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Russia: Is Moscow Prepared To Make Stand On Kosovo?


Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, left, received assurances from Putin in St. Petersburg (ITAR-TASS) June 12, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- One day after the Group of Eight (G8) summit wrapped up in Germany, Russian President Vladimir Putin met on June 9 with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica on the sidelines of an economic forum in St. Petersburg.


Afterward, Putin told reporters that it was "with pleasure" that he had informed Kostunica of the outcome of the G8's negotiations on the future status of Kosovo.

It was a deadlock -- with Russia once again rejecting a UN Security Council draft proposal that would grant a form of internationally supervised independence to the province, which has an ethnic-Albanian majority.

Slavic Brotherhood


Russia has thrown its weight behind its longtime ally Serbia, which strongly opposes formally losing the breakaway province of Kosovo. And despite growing pressure from many UN members -- particularly the United States -- Moscow seems determined to stand its ground.

"If Russia ends up recognizing the independence of Kosovo, the disappointment will be deep. Serbia would swiftly take the path chosen by other former Yugoslavian countries -- toward NATO and the European Union. And that's what Russia wants to prevent by all means." -- analyst Volk

Yevgeny Volk, director of the Heritage Foundation think tank in Moscow, says Moscow has a strategic interest in backing Serbia.

"The interest is to retain its position in the Balkans," Volk says. "Russia traditionally places its bets on Serbia as its last remaining ally in the region. If Russia ends up recognizing the independence of Kosovo, the disappointment will be deep. Serbia would swiftly take the path chosen by other former Yugoslavian countries -- toward NATO and the European Union. And that's what Russia wants to prevent by all means."

But will Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, go as far as vetoing the UN resolution?

Volk has no doubt. "Russia has taken a very uncompromising stance on this issue," he says. "It is ready for any steps, including blocking, vetoing the UN resolution if it is presented to the [UN] Security Council."

Russia argues that the draft proposal would set a dangerous precedent by breaking up a UN member state against its government's will.

Its hostility to the plan appears to preclude a peaceful outcome.

On the one hand, Moscow wants leaders of Serbia and Kosovo to continue negotiating to reach a compromise agreement -- something the United Nations says is impossible to achieve.

On the other hand, both a Russian veto and an unilateral recognition of Kosovo's independence would deal a severe blow to Moscow's already strained ties with the United Nations.

Breakaway Precedent


A unilateral recognition of Kosovo would also provide Russia with a precious argument to strengthen its controversial support of pro-Russian breakaway regions -- Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Moldova's Transdniester.

"It would be a serious problem in Russian-EU relations," Artyom Ulunyan, a regional expert who teaches at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Universal History, tells RFE/RL's Russian Service. "In addition, Russia could take its own steps on post-Soviet territory, where -- this is no secret -- there are self-proclaimed, unrecognized governments."

UN countries are showing growing signs of impatience. "Time is up" for resolving the Kosovo issue, U.S. President George W. Bush said on June 9 during a visit to Italy.

Regional expert Ulunyan says both Europe and the United States have good reasons of pushing for a quick resolution of the issue.

"Firstly, the fact that this issue was brought to the fore at the G8 and Bush's subsequent tour to countries of southeastern Europe and the Balkans show that Washington needs to solve this issue by the end of the year, from the point of view of national security," Ulunyan says. "Secondly, this issue affects the consolidation of forces in Europe. Until it is resolved, projects linked to migration and trade cannot be implemented."

Europe and the United States may be able to broker a compromise with Russia on Kosovo by the end of 2007. But as long as Serbia is opposed to independence for Kosovo, the issue promises to be a painful thorn in Western-Russian relations.

Final Status For Kosovo

Pro-independence graffiti in Prishtina (epa)

FINALLY STATUS? Sabine Freizer, director of the Crisis Group's Europe Program, told an RFE/RL briefing that deep divisions in the UN Security Council make it uncertain what form Kosovo's future status might take.


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RFE/RL's coverage of Kosovo. The website of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Language Service.

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