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22 Feb, 2023 16:50

NATO general contradicts claim about ‘Wagner’

The KFOR commander has said there was “no evidence” to back allegations that the private military company was helping Belgrade
NATO general contradicts claim about ‘Wagner’

The NATO-backed peacekeeping mission in Kosovo on Wednesday contradicted claims coming from Pristina that Russians – including the private military company Wagner Group and the ‘Night Wolves’ biker society – were secretly infiltrating the breakaway province as part of a “hybrid war” on behalf of Serbia.

“Let me assure the entire population of Kosovo that we are aware of everything that is happening on the ground,” General Angelo Michele Ristuccia, the commander of NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) mission, told reporters. 

The Italian officer also said KFOR had “no evidence at this time” of the alleged Russian infiltration. “We have no information about that,” he added.

Kosovo’s acting president Vjosa Osmani told the UK outlet The Telegraph last week that Wagner was working with Belgrade to “prepare situations for a possible annexation.” She claimed that Russia and Serbia were “using the same playbook” as in Crimea, smuggling weapons and uniforms to “instrumentalize” the local Serb population, create “all kinds of false flag operations” and then send in the troops.

“There is clear evidence that Serb paramilitary groups have been planning and organizing this [with Wagner]. How many were at the border or inside [Kosovo], that’s an issue that is still being investigated,” Osmani said.

“The Russian interest is to use the western Balkans, through Serbia as a Trojan horse, to attack values-based systems such as NATO and the EU,” the ethnic Albanian politician insisted.

NATO took control of Kosovo in 1999, after months of bombing Serbia on behalf of ethnic Albanian insurgents. In 2008, the province’s provisional government declared independence, which has not been recognized by Belgrade.

Osmani and prime minister Albin Kurti have sought to link the ongoing conflict in Ukraine with the situation in Kosovo, using the specter of Wagner to seek more US and NATO support for their cause. The Russian private military company has been involved in the heavy fighting in Donbass.

Some of the Western-funded media in Serbia have also accused Wagner of operating in Serbia, going so far as to claim the company’s members helped organize the February 15 protest, at which nationalists accused President Aleksandar Vucic of plotting to recognize Kosovo.

Wagner’s founder Evgeny Prigozhin dismissed the claims as fantasy, however. “Not a single employee of Wagner PMC has ever been in Serbia,” he said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that the company’s job is “to kill, not hold rallies.”