12 July 2007

Primakov: Three Arguments Agains Kosovo Independence

MOSKOVSKIE NOVOSTI (RUSSIAN FEDERATION), Feb. 16, 2007 By Yevgeny Primakov, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences

A story published in MN # 5 offered an in-depth analysis of a plan for Kosovo presented by Martti Ahtisaari, special envoy of the U.N. secretary general and former president of Finland.

The document, drawn up on the basis of Ahtisaari's numerous trips to Belgrade and Pristina, as well as a number of meetings with statesmen from different countries, skirts the issue of Kosovo's independence. At the same time, however, it provides essential trappings of a sovereign state - the emblem, the flag, the anthem, as well as an issue of special importance, the right to join international organizations - including the U.N., the EU and NATO.

Serbia took a sharply negative view of the plan. The position of Kosovo's Albanians, however, is not so negative because U.S. and some West European politicians are telling Pristina that the proposal will lead to Kosovo's formal separation from Serbia and that the province will eventually become an independent state. This status, they say, is a foregone conclusion: the plan is a bona fide road map to independence, but it cannot be granted right away. Amid such statements, demonstrations in Pristina against the plan resemble a means of pressuring the Serbs and the world community as a whole to embrace the plan - or else.

What is to be done in this situation, given the extremely complex nature of the problem at hand and its obvious implications for other conflicts in various parts of the world, not to mention global relations?

There are several factors that need to be taken into account if a compromise solution is to be achieved.

Kosovo and Metohia are considered to be the Serbs' native and ancestral land, a land where their civilization, culture and identity evolved. The Serbian Constitution, recently adopted in a nationwide referendum, calls Kosovo an inalienable part of Serbia. Kosovo's formal secession from Serbia - not a compromise solution acceptable to the Serbian side - will sharply strengthen the positions of the country's radical forces.

The Albanians have also lived in Kosovo for centuries. As a result of the standoff between the Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, not least with the use of force, ethnic Albanians account for 90 percent of the province's population. Under Josip Broz Tito, Kosovo had an autonomy status as part of Yugoslavia. Following the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Kosovo's Albanians created their own parliament (Skupstina) that in 1990 passed a law on the province's independence. That did not lead, however, to its breakaway from Serbia; rather a de facto diarchy was established in Kosovo. Ibrahim Rugova, elected "president" of Kosovo, adhered to a moderate position, specifically during negotiations with Belgrade.

There was a handful of advocates for Kosovo's independent status outside the province. In 1996, as Russian foreign minister, I met with the Albanian foreign minister at a U.N. General Assembly session in New York. He told me that his country (even his country - Ye.P.) only saw a solution to the Kosovo problem within the borders of Yugoslavia. A similar position was recorded in a number of documents adopted by the Contact Group, comprisingRussia, the U.S., Germany, the U.K., and France. The Group's first statement on Kosovo was adopted on September 24, 1997 with my participation. The resolution was based on the assumption that the Kosovo problem was Yugoslavia's internal affair. We subsequently revisited the Kosovo issue on numerous occasions, but the general consensus was that Kosovo is not an independent state entity. The debate between myself and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright proceeded along the following lines: "Kosovo is part of Yugoslavia" (Albright) and "Kosovo is part of Serbia" (myself). Whatever the case, both the U.S. and Russia considered Kosovo to be a "part" of another state. Furthermore, the U.S. State Department put the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which was using force to drive the Serbs out of Kosovo, on a list of terrorist organizations.

But starting in 1998, the situation began to turn around. There is no need to mention the rest of the story - it is well known. Its main distinguishing feature was that it was not diplomacy, not politics, but NATO that had become the principal player on the Yugoslav scene. The situation did not change when the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) formally took over, creating "provisional self-government" and conducting [parliamentary] elections that were boycotted by the Serb population. Nor did anything change for the better when international military and police forces were brought into Kosovo - a total of 16,500 servicemen from NATO member countries.

Today, the Serbs have become second-rate citizens, exposed to constant pressure from Kosovo Albanians who are determined to evict even the tiny number of Serbs that remain in the province.

What now? There are two scenarios. One is to treat the Ahtisaari plan as a basis for serious negotiations between the parties involved, even if this requires considerable time. It may be recalled that the Cyprus and Irish problem has been debated for decades. This is not to suggest that the Kosovo crisis should be allowed to drag on. But is a forcible settlement, infringing on the interests of the Serbs, really the best method of maintaining stability in the region? Jumping the gun can be as dangerous as marking time.

The second option is to use the Ahtisaari plan as a basis for a U.N. Security Council resolution. This line of action is favored by the U.S. It is acting in haste, apparently without assessing the possible fallout of this haste. But if it is drafted by the U.S. and other Western countries, I believe that Russia should veto a resolution recognizing Kosovo's independence. The U.S. must understand Russia's motives.

I would like to mention three.

First, granting Kosovo independence could reopen interethnic armed conflicts in the post-Soviet area that required so much effort to extinguish - between Georgia and Abkhazia, Georgia and South Ossetia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Moldova and Transdnestr.

According to Condoleezza Rice, she often told her Russian interlocutors that Kosovo "may not be a precedent." But can this proposition be used as a policy basis? I do not think so. Kosovo's secession from Serbia is a special case: The attempt is being made to separate an autonomous republic from a state with internationally recognized borders. But the secession of an autonomous republic from a state must be approved by the state's entire population. I am afraid that Kosovo's secession from Serbia will fuel separatism in Europe, among other regions.

Second, granting Kosovo independence could affect the state structure of the Balkans, which is more or less well balanced today - not immediately, of course, but gradually eroding the system of the existing state borders.

Third, Russian public opinion. Fortunately, gone are the days when it could be simply ignored. Today - I will not go into the historical, traditionalist or purely psychological factors - it is strongly on the side of the Serbs who have, in addition, suffered more than others in the Balkans over the past few years.

I am asking Condoleezza Rice, with whom I used to have good business contacts and, I hope, still have a friendly relationship, to pay attention to these motives. Clearly, they far outweigh the desire of the U.S. administration to achieve at least one success story in settling a crisis.