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Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting via videoconference in Moscow on Aug. 4.Mikhail Klimentyev/The Associated Press

The world’s week on the brink began Sunday, when air-raid sirens screamed over the city of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo. Though no attack from above materialized, online videos captured the sounds of gunfire somewhere in the vicinity of the always-tense border between Serbia and Kosovo.

Over the next few days, talk of new or renewed fighting would escalate in not only the Balkans, but also in Taiwan, Korea, the Middle East and the Caucasus. While much of the world held its collective breath – and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the planet was “one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation” – Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin appeared to relish it all, as if it welcomed the possibility of additional wars erupting beyond the one the Russian President has already launched in Ukraine.

“Russia fully stands by Serbia,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declared as tensions spiked between its long-time ally and Kosovo, a country neither Belgrade nor Moscow recognizes as independent. Russia’s ambassador to Serbia, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, went further, suggesting that President Aleksandar Vucic’s government might seek military help from Moscow if the crisis escalated.

A new conflict in the Balkans holds the potential to create yet another refugee crisis while propelling energy and grain prices higher than their already painful levels – creating more pressure on the West, particularly Europe, to negotiate with Moscow, the fate of Ukraine on the table.

The Balkan crisis swiftly passed, if only temporarily, when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – which backed away in February ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – issued a statement just before midnight local time declaring that it was “prepared to intervene if stability is jeopardized.” The U.S. embassy in the capital of Pristina also leaned on Kosovo’s government to postpone – until next month – the implementation of a new rule banning the use of Serbian documents in the country. The legislation is controversial in northern Kosovo, which has a large population of ethnic Serbs.

Unlike in Ukraine, which has for decades sought and been denied NATO protection, the U.S. still has the final say in Kosovo, thanks to the presence of 4,000 NATO troops stationed in a base outside Pristina. Kosovo Force, or KFOR, was once 10 times its current size, and the remaining troops – which include five Canadians – are the remnants of a mission that began when NATO helped drive Serbian forces out of the predominantly ethnic Albanian region in 1999.

Less than 48 hours after the Serbia-Kosovo crisis was calmed, a U.S. military aircraft carrying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi entered Taiwanese airspace, making her the highest-level American official to visit the island – which China claims as its sovereign territory – in the 21st century. As the world held its breath, waiting to see how President Xi Jinping would react, Russia again cheered the hawks on from the sidelines.

Beijing’s reaction to Ms. Pelosi’s one-day visit has been furious – with some actions coming dangerously close to what might be considered acts of war. Around the island, China’s military launched a series of live-fire exercises that Taiwanese authorities say amount to an effective blockade.

Mr. Peskov called the military drills “China’s sovereign right.” He echoed Beijing’s official position by putting all the blame for whatever happens next on the U.S. and Ms. Pelosi’s “completely unnecessary visit and unnecessary provocation.”

Chaos, wherever it breaks out, is a Kremlin ally in its standoff with the West. With Russia’s armies having thus far failed to achieve their military aims in Ukraine, Moscow has turned to other means in an attempt to force the West to seek a peace that, if Mr. Putin gets his way, would almost certainly see more Ukrainian territory annexed, as Crimea was in 2014.

Moscow’s main non-military weapons until now have been commodity prices. Decreasing flows of Russian gas to the European Union have helped drive energy prices, and broader inflation, skyward on the continent and beyond. Worries are high about how Ukraine and Europe will endure next winter if heating fuel remains scarce.

And while a shipload of Ukrainian corn – the first since the beginning of Russia’s invasion more than five months ago – was allowed to leave the Black Sea this week, hopes that grain prices would fall from recent highs have been dampened by continuing Russian missile attacks on the key ports of Odesa and Mykolaiv.

Another long-favoured Kremlin tool is instability, and Moscow maintains the ability to stir up conflicts not only in Europe but in other regions of strategic importance to the U.S., which Mr. Putin sees as his real adversary in Ukraine.

In addition to the crises around Kosovo and Taiwan, the past week saw Mohammad Eslami, the head of Iran’s civilian nuclear agency, declare that his country’s Russian-supported nuclear program was now advanced enough “to make an atomic bomb.” The U.S. also said it saw signs that North Korea, which is backed by both Beijing and Moscow, was making preparations to conduct a seventh nuclear test.

There has also been fresh fighting along the ceasefire line between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, testing a peace in the Caucasus that’s supposed to be monitored by Russian troops.

Meanwhile, Russian propaganda outlets are glossing over the fact that Russia’s offensive in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine appears to have stalled – with units being repositioned to the southern front to face a growing Ukrainian counterattack in the direction of the occupied city of Kherson – and are instead promoting the idea that Russia can win its struggle with the West through other means.

A video that appeared online in recent days, and which has been promoted by Russian diplomatic missions abroad, highlights Russia as being – among other things – a land of plentiful food and “cheap gas,” as well as “cheap electricity and water,” and an allegedly sanctions-resistant economy.

The clip ends with an apparent warning about what might lie ahead. “Time to move to Russia!” a disembodied voice concludes, speaking over classical music. “Don’t delay … winter is coming.”

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