Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti pressed his country's case for EU and NATO membership, telling AFP that Russia's invasion of Ukraine meant that both organisations needed to make it easier -- and faster -- for candidate countries to join.

"It is shocking," Kurti said during an interview this week in Kosovo's capital Pristina. "It's hard to believe what you're seeing -- but no one can pretend to be surprised."

The former firebrand student activist and onetime political prisoner has never been afraid to mince his words.

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Kurti is calling on the European Union and US-led NATO military alliance to bolster their southern flank in the Western Balkans by allowing for faster membership to their blocs.

"In this extraordinary situation, we cannot behave normally," Kurti argued. "Therefore, both EU membership and NATO membership cannot be done in the old ways.

'In this extraordinary situation, we cannot behave normally,' Kurti argued
'In this extraordinary situation, we cannot behave normally,' Kurti argued AFP / Armend NIMANI

"It is imperative that Brussels, as the capital of both NATO and the EU, rethink a new way of enlarging in the Western Balkans."

Kurti has long been pressing to get Kosovo into both institutions, but has faced resistance from a handful of countries in both the EU and NATO.

North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Serbia meanwhile are in varying stages of the accession process with the EU.

Some members of the bloc however, including Spain and Greece, do not recognise Kosovo's sovereignty, effectively blocking any path for membership.

The same issue is blocking Kosovo's drive to join NATO.

'It's hard to believe what you're seeing -- but no one can pretend to be surprised' 
'It's hard to believe what you're seeing -- but no one can pretend to be surprised'  AFP / Armend NIMANI

But in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Kurti argues that now is the time to reconsider the old assumptions.

Moscow has been a fierce opponent of Kosovo since the war in the 1990s when Russia's longtime ally Serbia saw its security forces pushed out of the territory with the crucial help of NATO air strikes.

Russia's position on the United Nations Security Council has blocked any chance of Kosovo's unilateral independence declaration in 2008 receiving formal recognition -- much to the chagrin of Pristina.

'The president of Russia is unpredictable,' said Kurti
'The president of Russia is unpredictable,' said Kurti AFP / Armend NIMANI

With Russia now subject to wide-ranging sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine, Kurti said the time was right for a rethink by NATO and the EU -- in part to shore up support in southeast Europe, where Russia remains influential.

The west had to factor in the nature of Russian President Vladimir Putin, he argued.

"The president of Russia is unpredictable," said Kurti. "He is the leader of war and not the leader of peace."

Putin, he argued, "will use the factors and actors he controls also in the Western Balkans".

Putin remains most influential in Kosovo's arch-rival Serbia, where President Aleksandar Vucic has refused to impose sanctions on Moscow following the invasion of Ukraine.

"As they will target new conflicts, the Western Balkans in general and Kosovo in particular are at risk," Kurti warned.

"In the past, the Russian president mentioned us once a month. Now he mentions us several times a week."

Just days after Russia's invasion of Ukraine last month, Kosovo's defence minister Armend Mehaj also called for accelerated membership into NATO.

He also wanted a permanent US base in the territory to "guarantee peace, security and stability in the Western Balkans and beyond".

Even with their minimal economic and political weight, Kosovo has offered its support to Ukraine, despite Kyiv's years-long refusal to recognise the disputed territory's independence.

Last week, Kosovo condemned Russia's "illegal, unprovoked and unjustified" invasion of Ukraine, and plans are being hashed out to welcome thousands of Ukrainian refugees into the country.

"We find many similarities with our situation a quarter of a century ago," said Kurti.

"A much larger neighbour wanted to occupy, oppress and discriminate against you by creating apartheid."