The Kosovo Test of Russian Diplomacy

Kosovo and Metohia are once again media’s front-page news. In late January Martti Ahtisaari, a special representative of UN Secretary General presented to Urbi et orbi a draft plan of the settlement of the issue of the future of this region, which is an inseparable part of Serbia. Serbia’s government, President and newly elected parliament rejected this plan. In turn Albanians, in particular Kosovo’s "premier" Agim Ceku criticized Ahtisaari’s plan as failing to take into account some of their demands.

So, according to Ahtisaari’s plan Kosovo should be cut off from Serbia becoming an independent state, even though the plan of the Finnish diplomat does not mention "independence". The region is to obtain all the state attributes, including the national flag, the anthem, its coat-of-arms, the army, the central bank, the police and the right to join all international organisations, including the United Nations.

A new stage of Serbian-Albanian negotiations is planned for mid-February, and Ahtisaari intends to table his document, which should include the wishes of both sides to the UN Security Council in March.

Members of Europe’s Big Three visited Moscow in early February to hold negotiations on issues of European-Russian cooperation. The issue of Kosovo’s future was not the least important theme at the negotiations. Speaking to journalists about the outcome of the negotiation, RF Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the solution of the issue should be acceptable for both Belgrade and Pristina.

Some of those fond of holding forth about adaptability of "the Kosovo precedent " for the republics of the former USSR had to swallow a bitter pill and simultaneously took a cold bath as. Javier Solana, a top EU official responsible for foreign policies and security, an adamant supporter of Ahtisaari’s plan, used diplomatic rhetoric saying openly that the more than probable granting of independence to this region would never become a precedent for the unrecognised republics on the post-Soviet space, sending a message to Moscow to the effect that it should not be delude itself as to what is allowed to Jupiter and what – to a bull. Well, of course Solana, the politician who effectively controlled the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, knows what he is talking about!

Of course, according to Sergei Lavrov, if his words were not sheer diplomacy, there are concerns that Russia could again be given the role of the "principal force" to reason with Serbia. A word of clarification. Russian President has been quoted as saying that this country would veto any decision on Kosovo by the UN Security Council if Serbia finds it unacceptable. A brief reminder: in the 1990s Russia used all its influence on Belgrade for no other reason than to persuade the Yugoslav/Serbian authorities to accept disadvantageous solutions imposed on them by the so-called "international community". Belgrade received uncorroborated promises of support, after which the Yeltsin-Kozyrev diplomacy pushed through solutions advantageous to the West. The events of 1998-1999 were the most outrageous. It all started with Yeltsin telling the world that he would not permit anyone to bomb Yugoslavia, and the end of the story was the shameful mission of Chernomyrdin, who threatened Yugoslavs by telling them that should they refuse to accept demands of NATO aggressors, NATO would start the carpet bombing. The outcome of this Balkans diplomacy by Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin are – to put it mildly – lamentable.

In this connection, the words of Aleksandr Alekseev, head of the Russian diplomatic mission in Belgrade, cannot fail to cause concerns. He repeated once again that any solution of the Kosovo problem with which Belgrade disagrees, stands no chance of succeeding at the UN Security Council. According to him Moscow would finally identify its position after Belgrade identifies its stance. Did our diplomat mean that Russia would again persuade Serbia to make its "final decision?

But at the same time there is some good news to rejoice at – Alekseev urged the parties involved to do better than hung up on the dates Martti Ahtisaari fixed. It will be no catastrophe if the negotiation process takes longer, Alekseev said. Serbia should be given the opportunity to form a competent government that would take the responsibility for the solution of the Kosovo problem.

But Kosovo’s "premier" Agim Ceku, who apparently may have been given some sort of guarantees during his visit to Moscow in the autumn of 2006, says he has no fear of the Russian veto at the UN Security Council. This terrorist who is now playing the role of a politician, is deeply convinced that Russia needs no complications in its dealings with the West.

At the same time Javier Solana, who is a supporter of Kosovo’s independence has said that Russia is "especially responsible" for the settlement of the Kosovo problem?

What should we make of all that?

Will Russia use its influence again in order to persuade Serbia to agree to disadvantageous conditions? Could the Kosovo problem turn into another chip in the trade-off between Russia and the West? If so, everything would go smoothly at the United Nations. Or will Moscow muster its strength to demonstrate that the diplomacy of the Yeltsin epoch is gone forever?

Of course Russia should defend its own - rather somebody else’s - national interests. However, is the issue of its influence in the Balkans not in the interests of Russia? At present, when the United States and its European NATO partners increase pressure on Moscow in many directions, bringing their military bases closer to the western borders of the Russian Federation, the goal of keeping ground in the Balkans is getting more and more acute for this country.

The football is currently on the Russian field. The next kick is Russia‘s…

[Source: By Mikhail Yambaev, Strategic Cultural Foundation, Moscow, Russia, 09Feb07]

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