PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo’s parliament approved a resolution on Thursday asking the government to start negotiations on NATO membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Kosovo has been guarded by NATO troops since 1999 when a war between ethnic Albanians and Serb forces ended, but the country of 1.8 million people now wants to join the alliance.
“Kosovo’s parliament asks the government to take all necessary steps, in coordination with international partners, to submit the request for NATO membership, European Union, Council of Europe and other international organisations,” says the resolution, backed by 94 votes in the 120-seat parliament.
Lawmakers from the Serb minority boycotted the session.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti said his cabinet will ask NATO for membership, first by joining the Partnership for Peace – a NATO programme encouraging bilateral cooperation with non-member countries.
Lawmakers, holding banners with Ukrainian flags reading ‘We stand with Ukraine’, also voted to condemn Russia’s invasion of the country. Kosovo has joined other countries in introducing sanctions against Moscow.
However, four NATO members – Romania, Spain, Greece and Slovakia – do not recognise Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence, which will complicate its bid for membership of the alliance.
Kosovo is in the process of building its army which once up and running will have 5000 regular soldiers and 3000 reservists.
On Wednesday the government called on its citizens at home and abroad to donate money to boost the security force.
The main role of NATO’s 3770 troops in the country is to keep the peace in the north where some 50,000 local Serbs, backed by Belgrade, refuse to recognise Kosovo’s authorities and are calling for partition among ethnic lines in order to unite with Serbia.
Serbia and its traditional ally Russia do not recognise Kosovo’s independence and Belgrade still claims the former breakaway province as part of its territory.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; editing by Kirsten Donovan)