Serbian nationalists and pro-Russian activists protest against closer ties with Kosovo
Hundreds of hardline pro-Russia activists joined Serbian nationalists in protesting outside the presidential office in downtown Belgrade.
Activists threatened to riot if the Serbian government supported a Western-backed plan aimed at normalising relations with Kosovo.
Protesters cheered “Serbia-Russia” as far-right leader Damjan Knezevic, who organised the rally, urged people to riot if their demands were not met.
“You (government) are fearing riots. I swear to you, we are ready for more than that,” said Mr Knezevic, whose People’s Patrol supports Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is active in the persecution of migrants at home.
Pro-Russian sentiment is running high in Serbia which regards Russia, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, as a main ally in its opposition to the 15-year-old independence of Kosovo.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who is balancing Serbia’s EU ambitions with its ties to Russia, said he was not sure whether protesters "were pro-Russian" - but was sure "they were anti-Serbian."
"All who threatened with murders and beatings will answer to Serbian laws," he said in a TV broadcast after meeting chiefs of state security and law enforcement bodies.
Police said two supporters of Mr Knezevic’s organisation heading to the rally had been detained in the north of the country and that a sniper rifle and ammunition had been found in their car.
"If our state leadership ... fails to prevent Kosovo from joining the U.N., we are asking the Russian leadership to use its veto and to give us at least a month to remove this traitor," Mr Knezevic told the cheering crowd, referring to Vucic.
Although it has repeatedly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the United Nations and other international forums, Serbia has been criticised for not formally introducing sanctions against Moscow.
It comes after the President of Kosovo warned that mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group are helping Serbian paramilitaries to smuggle weapons and unmarked military uniforms into Kosovo.
The secret operation is designed to lay the groundwork for a potential hybrid attack by Serbia to grab Kosovan territory, Vjosa Osmani claimed.
The alleged preparations are similar to those undertaken by Russia before its annexation of Crimea in 2014, when Russian soldiers wearing uniforms stripped of insignia - dubbed “little green men” - paved the way for the peninsula’s secession from Kyiv.
“They bring in weapons and uniforms but they are not formally part of the Serbian army. Serbia wants to achieve its aims without it being called a military operation,” said Ms Osmani in the presidential office in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital.