Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Trouble with Kosovo

The month of May will see new and very important developments on the issue of Kosovo's independence from Serbia. Russia is strongly opposed to the current plan laid out by Marti Ahtisaari (pictured), which in Russia's opinion does not take into consideration the view of Serbia, of which Kosovo is currently a part of. In late April, Russian deputy minister for foreign affairs Mr. Titov reiterated that the Ahtisaari plan if put forward in the voting round of the Security Council would "not go through", implying Russian use of the veto. In recent days, the US, and its European partners, the main contributors to the current NATO contingent in Kosovo, have increased the tensions in the dispute by arguing that Russian veto will not stop Kosovo's independence. The Financial Times reports:

The US and the European Union are seeking to push through a United Nations resolution on Kosovo this month, warning Russia that if it vetoes any such measure it will be responsible for any resulting violence or instability in the province.

US and European officials hope that, despite recent friction between Russia and the west on a range of topics, Moscow will abstain rather than veto the plan.

“It would be quite a big step if Russia blocked a resolution of what is fundamentally a European issue,” said a senior British official.

Washington and Brussels believe that Russia should not have a strong say in the dispute resolution as its opposition will mean that NATO peacekeepers will bear the full brunt of violence that will result in Kosovo. It must be noted that almost all political analysts as well as the people behind the Ahtisaari plan acknowledge its serious flaws. Mr Ahtisaari explains the virtual elimination of Serbian participation in the plan with the fact that the gap amongst the countries (Kosovo and Serbia) is unbridgeable. Supporters of the plan claim that Kosovo will declare independence regardless of the result of negotiations in the UN, and that some EU countries and the US will almost certainly recognize Kosovo's independence. Kosovo's president, Fatmir Sijdu, extremely confident in the support of his European and US allies has recently affirmed that Kosovo is ready to "gain independence by the end of May".

Some Western analysts, such as Richard Holbroke, in a recent open-ed in the Wall Street Journal have heavily criticized the Russians for pursuing their own geopolitical goals, while not being that concerned with its long-term Slav "ally", Serbia:

Moscow's point about protecting "fraternal" Slav-Serb feelings is nonsense; everyone who has dealt with the Russians on the Balkans, as I did for several years, knows that their leadership has no feelings whatsoever for the Serbs. Russia is using Kosovo for its tactical advantage, as part of a strategy to reassert itself on the international stage. That is a legitimate goal, as long as Russia plays a constructive role -- but Moscow's recent behavior, from Georgia to Iran to some ugly domestic incidents, is not encouraging.
Russia claims that the bloodshed that the West is certain will occur, if the resolution takes any longer, is "blackmail" intended to shift responsibility for the conflict, of Russia did not approve in the first place.

Yet, the Kosovo problem is a rare issue where despite numerous secondary considerations that Russia is pursing, its publicized position of a mutually acceptable solution of the conflict is stronger (or at least less weak) than that of its Western counterparts. First of all, Russia is not that isolated in its stance. During the first round of consultations in the Security Council on Mr. Ahtisaari's plan for granting Kosovo internationally supervised sovereignty only four countries out of fifteen supported the plan in its current version. The current non-permanent members of the Security Council, South Africa, Ghana, Congo, and Indonesia have expressed their skepticism toward the potential precedent that the the Ahtisaari plan may have in international law.

Second, despite some claims set to deny Russia's participation on the basis that it will not bear the full brunt of violence if Kosovo does create tensions as a result of independence, Russia has, is, and will express its opinion on issues on European security, simply because it is a member of the broad European community. Events occurring in Europe are matters of national security for all members of the broad European community. Under the logic of some NATO and US officials only nations that have direct military participation in such stale conflicts should have exclusive rights to their resolution. The United Nations was in 1999 given the authority to decide the outcome of the Kosovo conflict, proposing otherwise would question the authority of the United Nations, and that has rarely led to promising outcomes.

Third, Russia would see benefits and threats to its current security in case of the Kosovo precedent, and thus has no clear reason to threaten the Ahtisaari plan on the basis of its own interests. On the one hand, the stale conflicts in Georgia and Moldova, where Russian peacekeepers are currently stationed, in the case of Kosovo being granted independence, would be easily resolved. A clear majority of the population of the TMR (Transdniester Moldovan Republic) and the South Osetiya and Abkhazia regions support their independence from Moldova and Georgia respectively, and most likely would support entry into Russia (something that the Russian government has indirectly hinted it would consider a big geopolitical victory on the post-Soviet landscape).

On the other hand the Kosovo precedent is a future threat to Russia. Russia's federal model of government, no matter how hard-lined under President Putin, maintains Autonomous Republics with strong feelings for greater autonomy and even independence. For the past decade Chechnya was such a region; the spread of such feelings throughout Russia's southern territories is not a distinct possibility. Tatarstan, an energy-rich republic within Russia, as well as the Kaliningrad enclave have been cited as possible candidates to leave Russia if such an opportunity becomes viable.

Finally despite claims that Russia's Slav "support" for Serbia is a false pretext, many have forgotten that Russia played a decisive role in ending the bombardments of Serbia, which would have continued for more than the 70+ days.

Russia's ambassador to London has expressed his surprise at the very aggressive efforts of the US and several EU countries to adopt the resolution of Kosovo's independence, noting that the process of constructing the plan has taken several years, and the acceptance of the plan, involving such fundamental issues should not occur in a matter of weeks.

Obviously the concern for NATO forces stationed in Kosovo about potential violence in the region in the case of Kosovo proclaiming its independence unilaterally is understandable. However, the reason for Kosovo's overly optimistic outlook on its rights as an independent state lies in the manner in which the US and EU members have approached the issue; most importantly Mr. Ahtisaari's lack of motivation to take the views of Serbia into consideration. It is also a mystery why the acceptance of the plan will not create violence stirred up by the Serbian side. Kosovo is aware of the harsh consequences if it were to go alone at its independence. As of now, the world is not ready to approve its independence without a UN mandate. Accepting the Ahtisaari plan like vetoing it will have an adverse result on the stability in the region and increase th probability of bloodshed.

The only option on the table is to postpone discussions and develop a plan that takes into consideration the deepest concerns of both sides and present it to Kosovo and Serbia as the only available solution. Kosovo's eventual independence may be evident, but it is better for it to occur with wide-spread support to reduce the negative impacts of such a precedent for future disputes.

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