Russia raises prospect of UN veto on Kosovo.

Russia has made clear it will veto any UN security council resolution that proposes Kosovo independence without Serb agreement, adding it would favour a confederation between Belgrade and Pristina instead to help soothe separatist tension in the Western Balkans and beyond.

"If it is a negotiated solution, Russia will not oppose it. But if it is an imposed solution, Russia will oppose it," Russia's EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov told EUobserver on Thursday (8 February). "Russia may not be happy even with a negotiated solution because of its impact on other parts of the world."

"If a negotiated solution based on something different from independence is found then it makes Kosovo a positive precedent - it's hard to speculate, maybe a loose confederation, a union or whatever," he added. "But if there is an imposed solution based on independence, it will serve as a negative precedent."

The remarks come after UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari last week presented a draft blueprint for Kosovo's future that puts the UN-administered region on the road to statehood, with talks between Belgrade - which has condemned the plan - and Pristina to take place in Vienna on 21 February.

The Kosovo issue will ultimately be decided by a new UN security council resolution in the next few months, with Russia and China holding vetos at UN level and with the other veto powers, the US, the UK and France broadly in favour of giving Pristina the independence it craves.

Ravaged by ethnic conflict just eight years ago, Kosovo continues to see skirmishes between its ethnic Serb minority and ethnic Albanian majority in a situation that risks plunging Europe back into the darkest period in its recent history and causing ripples in disputed territories around the world.

"Whether you or I like it or not, Kosovo will serve as a precedent for others," Mr Chizhov said, outlining a "concentric circle" effect that could see future calls for independence by ethnic Albanian enclaves in Serbia's Presevo Valley, parts of Macedonia and Montenegro as well as by the Serb community in Bosnia.

"Then if you look further afield, people in Transdniestria [Moldova], South Ossetia [Georgia], Abkhazia [Georgia], Nagorno-Karabakh [Azerbaijan], not to mention Northern Cyprus...would say they have more reasons to claim independence than Kosovo," the ambassador went on.

"What about Quebec? And if you look to the other side of the planet, what about Taiwan? This is a concern for another member of the permanent security council [China]," he said, adding there is "no sense of inevitability" about Kosovo's independence in Moscow today. "The Ahtisaari proposals...might change."

The Russian ambassador also criticised the EU and US' excessive focus on the sensitivities of Kosovo Albanians and the safety of international peacekeepers, suggesting the west is neglecting the rights of the Serb nationalist camp - associated in the EU with Slobodan Milosevic's bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians in 1998.

"You cannot count on a solution that requires difficult choices for one side and easy choices for the other," Mr Chizhov said. "Everybody is afraid of the Kosovo Albanians going ballistic, but nobody is talking about what the Serbs might do."

"Let's face it: UN resolution 1244 [which currently governs Serbia-Kosovo relations] has been implemented only partially, only those parts that favour Kosovo Albanians," he explained, giving the example of a UN mandate for a contingent of 999 Serb soldiers to guard Serb holy sites in Kosovo "which never materialised."

EU seeks ways to placate Serbia

Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday will discuss the possibility of re-starting EU integration talks with Serbia despite Belgrade's non-compliance with the UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague, which has demanded the hand-over of fugitive general Ratko Mladic.

UN prosecutor Carla del Ponte last week urged the EU not to re-engage with Belgrade until Mladic is in the dock, in a line championed by the Netherlands at EU level. But an increasing number of EU states is swinging toward giving Serbia a sweetener to improve the chances of Mr Ahtisaari's plan.

"We won't necessarily follow her advice," a senior EU diplomat told EUobserver on Friday, before questioning Ms del Ponte's judgment, saying she is prone to "mood swings" and "maybe focusing on Mladic too much."

[Source: By Andrew Rettman, Euobserver, Brussels, 09Feb07]

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