- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Russia said yesterday that it was still considering a U.N. proposal giving de facto independence to the Serbian province of Kosovo, despite Serbian hopes that Moscow would veto the plan.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, meeting with reporters in Moscow, backed away from Russian statements vowing to oppose any political settlement for Kosovo that was not supported by Belgrade.

“I think it is premature to say who is going to vote and how,” Mr. Lavrov said of the plan released a day earlier by U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari for “supervised independence” for the breakaway province.

The United States and Europe have strongly backed the Ahtisaari plan, saying it is unrealistic to expect that Kosovo’s huge ethnic Albanian majority will ever accept Serbian control.

Albanians represent approximately 90 percent of Kosovo’s 2 million people.

Technically still part of Serbia, Kosovo has been under international administration since the 1999 NATO-led war that ousted the troops of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. NATO intervened to halt what it said was an ethnic-cleansing campaign that killed 10,000 Albanians and forced 1 million more to flee their homes.

U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns is in Europe this week, conferring with NATO and EU officials in part to build support for the U.N. plan. U.S. officials say they hope to have a U.N. Security Council vote endorsing the proposal by June.

Serbian officials, who consider Kosovo the cradle of Serbian history, religion and culture, are banking on a Russian veto in the Security Council to block the independence plan.

“We are convinced the proposal will fail in the Security Council and that will open a door to a new negotiation process with a new mediator,” nationalist Serbian President Vojislav Kostunica said in a statement released yesterday.

“Serbia once again declares that [Kosovo] will never be independent and that Serbia rejects in advance any attempt at seizing Kosovo as an act of legal aggression,” he added.

A Russian diplomat to the European Union said last month that Moscow would oppose any “imposed solution,” and the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Monday that an independent Kosovo would “impose severe and serious complications on the stability of Europe.”

Senior U.S. officials say privately that it is still an open question whether Russia would veto the Ahtisaari plan, despite its long-standing ties to Belgrade.

Mr. Lavrov in his public comments appeared to be giving Russia maneuvering room as talks continue in the coming weeks among Kosovo’s Albanian leaders, Serbia and the United Nations.

He told Russian lawmakers last week that Moscow would not insist that Kosovo’s independence set a precedent for other separatist groups in Europe, including Russian-backed independence movements in Georgia and Moldova. Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that an imposed Kosovo separation could serve as a model for other “frozen conflicts.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide