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Balkan Report: July 13, 2007

Kosovo: UN Chief Warns EU Unity At Risk

By Ahto Lobjakas

Ban (left) with Barroso (file photo)

BRUSSELS, July 10, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has expressed fears the EU's common stance on Kosovo could crumble if the status of the breakaway Serbian province is not resolved quickly. Although the EU officially supports a plan drawn up by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari to give Kosovo internationally supervised independence, which has been rejected by Serbia, a number of the bloc's member states are known to remain skeptical of it.

Ban told a news conference in Brussels that further delays will not only undermine stability in the Western Balkans, but could also put at risk the EU's unity on the issue.

"I am concerned that we have not been able to take any action on this as much as we had hoped," he said. "Any further delay or prolongation on this very important issue will have a very negative impact on all peace and security, not only in Kosovo, not only in the Balkans, but [the] whole European situation."

Solana also warned that the search for a compromise should not become an "open-ended process."

Ban said the EU's leadership on Kosovo remains "fundamentally important." The EU has promised both Serbia and Kosovo eventual membership.

Splits Within The EU

However, Greece and Cyprus are known to be sympathetic to Serbia. Both are Greek Orthodox, like Serbia, and also fear a dangerous precedent for Cyprus, currently split into Greek and Turkish communities. Spain with its internal divisions is also thought to have similar concerns.

A shared Slavic heritage with Serbia is an important factor for some eastern EU member states.

Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovakia also have a wary eye on the generous provisions for the protection of Kosovo's Serb minority which would be imposed on Kosovo should it gain independence. This could lead the Turkish minority in Bulgaria and Hungarian minorities in Slovakia and Romania to seek similar status.

So far, the EU has remained outwardly united in its backing for Kosovo's independence. On July 6, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso turned up the pressure on Serbia, telling Serbian President Boris Tadic after a meeting in Brussels that his country's ambitions to join the EU are conditional on a "sustainable" solution to the issue. EU leaders have made it clear Kosovo cannot remain part of Serbia. Tadic repeated Serbia's rejection of an independent Kosovo.

Russia, with the tacit support of China, has said it will use its UN Security Council veto to block any resolution that is not supported by Serbia.

A Big Diplomatic Push

Intensive mediation efforts were under way today, as Ban met Kosovar President Fatmir Sejdiu before holding talks with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Solana will later today meet with Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried was in Kosovo on July 9 and is in Belgrade today.

The stakes were upped on July 8, when former Kosovo Liberation Army leaders hinted they are ready to resume armed struggle if Kosovo's independence is delayed.

Solana said today the EU backs plans to give Serbian and Kosovar leaders another 120 days for further talks. He said that without a UN Security Council decision, the EU can not assume a supervisory role in Kosovo.

"We are ready," Solana said. "We are prepared to deploy [an] ESDP [European Security and Defense Policy] mission [of about 1,600 police officers and other personnel] for security, the rule of law. And [we are ready for economic] cooperation. But for that, we need a UN Security Council resolution, and I hope very much that in this process that has been opened, another period of time will be available for discussion between the two sides and that at the end of that a resolution will be approved in the Security Council."

However, Solana also warned that the search for a compromise should not become an "open-ended process."

NATO has said its forces can remain in Kosovo indefinitely under existing UN Security Council resolutions.

Moscow Content To Block Kosovo Resolution

By Victor Yasmann
July 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Once again the Western powers have attempted to find the right formula for compromise on Kosovo, and once again Russia has rejected it.

Russia on July 12 turned down a third draft resolution on Kosovo based on a plan submitted by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari that provides a framework for independent statehood under the supervision of the European Union.

The latest version, taking into account Russian objections to the previous proposals, extends to four months the amount of time allocated for talks between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians on the future status of the province. The proposal, circulated at the UN by French and British delegates, also reportedly contained a condition under which the Ahtisaari plan would no longer automatically go into effect if the two sides failed to reach an agreement.

'Nothing New'

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, addressing journalists on July 12, said the last document differed little from the previous versions aside from its wording.
"We can only support a draft resolution that is acceptable to both sides, Pristina and Belgrade. So far we see no such agreement." -- Lavrov

"Behind the rather intricate diplomatic language of the draft resolution, there is a conclusion that after 120 days, whether or not the sides reach an agreement, the Ahtisaari plan will come into effect," he said. "And as you know we can only support a draft resolution that is acceptable to both sides, Pristina and Belgrade. So far we see no such agreement."

Essentially, Lavrov made clear that there is little room for compromise on Russia's part, unless Serbia agrees to independence for Kosovo, a development most pundits consider unrealistic.

In Belgrade, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica quickly rejected the new draft proposal, and back in Moscow, Konstantin Kosachyov, the chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, said the "situation In Kosovo does not require an immediate solution."

Nevertheless, Lavrov assured journalists, "the problem of a decision on the independence of Kosovo has not been taken off the agenda."

Exchanging Polemics

Regardless, the latest Russian rejection has already led UN envoy Ahtisaari and Lavrov to engage in a new round of polemics.

Speaking in Helsinki, Ahtisaari said Moscow's reluctance to work out a compromise could further harm Russia image abroad. "Rather than strengthening its international position, Russia only weakens it," he said.

Lavrov, however, dismissed Ahtisaari's remark. "If he really said this, I consider his statement to be inappropriate. Maybe such a statement could reduce another country's international status, but not Russia's," Lavrov said on July 13.

He added: "If, in the course of considerations, one of the parties cannot accept these proposals [by Ahtisaari], negotiations should continue and they should be assisted by an impartial international mediator."

Hard-Line Stance

Lavrov's comments are in keeping with the position Russia has long held on the issue, one that has led it to hint that it might veto the plan if it reaches the UN Security Council.

As recently as July 9, Lavrov said that any solution not agreeable to both Serbia and Kosovo "cannot make it through the Security Council." Prior to that, responding to recent comments by U.S. officials, Lavrov said in a June 26 interview with RTR that "statements that that independence for Kosovo is inevitable do not convince us."

Lavrov sees little need to compromise (AFP file photo)

Although most pundits agree that Moscow's veto threats are no bluff, they differ in their interpretations of the Kremlin's hard-line stance.

When considering Moscow's motivation for its position, most cite Moscow's desire to extract concessions on other issues, to prevent a separatist trend within the Russian Federation, and to defend the inviolability of countries' territorial integrity.

Other analysts believe that Russia seeks to use the possibility of an independent Kosovo as leverage against neighboring states that seek closer ties with the West.

President Vladimir Putin, for instance, has repeatedly said that an independent Kosovo could serve as a precedent for the frozen conflicts in Georgia, whose pro-Moscow regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia seek independence, and in Moldova, whose pro-Moscow Transdniester region also wants statehood.

Political Headache

In reality, however, Moscow is currently less fearful of seeing independence movements sparked within its ethnic republics, such as Chechnya, and does not really want to alter the status of breakaway republics in CIS states either.

If, for example, the independence of Kosovo were declared (a development that many consider inevitable) Russia would logically have to keep promises it has already made to the leaders of the breakaway republics and recognize their independent status. But in doing so, for example, regarding Abkhazia, Russia would also be forced to define its position on the hotly contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, the source of a bitter armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan from 1988-94.

But whatever decision Moscow makes on Karabakh, whether it be recognition or ignorance of its independent status, it can be assured of angering either Armenia or Azerbaijan.

Russia understandably would like to avoid such a political headache, and will seek to preserve the status quo rather than risk taking a stance on the principle of self-determination as opposed to territorial integrity.

Fixing Past Mistakes

There is also another factor in Moscow's persistence on the Kosovo issue. It relates to Russia's role in the Balkans in 1990s, when the country, under President Boris Yeltsin, cooperated with NATO and the United States in trying to resolve the Yugoslav crisis.

At that time, then-Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin flew to Belgrade to convince late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to deal with the West. But in hindsight, Moscow now looks upon its decision as an embarrassing example of weakness and concession and would like to make amends.

As Sergei Karaganov, the head of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy and a political adviser to Putin's administration, noted in a commentary on on 16 June, "Many in Moscow now want American and European colleagues to pay the full price for their games in Kosovo, although they do not want to admit it publicly."

In seeking to make up for its retreat from the Balkans in the past decade, Moscow has located the "weak link" in the West's position on Kosovo. Russia realizes that any unilateral declaration of independence for Kosovo that does not follow UN procedure will not be recognized by all members of the European Union, and could cause a rift within the bloc.

Russia designed its strategy on Kosovo based on this calculation.

Tired Of Cooperation

A good way of describing this strategy can be found in a recent comment by Aleksei Pushkov, a pro-Kremlin political analyst for NTV, who said on his show "Postkriptum" on 7 July that Russia should not "help the U.S. and EU escape from the difficult situation in Kosovo." He also listed reasons for testing the West's mettle on Kosovo.

First, he said, Russia has previously tried to cooperate with the United States and NATO -- particularly in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001 -- and has come away disappointed.

He said that if Russia does not get the concessions it seeks on Kosovo, it "will not see reciprocal steps toward us neither on the issue of U.S. missile-defense elements in Europe, nor on other issues on which we differ."

Second, the situation over Kosovo belongs to a category of "who will overplay whom." The Western media writes about it in terms of the EU being hostage to the Russia position and that Russia should be not allowed to define EU foreign policy, Pushkov said, but this is the language of competition, not cooperation. Therefore, if Russia were to alter its position on Kosovo toward compromise "it would be perceived [by the West] not as act of partnership, but as the defeat of a competitor who surrendered to pressure."

Pushkov's third point was that Russia's confrontation with the West on Kosovo is a matter of principle.

The main criteria, according to Pushkov, is whether Russia will return to the international arena as an independent player.

"Putin wants to turn the Kosovo [issue] into a demonstration that Russia has regained its clout. If we retreat, we will once again we be considered to be feeble," Pushkov wrote. "If we stand, our claims to a role of significance will be justified."

In the end, even a brief analysis of Moscow public-opinion leaders' statements on Kosovo shows that the Kremlin -- due to its interpretations of the country's ambitions and national interests -- is not interested in a quick resolution of the Kosovo problem.

Russia: Moscow Turns Its Attention To The Balkans

By Brian Whitmore

Russia is planning on building new pipelines

June 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Two summits in two Southeast European cities. One loud and clear message from Russian President Vladimir Putin: We're back.

Addressing a Balkan energy summit in Zagreb, Croatia on June 24, Putin was as poker-faced as ever as he trumpeted a landmark deal that could secure Moscow's continued dominance of Europe's energy market.

"As you know, yesterday [June 23] Gazprom and the Italian [energy] company Eni signed a memorandum on the possible construction of a gas pipeline under the Black Sea," Putin told 10 heads of state from the Balkan region.

Putin also said Russia wants to build "underground storage facilities in several Balkan states, which will not only improve energy supplies to the region, but will make it more attractive and more important from the perspective of solving energy problems in Europe as a whole."

A day later at a meeting of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) in Istanbul, Turkey, Putin urged member states to foster stability in the region's energy markets by signing long-term contracts -- presumably with Russia.

Putin later told reporters that "the Balkans and the Black Sea [region] has always been a sphere of our special interests," adding that it is "natural that a resurgent Russia is returning there."

Analysts say Putin's energy diplomacy in the Balkans and Turkey was partially aimed at frustrating the European Union's efforts to diversify the continents energy supply to lessen dependence on Moscow. But Putin also had a larger agenda: reestablishing a Russian sphere of influence in Southeastern Europe.

South Stream

The highlight of Putin's energy diplomacy this week was Gazprom's deal with Eni to build the South Stream pipeline, which would pump 30 billion cubic meters of Russian gas a year under the Black Sea to Bulgaria. The pipeline, which is slated to be finished by 2011, would then branch off in two directions: north to Austria and south to Italy.

Energy analysts say South Stream severely hampers the European Union's efforts to diversify the continent's energy supplies to reduce dependency on Russia.

Federico Bordonaro, a Rome-based energy analyst for the "Power and Interest News Report," says it's another big move in the chess game.

"We cannot talk about a bloc. What we can talk about is Russia's attempt to undermine the Washington-backed vision of a very homogenous wider Black Sea area"

"I don't think this kills other possible projects, but what it kills is the possibility that these other projects will be as decisive as they were actually thought to be," Bordonaro says.

A key component of the EU strategy is the proposed Nabucco pipeline, which would transport gas from Central Asia and the Caspian Sea region to Western Europe via Turkey and the Balkans -- without going through Russia.

To block this strategy and maintain its dominance, Moscow is seeking to gain control over energy routes in Southern Europe so Caspian and Central Asian gas is exported to international markets via Russia.

In May, Russia moved closer toward that goal when Putin, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev agreed to build a pipeline along the Caspian Sea coast to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan to Europe via Kazakhstan and Russia.

And the South Stream project is another giant step in that direction.

"I think it makes it much more complicated to find the backing for projects like the Nabucco pipeline. Particularly if South Stream seems to be looking at two onshore routes once it gets to Bulgaria -- one, perhaps, going across to Italy and one going to Austria. And that second one would be in competition with Nabucco," says Julian Lee, a senior analyst with the London-based Center for Global Energy Studies

More Roads Lead To Europe

The EU strategy has also been frustrated by nuclear-free countries like Germany and Italy who are among the most heavily dependent on Russian energy to generate electricity.

Moscow has also courted countries like Hungary, which decided in March to back another Gazprom plan to extend Russia's Blue Stream pipeline under the Black Sea. According to the plan, Hungary would then serve as a hub to transport Russian gas to Europe.

Russia's Druzhba pipeline

"Actually, if we see the whole thing in a broader perspective, this kind of strategy that wants to decisively reduce Russian influence is not working so well. I think that Russia reacted with an intelligent strategy," Bordonaro says.

Like many analysts, Marshall Goldman, a professor emeritus of Russian economics at Wellesley College and the author of a forthcoming book on Putin's energy policy, compares Putin's energy policy to a game of chess.

"The end game is to make sure that Russia maintains its monopoly control and to prevent anything from undercutting that kind of activity," Goldman says. "Gazprom's next step now is to pressure to gain control of the distribution lines within Europe, both Central and Western Europe."

New Kid On The Bloc

But Goldman and other analysts say Russia's grand strategy goes further than dominating Europe's energy market.

After being largely sidelined from European affairs since the 1991 Soviet breakup, Moscow is trying to use its energy might to reestablish a foothold -- some even say a "sphere of influence" -- on the continent.

And Russia sees a major window of opportunity in the western Balkans, where Moscow has longstanding cultural and historical ties and where countries like Serbia and Montenegro are becoming increasingly frustrated with the EU's reluctance to admit them.

"This energy game in the western Balkans is actually linked to geopolitical moves and to Russia's desire to become once again an influential player in the region, so that it will balance the EU and United States combined and the European Union's enlargement," Bordonaro says.

Bordonaro says that while Russia is a long way from establishing anything close to the old Soviet bloc, they are successfully "infiltrating a would-be Western bloc" on the continent:

"We cannot talk about a bloc," Bordonaro says. "What we can talk about is Russia's attempt to undermine the Washington-backed vision of a very homogenous wider Black Sea area, which is secured for NATO and Western security," he added.

And this assures Moscow a measure of political support -- or at least acquiescence -- in Europe.

"You certainly do have a sphere of influence because once those countries become addicted to using Russian natural gas they begin to hesitate to strike out in a different direction for fear that the Russians will cut them off," Goldman says.

But despite Russia's gas-powered geopolitical resurgence, most analysts point out that one of Europe's greatest fears, that Moscow will use energy as a political weapon against the West, is unfounded.

"Europe is dependent on Russia for a very large proportion of its natural-gas imports. Europe is not nearly as dependent on Russia as Russia is on Europe as a market for its gas exports," Lee says.

"Russia doesn't export significant quantities of gas anywhere other than to Europe. It exports some to the former Soviet republics, and it is beginning to bring prices there into line with its European prices. But it has no gas-export pipelines that go anywhere other than Europe."

Despite Gazprom's current might, it could have other problems in the future supplying its customers with gas. Many analysts say that some of its fields are underdeveloped and need more investment to meet growing demand.

Bosnia-Herzegovina: Reaching A Breaking Point Over Srebrenica

By T.K. Vogel

Can Bosnia leave its bloody past behind?

July 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- It may be Srebrenica's special misfortune that to the people interested in it, it has been far more than just a small town in eastern Bosnia. Its fall in July 1995 was a great military triumph for the Bosnian Serbs, but the systematic killing of thousands of Muslim males that followed forever tainted the Serbian project of creating a separate ethnic homeland by breaking up Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Srebrenica's fall signaled the end of the United Nations' ill-fated humanitarian mission in Bosnia. It also prompted the United States to come up with a strategy for a military and diplomatic endgame in Bosnia, which a few months later produced the Dayton peace accords. The Dayton accords gave the Bosnian Serb entity, the Republika Srpska, far-reaching autonomy and confirmed its hold over Srebrenica.

Today, many Bosnians -- though not, on the whole, the country's Serbs -- share the growing concern among international policymakers that the constitution that came as part of Dayton has outlived its usefulness. Its complex ethnic quotas and veto points have greatly complicated the country's recovery and continue to prevent closer ties with the European Union.

The demands of long-term development militate against Bosnia's division into ethnic self-rule areas -- the Republika Srpska and the 10 cantons that make up the country's other half (the confusingly named "Federation").

Bosnia's Serbian politicians, however, are unanimous in their rejection of further integration. Sensing that their project of abolishing the entity system is doomed to failure, some Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) leaders have now seized on Srebrenica as a tool to force change. Once again, Srebrenica is far more than just a small town in eastern Bosnia.

Constitutional Wrangling

The most recent campaign to scrap the entities was prompted by a judgment in February, in which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) confirmed that the 1995 killings at Srebrenica did in fact constitute genocide.

The Bosniak representative on Bosnia's three-member Presidency, Haris Silajdzic, promptly seized on that judgment to lend weight to his efforts to force Bosnia's international overseers to intervene in the ongoing struggle over Bosnia's domestic setup. He supported, and some observers say inspired, calls by Srebrenica's Bosniak returnees that Srebrenica be removed from Republika Srpska jurisdiction, knowing full well that this was a nonstarter. The only concession the movement could extract from the Bosnian Serb leadership was a pledge to turn Srebrenica into a special economic development zone, which is unlikely to have a tangible impact anytime soon.

Silajdzic is unlikely to succeed in breaking up the Republika Srpska (RFE/RL file photo)

Persuading the international community to impose a solution is the last hope of those who, like Silajdzic, reject incremental change and instead want a completely new, nonethnic system. In April 2006, Silajdzic had already engineered the defeat of constitutional amendments drafted with U.S. assistance.

To most Serbs, constitutional reform is simply code for removing protections for their community, above all territorial self-rule, and thus exposing them to domination by the Bosniaks (a plurality, though not a majority in the country).

This sentiment is skillfully exploited, and fanned, by Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik. Dodik has openly said that he would rather give up closer ties with the EU than the Bosnian Serbs' police. (Police reform remains the main obstacle to the conclusion of a preaccession deal with Brussels.) Together, Dodik and Silajdzic have led Bosnia into complete paralysis.

All of this, of course, has very little to do with Srebrenica, the small town in eastern Bosnia. Emir Suljagic, a Vienna-based journalist and analyst of Bosnian affairs, wrote in an e-mail message, "I don't think that to Silajdzic and others it matters whether it is Srebrenica or not, they would do the same thing with Brcko or Prijedor if [these towns] had what they thought they need to further their agenda." Brcko and Prijedor were also the scene of "ethnic cleansing" on a mass scale during the war, though not at the same level as Srebrenica.

Finding A Way Out

One good thing that might still emerge from the bickering is a renewed attempt to get rid of officials, especially in the police, who might have been involved in war crimes, a key grievance of the dozens of Srebrenicans currently camping out in Sarajevo in protest over their living conditions.

The international community is sympathetic to some of the protesters' demands. After its meeting in Sarajevo on June 18-19, the Peace Implementation Council -- a consortium of international governments and organizations that oversees peace efforts in Bosnia -- called on Bosnia's leadership to undertake a concerted effort to improve the situation in Srebrenica. It welcomed commitments by the authorities to deal with officials whose names appear on a list of people suspected of involvement in war crimes. "Survivors should not have to encounter perpetrators of war crimes in government positions," the council said in a statement, with reassuring common sense.

But the statement drew a line in the sand by explicitly rejecting Silajdzic's argument that the ICJ ruling somehow implied an obligation to abolish the Republika Srpska. It even pointed out, none too subtly, that the international community "retains the necessary instruments to counter destructive tendencies." (The international high representative has the authority to dismiss elected officials.) Indeed, there is almost no prospect of any part of Silajdzic's agenda, with which many Bosniaks sympathize, becoming reality.

Given Dodik's power over his constituents, the intensity of Serbian sentiment, and the reluctance of the international community to reopen issues that have been settled at Dayton, there is little chance that Silajdzic will achieve his constitutional agenda.

Ending The Politics Of Parochialism

Silajdzic will no doubt continue to make symbolic use of the Srebrenica issue. He has every right to express his view that the Bosnian Serb entity ought to go, or that it should at the very least relinquish Srebrenica, views that are most probably shared by a majority of Bosniaks and many Croats.

As one of three co-presidents of Bosnia-Herzegovina, however, he is not simply a Bosniak representative, but also bears a constitutional responsibility for the future of the entire country and all its citizens. That future is not served by his continued insistence on something that is clearly unattainable through democratic means.

Srebrenica will stay part of the Republika Srpska, and the Republika Srpska will stay part of Bosnia, and Bosnia will continue to be divided. This is the basic point of departure for any realistic attempt to improve conditions in the country. It is also a reflection of social and political reality in the country.

The main question is what specific form this division will take. Whereas the current constitution encourages it, new mechanisms should be found to dampen the politics of parochialism.

Reforming Bosnia's Constitution has always been fraught with difficulties and dilemmas. Should the charter be revised now, in which case it would have to acknowledge the continued existence of the Republika Srpska, or would it be better to wait longer in the hope that divisive agendas may lose their popular appeal? Almost 12 years after the end of the war, the answer seems clear, despite any philosophical misgivings one might reasonably entertain with regard to the country's ethnicized setup.

In the end, what truly matters is that the Dayton constitution has outlived its usefulness: the built-in incentives for parochialism hinder progress on the way to Europe, the only real perspective for long-term development. Dodik and Silajdzic owe it to their constituents to recognize this.

Srebrenica, meanwhile, has to come to terms with the traumatic events of 1995. In addition, however, it is also just a small town in eastern Bosnia whose depressed living conditions need urgent and tangible improvement.

(T.K. Vogel is a writer on Balkan affairs and author of a forthcoming study on ethnic cleansing.)