Russia is sending humanitarian supplies worth $1.7 million directly to Kosovo Serbs, challenging the authority of the US-backed government in Pristina.
In the days following Kosovo's declaration of independence, a billboard was erected depicting a boxer in stars-and-stripes shorts knocking out his hammer-and-sickle opponent. The imagery may have been crude, but the message was clear: Kosovo's newly declared statehood represented a "victory" for the US over Russia.
Not so fast.
Two new developments have prompted concerns that what started as a disagreement between the two powers over international law could escalate into a proxy stand-off in the territory.
Moscow last week began sending humanitarian aid to Kosovo's Serbs, bypassing the US-backed government in Pristina. As cargo planes left Russia for Belgrade, a Russian news agency quoted an anonymous Kremlin source warning that the situation in Kosovo has not yet reached its "hottest phase." That followed Washington's announcement last month that it would begin arms shipments to Kosovo.
Until now, Russian solidarity with Kosovo Serbs in opposing Kosovo's independence has been limited to international forums – such as President Vladimir Putin's meeting with President Bush in Russia this weekend. But the arrival of Russian humanitarian aid in Kosovo last week marks Moscow's first direct challenge to the Kosovo government's authority on the ground, bolstering Serb opposition to the ethnic Albanian government.