Kosovo has failed to win membership in UNESCO, falling short in a narrow vote that Serbia’s president swiftly hailed as a “victory” for his country.
In a closely watched ballot in Paris, 92 nations favored granting Kosovo membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, while 50 countries voted against.
Kosovo fell just three votes short of the number it needed -- two-thirds of ballots cast, not counting abstentions -- to obtain membership.
Joining UNESCO is a major goal of the leadership of Kosovo, which has been recognized by 111 states since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008 -- but not by Serbia or by Russia, which has used its power as a permanent UN Security Council member to keep Kosovo out of the United Nations.
"Kosovo's road is unstoppable and we will apply and join other organizations, including UNESCO once again," Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci wrote on his Facebook page after the vote.
Serbia’s leadership, which had Russia’s backing in its campaign against UNESCO membership for Kosovo, celebrated the result.
"This is a just and moral victory in almost impossible conditions," Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said in a statement.
Kosovo declared independence almost a decade after NATO went to war in 1999 to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian forces trying to crush an insurgency.
'Cradle Of Their Faith'
With a wealth of centuries-old Orthodox Christian churches and monasteries, mostly Muslim Kosovo has long held almost mythical status for many Serbs who consider it the cradle of their faith.
For Russia, opposing membership for Kosovo in the UN and related organizations is a way to counter the United States, which President Vladimir Putin frequently says wants to impose its will on the world. Russia vehemently opposed NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign and continues to criticize it.
Meanwhile, the United States and almost all other countries have declined to recognize two Moscow-backed breakaway regions in ex-Soviet Georgia as independent states, and about 100 UN members have labeled Russia’s takeover of Crimea from Ukraine last year as illegitimate.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had warned on November 6 against using UNESCO to legitimize what he called Kosovo's self-proclaimed state.
A majority of UNESCO's 58-member executive board had voted on October 21 to recommend Kosovo as a full member state.
Despite its stance regarding its former province, Serbia signed up to an accord in 2013 designed to settle relations between the two as a condition of Belgrade's further progress towards membership of the European Union.