A French appeals court has rejected Belgrade's request to extradite former Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj to Serbia for prosecution on suspicion of war crimes, ordering his release instead.
The move sparked outrage in Belgrade, where Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic called the April 27 ruling "a great victory for criminals."
Vucic told a news conference his government "considers that the decision of the court is shameful, scandalous, contrary to the law, and deeply unjust -- and that it is, above all, political."
He said Serbia's ambassador to France would be recalled for consultations and Belgrade would complain to the United Nations.
Vucic said he also discussed the issue with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in an April 27 telephone call after the ruling.
A Russian Foreign Ministry statement said Lavrov called the French court ruling "political" and that "Russia shares Serbia's concern" over the decision to turn down Serbia's extradition request.
The statement said: "All Kosovo politicians involved in military crimes must receive the punishment they deserve notwithstanding the posts they currently occupy."
The Russian Foreign Ministry also accused France of employing "double standards, which shows a policy of connivance" in the face of what Moscow claims are aspirations in Pristina for Kosovo to become part of a "Greater Albania project."
The "Greater Albania" charge refers to allegations that some ethnic Albanian politicians want to bring Kosovo and Albanian together into a single unified country.
Moscow said such aspirations threaten to "destroy fragile stability and revive the bloody conflict in the Balkans."
Haradinaj, upon his release following the ruling, said the procedure is now closed and Serbia’s extradition request has been turned down.
"I am as of this moment a free man, and I hope I will be able to go back to Kosovo today," Haradinaj told reporters outside the court in the northeastern French city of Colmar.
Haradinaj arrived late on April 27 in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, where his family and crowds of supporters greeted him at the airport and continued to the city center to hear him speak at Zahir Pajaziti Square.
At the square, Haradinaj told a cheering crowd that justice had won with his release, although he said his detention had been unjust. The speech was followed by a fireworks display.
Before the April 27 decision, Haradinaj had been released on bail but told he could not leave France while he awaited the ruling.
Haradinaj is wanted in Serbia on suspicion of committing war crimes, including kidnappings and torture, when he was a guerrilla commander during Kosovo’s 1998-99 independence war.
The public prosecutor in Colmar has five days to launch an appeal.
Predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
It is recognized by 114 nations. Unlike France and most other European countries, Serbia does not recognize the independence of its former province.
Kosovar President Hashim Thaci said on Facebook that the ruling on Haradinaj was "good news."
He said the French court's decision was proof that the "slanders" of Serbia's intelligence services against the Kosovar fighters were "not valid and not taken into consideration by the democratic world."
The Kosovar government said in a statement that the French judge's ruling confirmed that Serbian arrest warrants against Haradinaj and other KLA fighters "are political and have low intentions."
Haradinaj's lawyer, Rachel Lindon, said on April 27 that the French court ruled against the extradition because he would not have had a fair and balanced trial if sent to Serbia.
"He lost 3 1/2 months" of his life waiting for this decision, Lindon told the media, "but happily it's over." She said it is unclear whether he will stay in France.
Haradinaj was detained by French authorities on January 4, and the Colmar court the next day ordered him to remain in custody. His arrest had triggered outrage in Kosovo, where the government called the Serbian charges "illegal, unfair, and tendentious."
Haradinaj, 48, has been tried twice and acquitted of war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.
He was elected prime minister of Kosovo in 2004 but resigned after 100 days in order to surrender himself for trial in The Hague.
In June 2015, he was arrested in Slovenia on a Serbian warrant but was released two days later under diplomatic pressure.
The standoff over Haradinaj's detention in France has prompted calls from some officials and politicians in Kosovo to halt EU-mediated normalization talks with Serbia.
Normalized bilateral relations are considered a precondition for Serbia and Kosovo to gain EU membership, which both countries seek.
But the EU-brokered deal between Belgrade and Pristina to improve and regulate ties between the two states has only been moderately successful.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters