14 February 2007

A difficult choice on sanctions for Kosovo



MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Alexander Bogatyrev) - The other day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it would be counterproductive to introduce UN sanctions against either side in the Kosovo conflict.


Before that, the Russian ambassador to Belgrade had said that Russia would veto any "harsh" UN Security Council resolution on Kosovo.


The sanctions in question are directed against Serbia.


According to the Kremlin, the Kosovo dispute can be resolved only at the negotiating table and there should be no deadlines. The sides involved in the conflict need time to resolve their problems.


Criminal organizations have taken over the province's authorities since 1999. Youth groups in Kosovo are growing increasingly radical, so much so that on November 27, the Albanian Flag Day was marked in Kosovo under circumstances of tightened security guaranteed by the presence of nearly all the Kosovo Force's (or KFOR, the province's multinational peacekeeping force) troops and police.


KFOR set up reinforced roadblocks in Pristina and ensured a military presence in the key sections of the provincial capital. But this did not stop mass demonstrations from degenerating into riots. For several days afterwards, demonstrators threw bottles of paint and stones at the building of the provincial government and parliament, the UN mission and peacekeepers' roadblocks, and shouted insults and threats at KFOR troops and observers.


Kosovo Albanians claim that they have the right to demand independence because they constitute an overwhelming majority (90%) of that traditionally Serb province. This is not surprising, because the Kosovo Liberation Army forced nearly all Serbs out of the province. I wonder what the governments of France and Germany would do if their large Arab or Turkish communities decided to proclaim independent territories and started evicting local residents.


Kosovo remains a province of Serbia. Had it been allowed to secede, it could have served as a precedent for Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdnestr, as well as several European enclaves, to demand independence too. And if Georgia and Moldova refused to grant it, the freedom-seeking republics could appeal to the UN Security Council, the OSCE and other international organizations to put pressure on the parent states, just as they are now doing to Serbia. Russia, as its foreign minister has said, does not accept this viewpoint.


The official secession of Kosovo from Serbia is supported by London and Washington, which are saying that the question of Kosovo's independence should be decided by the end of this year, or in the first half of 2007 at the latest. They insist that Kosovo's independence is a necessary condition for restoring peace and ending the killing there.


Why not grant independence to Serb enclaves in the north of the province then, because they will never be able to live at peace with Albanians after years of violence? London and Washington, however, say that Kosovo, unlike Serbia, cannot be broken up.


Moscow is protesting against this approach for several reasons, primarily because it does not need a pocket of instability in Europe threatening Moscow's plans for cooperation with Serbia, Montenegro and the EU.


The issue at hand is what partners Russia will have to deal with, strong countries or ones weakened by internal problems. Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov recently said in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel: "We are not directly concerned with potential and real conflicts far away from Russia's borders. Events in, say, Kosovo are unlikely to affect Russia's security, but they will affect the security of Germany and the whole of Europe."


The story of KFOR's seven years of efforts to "pacify" Kosovo should have led Europe to draw some sad conclusions. There are some events in the story that many would like to forget, such as Albanian fighters' easy escape from the U.S.'s Bondstil military base in Kosmet, or the past of Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku, who visited Moscow with a delegation of Kosovo interim government officials in late November.


I am not referring to Ceku's fine words about peace at a time when Serbs are being killed and Orthodox relics destroyed in Kosovo. I am referring to his bloody past in Croatia in the early 1990s and in Kosovo in 1998-1999.


If Agim Ceku and others like him are rewarded for their unseemly deeds by granting independence to the province, it will mean that the international community has not yet learned the lesson of Kosovo, and we need more time.