Friday, 27 July 2007

Russia and West disagree on Kosovo

On 16 July, Russia again opposed a draft United Nations Security Council Resolution on Kosovo which had been proposed by the Western powers. Russia did this on the basis that the draft opens the prospect of independence for this Southern province of Serbia and that the Security Council cannot vote to amputate the territory of one of its member state. The Russian rejection came in spite of the fact that the Western powers backing the resolution had removed from the draft any reference to the automaticity of Kosovo independence, which had previously been provided for after a period of 120 days of further negotiations between Serbs and Albanians. The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, has said that the chances that the draft would be accepted were “equal to zero”. He said that the resolution in fact applies the solution to the Kosovo issue proposed by Martti Ahtisaari, which Russia rejects.

Indeed, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has attacked Ahtisaari. On 13 July, and responding to reported remarks by Ahtisaari that Russia would reduce her international status if she vetoed his plan, Lavrov said that such remarks would be “out of place”: “If such an announcement lowers anyone’s international status, it is not Russia’s," he told reporters. Lavrov added, “If one side ... cannot accept these proposals, it is necessary to continue the negotiations and it is probably necessary to have an impartial international mediator foster these negotiations.” The implication was clearly that Ahtisaari was not impartial.

Ahtisaari’s plan provided for independence for Kosovo “under international supervision”. Since 2006, Russia has argued that it is inconsistent for the West to push through independence for Kosovo while denying independence to Transnistria (officially part of Moldova) and to South Ossetia and Abkhazia (officially part of Georgia).

The Russian rejection of the proposal is also nourished by a conviction in some circles in the Kremlin that the West is trying to encircle Russia and, in particular, to drive it out of the Black Sea. The Kosovo issue is part of this plan, to the extent that independence for that province would put a permanent end to any Russian presence in the Balkans.

The Russians are therefore planning to react in kind if the Western states go ahead and recognise Kosovo anyway, which would represent a breach with the terms of the province’s current UN-approved status as a part of Serbia under UN administration. Moscow would be likely to recognise South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria in return. These territories might well then apply to join the Russian Federation. A Russian foothold in Abkhazia would strengthen, not weaken, Russia’s presence in the Black Sea, since the province is contiguous with Russia’s own border on the Black Sea. This in turn would make the NATO accession of Georgia, to which Abkhazia currently belongs, extremely confrontational since Tbilisi would obviously then have a territorial dispute with Russia herself.

The geopolitical tensions are not going likely to abate any time soon. The Russian Black Se fleet is to relocate to Novorossiysk in 2017 when its lease runs out in Sebastopol in the Crimea, part of Ukraine. The Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, incidentally, is to host the Olympics in 2014.
Some Western diplomats have concluded that there is no possibility of any progress on Kosovo until the Russian Presidential elections of 2008. That is not soon enough for the West, even though it has been forced by Moscow now to put the whole issue on ice for a further six months. [Natalie Nougayrède, Le Monde, 18 July 2007]

The latest move by the West has been to try to supplant the UN Security Council and get another ad hoc international body to proclaim Kosovo independent instead. The German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has said that it might be “sensible” to give the mediating role in the negotiations between Belgrade and Priština to a “troika” composed of the EU, the US and Russia. “If Russia and the US both side down at the table, then at least there is the possibility that Serbia and Kosovo will move in the right way.” He said that he had already spoken about this possibility with the Russian and American governments. [Der Spiegel, 23 July 2007] Meanwhile, the Serbian Prime Minister, Vojislav Koštunica, said that the West’s plans for Kosovo had collapsed thanks to the principled stand taken by Serbia and Russia. The Serbian President, Boris Tadić, has rejected the right of another ad hoc group, the “Contact Group” (Russia, USA, France, UK, Germany and Italy) to mediate in the dispute, and said that new negotiations in 120 days’ time will give Serbia another chance to defend its territorial integrity. [Handelsblatt, 21 July 2007]

---- An excerpt from John Laughland's Intelligence Digest. For a free e-mail subscription to the Intelligence Digest, please click here ----

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