The last battle of Kosovo may have no winners

MOSCOW. (Pavel Kandel for RIA Novosti) - Martti Ahtisaari, the UN's special envoy for Kosovo, recently submitted his plan on the status of the Serbian province to the UN Security Council. This signifies the beginning of the "last battle of Kosovo." Can anyone win it? And if so, what would victory and defeat mean?

The United States, which, along with NATO and the European Union, has initiated a speedy process to grant independence to Kosovo, has expressed support for a draft Security Council resolution based on the Ahtisaari plan of granting the province internationally supervised sovereignty.

Europeans are divided over the American idea. The EU, which is working hard to achieve its own unity, fears that any new dispute might cause it to split apart once again. In addition, Brussels is not prepared to quarrel with Washington over Kosovo.

A decision to give the EU control over Kosovo for the transitional period, and to entrust it with the task of stabilizing the Balkans, was made long ago. But now the EU needs an international mandate, without which external supervision over Kosovo would not be legitimate and developments could spin out of control.

Europe is acting out of fear that violence in Kosovo will flare up again. If anti-Serbian pogroms begin again in that tumultuous province, Europe will be seen either as a passive observer and sponsor of violence, or will have to use force against the instigators, thus indirectly recognizing the futility of its policy in the region and getting a mini-Iraq in its own backyard.

This explains the EU's attempts to shift responsibility for potential violence if the Ahtisaari plan is rejected onto Moscow and Belgrade. Europe is like a corrupt cop who blames the victim, claiming that the bandits politely asked her to hand over her purse, but she acted "unconstructively" by refusing to comply with their request.

Serbians are not prepared to calmly accept the loss of a province that means so much to their national awareness. This makes sense, and Serbia's arguments are quite justified in terms of international law. The majority of the Serbian elite does not want to protect Washington and Brussels from the possible failure of their biased anti-Serbian policy, because such assistance might provoke a political crisis in Belgrade. Therefore, Serbians are playing for time and proposing continued talks in a new format.

Russia's representative to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, has put forth a proposal to evaluate the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1244 and send an investigative mission to Belgrade and Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. This plan is aimed at changing the issue under discussion so as to again attract public attention to unsettled problems that nobody is addressing.

However, the battle for the preservation of ineffective Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo may be a short-lived tactic. In the longer term, the province is as good as lost for Serbia because it cannot be re-integrated. Moreover, Kosovo has become a white elephant for demographic, economic and political reasons.

Given the high birth rate among Kosovo Albanians, the population density and shortage of jobs in the province, Kosovo, if re-incorporated into Serbia, would become a source of demographic expansion, carrying the risk of major changes in the ethnic composition of Serbia.

Serbia would be unable to subsidize the underdeveloped economy of Kosovo, which was a pocket of ethnic and political conflicts under tsars and under Yugoslavian dictator Josip Broz Tito alike.

And lastly, Serbia must solve the Kosovo problem in order to be admitted to the EU.

Therefore, the most it can hope to accomplish is postpone the solution of that problem until its admission to the EU ceases to be a dim promise. The most probable compromise stipulates the recognition of Kosovo's sovereignty on the condition that Serbia retains control of its northern part and enclaves where its historical and cultural monuments are situated, and the allocation of substantial compensation to refugees and forced migrants.

The Kosovo problem, however, is not only important to Serbia and Europe, but could also affect international security.

The Western advocates of independence for Kosovo argue that the province is a unique case. That argument does not hold water because the history of the world is made up of a multitude of "unique" cases, which does not mean they are not interdependent or similar. However, if we admit that the Kosovo problem is indeed unique, that means we must find a unique solution to it, such as the division of the province into parts that will suit both the Kosovo Albanians' striving for self-determination, and the Kosovo Serbians' desire to retain their homeland and its sacred historic and religious sites.

These are the underlying principles of Russia's stance on the issue of Kosovo. By protesting against a decision that is being forced on Serbia, Moscow will strengthen its prestige both in the Balkans and the rest of the world. The United States and the EU have not shown the will to compromise with the other side, and it is counter-productive to give in to a partner who is not willing to meet you halfway.

Russia could use just about any of the solutions to the Kosovo problem, as well as a decision to postpone a settlement, to promote its interests in the former Soviet republics. But would this be constructive?

Washington and Brussels can talk until they are blue in the face about how the solution to the Kosovo problem will not create a precedent. It only means that the United States and the EU, while admitting to such a possibility, will not recognize the legitimacy of similar solutions to similar problems.

However, the power of precedent does not depend on the will of even great powers. If Kosovo gains independence, its example will soon have many followers, from Catalonia and Flanders to Kurdistan, not to mention many African and Asian countries.

Moscow has warned more than once about the dangerous consequences of such a decision. It has been suspected of trying to create a precedent in order to use it to solve conflicts in former-Soviet states. However, it is not Russia but its opponents who are pushing the problem towards a dangerous solution.

Pavel Kandel is head of the department of ethno-political problems at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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