The Kremlin said on Wednesday Russia “supports” its ally Serbia amid the Balkan country’s increasingly strained relations with neighbouring Kosovo over recent shootings and blockades.
“Russia is very closely following what is happening and how the rights of the Serbs are ensured,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“We support Belgrade in all the actions that are being taken,” he said.
Peskov added however that “Serbia is a sovereign country and it is fundamentally wrong to look for some kind of destructive influence of Russia here”.
According to Peskov, “Serbia is defending the rights of Serbs who live nearby in difficult conditions. Naturally they react harshly when these rights are violated.”
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade has refused to recognise it and encouraged Kosovo’s 120,000 ethnic Serbs to defy Pristina’s authority – especially in the north where they make up the majority.
President Aleksandar Vucic on Monday put Serbian armed forces on “the highest level” of alert and ordered the special armed forces to be beefed up.
The orders from Vucic came after army chief General Milan Mojsilovic was dispatched to the border with Kosovo on Sunday.
The Serbian army has been put on a heightened state of alert over tensions with Kosovo multiple times in recent years – the last time in November after claiming that several drones entered Serbian airspace from Kosovo.
On December 10, Serbs in northern Kosovo set up barricades to protest against the arrest of an ex-policeman suspected of being involved in attacks against ethnic Albanian police officers.