Serbia, Russia fury as Kosovo independence draws near


With Kosovo expected to declare its independence on Sunday (17 February), Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told the UN Security Council that his country would never tolerate a “breach of its territorial integrity” and threatened sanctions.

“Not now. Not next year. Not in ten years,” Jeremic told the UN’s highest organ, which had convened for an urgency session on 14 February upon Serbia’s request. 

Serbia would take “all diplomatic, political and economic measures” to avert and reverse such a “direct and unprovoked attack on our territorial integrity,” Jeremic told the Security Council, without giving further details. 

Foreign Minister Jeremic cautioned that Kosovo’s independence may lead “to an uncontrolled cascade of secession,” adding that it was “not too late” for diplomats to prevent such a step. 

For Serbia, “there would be no greater humiliation, if it in any way signed or agreed to this puppet state,” Serbia’s Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told the Serbian daily Glas Javnosti ahead of the UN session in New York. 

His divided government coalition closed ranks in its refusal to accept Kosovo’s secession. “All acts and activities of provisional authorities in Kosovo unilaterally declaring independence will be declared null and void for breaching the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia,” the coalition declared in a statement on 14 February. 

But the Security Council session on 14 February showed that its members are largely supportive of Kosovo’s independence. 

Ahead of Kosovo’s declaration of independence, the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo (Kfor) has stepped up its patrols and state of alert in case of clashes between Serbs and Albanians. The latter account for about 95 percent of the province’s population of 2.1 million. 

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said that independence of Kosovo was unavoidable, showing confidence that the transition to independence would be "peaceful" and that the province can look forward to "a time for celebration". 

Speaking at the annual security conference in Munich last weekend (9 February) Serbia's recently re-elected President Boris Tadic called for increased negotiations on the issue to help avoid potential violence. 

"Should Serbia be partitioned against its will […] it could, in turn, result in the escalation of many existing conflicts, the reactivation of a number of frozen conflicts, and the instigation of who knows how many new conflicts," the Serbian leader said. 

Slovakia's Foreign Minister Jan Kubis expressed his country's preference for a "negotiated solution" and a central role of the UN Security Council. "Since this is not happening, we cannot recognise Kosovo in the near future," he explained. 

Germany's state minister in the Foreign Office, Gernot Erler, said that there would be "no stability without solving the status question" in Kosovo. Erler dismissed criticism that such a step would be "unilateral", because this move has been agreed among Western diplomats and the political leaders of Kosovo. Therefore, he prefers to talk of a "coordinated declaration of independence". 

The leader of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, expressed his group's support for Kosovo, saying that the expected declaration of independence is "adding to the reality of life in the Western Balkans". 

"We expect the Kosovo authorities to respect and implement fully the Ahtisaari proposal by protecting the fundamental rights and the cultural heritage of the Serb and other minorities on their territory, and to lay the foundations for a multiethnic and stable Kosovo," Schulz said. He also called on the Serbian government to "refrain from any action that could lead to a deterioration of the situation". 

The Socialist Group's Vice-President Jan Marinus Wiersma addressed the issue of Serbia's role by saying: "There is no future for an isolated Serbia and we therefore give our fullest support to Serbia's integration in the European Union. There is no other choice for that country, for the region and for the whole of the European continent". 

Russia's outgoing President Vladimir Putin criticised the EU and the US for recognising Kosovo's independence, calling such a step "immoral and illegal". European countries should be "ashamed" of their double standards, Putin said at a press conference in Moscow. 

"I don't want say anything that would offend anyone, but for 40 years northern Cyprus has practically had independence," Putin pointed out. "Why aren't you recognising that? Aren't you ashamed, Europeans, for having these double standards?" 

Putin dismissed the Western argument that Kosovo is a special case, reiterating Russia's warning that supporting the province's independence would set a dangerous precedent for other separatist regions. 

In case of Kosovo declaring independence, Russia has a "ready-made plan and we know what we are going to do," Putin pointed out. 

Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov had earlier called secession a "mistake", adding that Russia had no plans to punish Kosovo with sanctions. 

Bruno Coppieters from the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) compared different options alongside the principles of "just secession" and identified a UN security council resolution on Kosovo's supervised independence as the best one. 

"Supervised independence is the only means of guaranteeing the correction and prevention of severe injustice," Coppieters said. 

The ruling coalition in Belgrade has delayed signing a new accord with the EU over fears that it would imply recognition of Kosovo's imminent declaration of independence.

Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands are expected to be the first countries to recognise Kosovo as Europe's newest state, with the US following soon afterwards. 

Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Spain and Greece are against Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence. 

Serbia has announced it will appeal the province's declaration at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. 

Serbia is also strongly opposed to the 2000-strong EU rule-of-law mission to Kosovo, which is expected to be officially launched on Friday night (15 February) and become fully operational within 120 days. Pieter Feith was yesterday appointed the EU's special representative (EUSR) for Kosovo. 

  • 16 Feb. 2008: The EU rule-of law mission to Kosovo (EULEX) to be officially launched. 
  • 17/18 Feb. 2008: Kosovo expected to declare independence. 
  • 18 Feb. 2008: EU's foreign affairs ministers to meet in Brussels to discuss their reaction. 
  • 20 Feb. 2008: European Parliament to discuss Kosovo in plenary.
  • June 2008: EULEX mission expected to become fully operational. 

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