10 July 2007

Kosovo in a Bind: Serbian Parliament Rejects UN Plan

KOMMERSANT (RUSSIAN FEDERATION), Feb. 16, 2007 by Gennady Sysoyev


The Serbian parliament has rejected the plan for Kosovo drawn up by UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari. The parliament's decision renders the Serbian-Albanian talks scheduled take place in Vienna next week pointless and means that Kosovo's fate now lies with the United Nations, where Belgrade's only hope is Russia's veto.


The Serbian parliament's resolution on Kosovo, which was adopted late on Wednesday night, is Belgrade's answer to the plan that Martti Ahtisaari presented to the Serbian leadership on February 2. According to Mr. Ahtisaari's plan, Kosovo would not become fully independent, but in practice it would gain the rights of an independent state. The province would have a flag, national anthem, and constitution, and it would have the right to make treaties with other nations and even join international organizations. In effect, the management of Kosovo would be transferred to the hands of the European Union.


The resolution was introduced by the government of the moderate nationalist Vojislav Kostunica, which has effectively taken the reins of power after the country's recent parliamentary elections. Although debate in parliament over the document lasted for more than seven hours, there was no real difference of opinion, a fact that was borne out by the tally of votes: of the 250 deputies, 225 voted for the resolution rejecting Mr. Ahtisaari's plan.


Even the fiercest political opponents displayed surprising unanimity on the issue. Serbian President Boris Tadic, the leader of the Democratic Party, declared that "the plan opens the door for independence for Kosovo" and thus "contradicts the UN Charter and the Serbian Constitution." Prime Minister Kostunica's opinion was even more severe: he called the plan "an attempt to tear off 15 percent of Serbia's territory." Finally, a cross was planted over the discussion by Tomislav Nikolic, the leader of the ultranationalists, who said, "no one can create a new state on Serbian territory without the consent of Serbia itself."


The only votes against the resolution came from deputies representing the Liberal Democratic Party, which is led by Cedomir Jovanovic, a close ally of assassinated prime minister Zoran Djindjic. Mr. Jovanovic called the government's resolution "a one-way ticket" and the beginning of "a confrontation between Belgrade and the entire world." However, the voices of the scant few who opposed junking the Ahtisaari plan with no further discussion were ignored.


In the resolution, the Serbian parliament refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the basic principle of Mr. Ahtisaari's plan, saying that it "violates the fundamental principles of international law and does not respect Serbia's territorial integrity." The deputies warned that independence for Kosovo "could destabilize the situation in the region and serve as a dangerous precedent in the resolution of questions concerning national minorities and territorial disputes around the world." The parliament called on all nations and international organizations "to rebuff threats to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia by rejecting any binding resolution on Kosovo's future status."


After the adoption of such a resolution, Serbia's participation in future talks concerning Kosovo (the next round is scheduled for February 21 in Vienna) has in essence become pointless. Now all that remains for Martti Ahtisaari is to declare the discussion of his plan closed and to present the plan to the UN Security Council, which will make the final decision on Kosovo's status.


That is presumably part of Belgrade's strategy as drawn up by Serbian nationalists. In declining to participate in the battle for changes to the Kosovo plan, Serbia is effectively transferring that responsibility to Moscow. It is now becoming clear that from the outset Belgrade has pinned all its hopes in the matter of Kosovo on Russia's veto in the UN Security Council.


However, the harshly-worded resolution from the Serbian parliament, which effectively shuts Belgrade out of the negotiations, appears not to be any cause for joy in Moscow. Yesterday the Russian foreign minister's special representative for the Balkans, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, who talks to the press extremely rarely, made a curious statement. In answer to the question of whether Russia would exercise its veto power in the discussion of the Ahtisaari plan in the UN Security Council, he said, "the right to veto is not an end in itself. Our goal is the process of negotiations. The sides should decide for themselves, and we should create the conditions for negotiations to take place."


Such a statement from the chief Russian negotiator in the Balkans can be considered a reaction of sorts to the recent resolution adopted by the Serbian parliament, and from it at least two conclusions can be drawn: Russia has no burning desire to exercise its veto over Kosovo and, to put it mildly, does not welcome Belgrade's decision to exclude itself from the negotiations.