Saturday, March 24, 2007

Why Kosovo breakup is a bad idea

So it is significant that Mr Holbrooke adds what many suspect: if Russia blocks a new resolution, Kosovo will declare independence anyway—and the Americans will “probably” recognise it. Many Muslim countries will follow, though Mr Holbrooke thinks most EU countries may not. Without a new UN resolution, diplomats say the choice is not independence or not; it is between “controlled” and “uncontrolled” independence.

One of the few times that I will have to strongly disagree with the Economist, and so will be forced to write a counter-argument.

First of all, it is without doubt that Russia is using this issue to drive further diplomatic wedges into the EU and into the relations between the EU and the US. The longer the disagreement carries out the more influence Russia will have on the resolution on the issue. A similar strategy is being pursued on Iran.

But, unfortunately for some Kremlin critics, this is only Russia's supplementary benefit from pursuing such a policy. Granting Kosovo's independence on a unilateral basis, with harsh opposition from Serbia itself, will undoubtedly boost the moral of EU's foreign influence. But what message will it send? That the EU unilaterally has the mandate to establish borders in Europe? In my opinion, this will bring even more disagreements into the Balkans, where most countries are not members of the EU and NATO. Would the EU as a result of its policy like to see nationalistic governments pop-up in both Serbia and new-Kosovo? And for some strange reason no journalist attempts to remember the Helsinki accords of 1975, the dominant clause of which was the "territorial integrity of states" (referring to Europe at the time). Since then Europe has seen the voluntary breakup of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, uniting of Germany. The breakup plan that is being put forward to Serbia should have no force, even if it is approved by all governing bodies of the world; unless Serbia gives a green light, Kosovo should not be granted independence.

Of course for Russia there is another aspect in the issue. What is Russia? A country where Russians represent more than 70% of the population. The others are ethnic minorities, mostly living in tightly-linked "autonomous republics" as provided for in the constitution. Some, like the Tatars, living in Tatarstan, a predominantly Muslim republic inside Russia, that is very rich in oil-resources is dwelling on independence status at least once a day. It has been given so many rights by the Russian government, just to put a lid on its independence hopes. In total, there are close to ten of such minority regions in Russia, most of them with natural resources, and the ability to sustain themselves as an independent country. When things go sour in Russia, and they surely will some day, they will be knocking on the independence door. The Russian government is of course completely paranoid with such a scenario: the removal of election of regional heads, the increasing shift of funding distribution rights to the center, and other reforms all served that purpose. Having a precedent of Kosovo will put those republics in the problem radar, it will put Chechnya in the radar as well.

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