protect lives.

We also have a long-standing scientific cooperation with Serbia, through our Science for Peace and Security Programme, including in areas such as energy and environmental security, counter-terrorism and cyber-defence. Furthermore, Serbia and NATO have worked together to train Iraqi military medics.

  • How much has the relationship between NATO and Serbia changed from 1999 to today? Who holds the key to the politics of peace in this context?

Our relationship with Serbia has come a long way since 1999. It has evolved significantly in the past years, always in full respect of Serbia’s stated policy of military neutrality. As for all NATO’s partnerships, our cooperation with Serbia is demand-driven, meaning that Serbia decides how closely it wants to work with NATO. Our ties have developed in areas of cooperation requested by Serbia, where NATO can bring value added.

It is ultimately up to the sovereign decision of the Serbian authorities to determine the scope of our future partnership. NATO values our long-standing partnership with Serbia; and we will continue to work with your country to promote our goal of peace and security in the Western Balkans.

  • How do you assess the situation in Kosovo and Metohija at the moment and on whom does the future of the people living in that territory depend the most? In the last 100 days, there were 53 attacks on Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija. What is KFOR doing to keep the people safe? How many members of KFOR are there currently in Kosovo and Metohija?

The NATO-led KFOR mission continues to play a crucial role for the stability in Kosovo and in the region. KFOR is the most tangible demonstration of NATO’s longstanding commitment to lasting security in the Western Balkans. Today, KFOR has more than 3,700 troops from 27 countries – including NATO Allies and partners. Our KFOR mission is fully capable to continue implementing its UN mandate, based on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999, to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo. As reaffirmed by my interlocutors in Serbia, KFOR is a credible and impartial actor and all communities in Kosovo and in the region trust it.

NATO is monitoring closely the security situation in Kosovo, in particular in light of the tensions we have seen in recent months. KFOR has effectively contributed to the de-escalation of the situation on several occasions. Our KFOR troops are fully capable and prepared to intervene if stability, security and freedom of movement are jeopardized - in line with their UN mandate. Since last October, KFOR has reinforced its presence in northern Kosovo, including with additional troops and patrols. The KFOR Commander remains in close contact with his main interlocutors, including the Chief of the Serbian Armed Forces General Staff, the representatives of the Institutions in Kosovo and of the Kosovo Security Organizations, as well as the EU-led Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) and the international community.

Going forward, it is critical that all sides demonstrate a strong commitment and political will to find a sustainable political solution through dialogue. NATO fully supports the ongoing efforts within the EU-facilitated dialogue for the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. I have conveyed this message to all my interlocutors in Belgrade. I also communicate this message to the representatives of the Institutions in Kosovo.

  • Can Kosovo Police special units operate in the north of Kosovo without the consent of KFOR?

The Kosovo Police can operate throughout Kosovo. Only the deployment of personnel of the Kosovo Security Forces to northern Kosovo is subject to prior concurrence by the KFOR Commander.

  • Are you following the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, could its outcome and in which way affect the presence of KFOR in Kosovo and Metohija?

We are following very closely developments related to the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue. Political progress is the only way towards lasting peace in Kosovo and stability in the wider Western Balkans region. The NATO Secretary General continuously stresses this point and encourages leaders from Belgrade and Pristina to engage constructively in the process. The time has come for all sides to make and implement agreements, for the benefit of the future of this region. In this respect, we welcome the high-level EU-facilitated talks in Brussels on 27 February, and urge Belgrade and Pristina to make further progress towards the normalization of their relations.

KFOR is in charge of providing a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo, as mandated by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999. KFOR’s presence is conditions based, not calendar driven and subject to a decision of the North Atlantic Council, by unanimous vote. For the time being, we do not foresee a change in KFOR’s presence. KFOR will continue to assess the conditions on the ground and adapt accordingly, as it has done through the years.

  • What is the message that you would send to the people of Serbia for the year 2023, after the most recent frequent tensions in Kosovo and Metohija?

Our commitment to regional stability is steadfast. The NATO-led KFOR mission is fully focused on its UN mandate and has the necessary resources and capabilities to continue implementing it on a daily basis. KFOR will thus continue to ensure security for the benefit of all communities in Kosovo. It will continue to provide the necessary security framework to help moving forward diplomatic efforts towards a lasting solution.

In this respect, I would like to add that the ongoing diplomatic efforts have created a new momentum for Belgrade and Pristina to advance our shared goal of a peaceful and stable region. So, this could be a year of tangible political progress. Ultimately, there will be no real prospects for a better future in the Balkans, without full respect for human rights and democratic values, rule of law, domestic reforms, and good neighbourly relations.

  • What is NATO’s view on the situation in Ukraine and does Russia's attack on this country change the plans and future of the Alliance itself?

Russia’s unjustified and brutal war of aggression against Ukraine has shattered peace in the Euro-Atlantic region and gravely altered our security environment. Russia’s brutal and unlawful invasion, repeated violations of international humanitarian law and heinous attacks and atrocities have caused unspeakable suffering and destruction.

NATO has been pursuing a two-fold approach. We have been supporting Ukraine, without becoming party to the conflict, hence preventing a further escalation of the ongoing war beyond the borders of Ukraine. Overall NATO Allies have provided around 120 billion US dollars in military, humanitarian, and financial assistance to Ukraine. At the same time, we have significantly enhanced our collective deterrence and defence posture, making thus clear that all 30 Allies are fully committed to protect and defend every inch of NATO’s territory.

  • How do you see the impact of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine on European countries, above all on the countries of the Western Balkans?

The impact of Russia’s brutal war is already far-reaching, and felt across many regions beyond the immediate area of conflict, including through a food and energy crisis affecting billions of people across the globe. Concerns over Russia’s influence here in the Western Balkans region have intensified since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. We have observed cyberattacks, disinformation, economic pressure or political intimidation in recent months. In this regard, NATO’s long-standing commitment to stability in the region remains steadfast. We continue to put this commitment in practice, through the development and strengthening of our engagement with partner countries in the region, as well as through our KFOR mission in Kosovo, and the cooperation activities of our Military Liaison Office in Belgrade and of the NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo.

  • How much have Moldova and Georgia been affected by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and what position will NATO take when it comes to pressure on those countries?

A key lesson we can draw from Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine is that we need to assist partners sooner rather than later. We are increasing our support to partner countries including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova and Georgia, in areas such as crisis management, resilience, combating disinformation, and cyber security. We fully support the sovereignty and territorial integrity – within internationally recognized borders – of these important partner countries.

Following consultations with the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we will step-up our support in crisis management, cyber defence, counter terrorism and other areas to enhance the resilience of the country’s federal structures in the defence and security sector. Work is underway to finalize the necessary arrangements for Allies’ institutional and funding support to those different projects.

NATO is also committed to do even more to help strengthen Georgia’s resilience. Through the existing Substantial NATO-Georgia Package (SNGP) we have been working closely with our Georgian counterparts in areas such as maritime security, military medical support, aviation and air defence. Following a request from the Georgian authorities, Allies and Georgia agreed to boost the SNGP even further. To that effect, we are reinforcing cooperation in the realm of cyber security, crisis management, intelligence and military engineering. In addition, we have agreed two new initiatives: one to increase Georgia’s resilience against Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) incidents and one on infrastructural support for training activities.

Moldova makes valuable contributions to European security, contributing to our Kosovo peacekeeping mission. Moldova has been hit hard by Russia’s brutal invasion of its neighbour, causing immense economic and social pressure.

Russian missile strikes on Ukraine threaten Moldova’s security. In this context NATO is stepping up to support Moldova’s resilience and political independence. We are also strengthening our practical cooperation in a broad array of areas including standardisation of training and logistics, strategic planning, development of Special Operation Forces, and civil preparedness. In addition, Allies and Moldova agreed new initiatives in the realm of counter-terrorism, protection from CBRN incidents, counter-Improvised Explosive Devices, cyber security, strategic communications and the development of civil-military police along the Italian model of “Carabinieri.” We are also about to launch projects to help support Moldovan armed forces with helmets and body armour, tactical communications systems, protection from CBRN incidents, mobile command and control posts, and countering unmanned aerial systems.

  • How much aid has NATO provided for Ukraine so far and are there any restrictions in this regard? The Allies promised to provide Ukraine with artillery, armored vehicles and tanks, air defense systems, but also that "other measures will be taken". What does the term "other measures" mean?

Almost one year since the invasion, President Putin is not preparing for peace. He is preparing for new offensives. So the international community must continue to provide Ukraine with what it needs to achieve a just and sustainable peace.

NATO Allies are providing unprecedented support to Ukraine, including new tanks, heavy weaponry and training. This is making a real difference on the battlefield; and NATO’s Comprehensive Assistance Package is providing Ukraine with vital assistance in non-lethal items, such as food, fuel, and medical supplies.

Our message is clear and has resonated at the recent meeting of NATO Ministers in Brussels, this past February: NATO stands with Ukraine, for as long as it takes.


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