Published: January 27 2007 | Financial Times.
Eight years after a war that pitted Nato against Slobodan Milosevic's regime in Belgrade, the endgame for Kosovo has begun. The strategy of the west is now clear: a United Nations resolution to put Kosovo under the tutelage of the European Union and recognition of its independence soon after.
Belgrade is dead set against Kosovo independence, and Moscow, which would veto any attempt to declare Kosovo independent at the UN, is none too happy about the prospect either.
The Serbian government said yesterday that Vojislav Kostunica, the prime minister, would not meet Martti Ahtisaari, the chief UN mediator for Kosovo, when he visits Belgrade next week to present his recommendations. Russia has called for a three-month delay.
The argument voiced by Serbia and the Kremlin is that Mr Kostunica would have no mandate to meet Mr Ahtisaari until a new government is formed. But the US and a number of its allies are keen to press on and resolve the long-running dispute over Kosovo's status.
Furthermore, Boris Tadic, Serbia's pro-western president, is on hand to meet Mr Ahtisaari. US diplomats say they cannot afford to let Serbia delay the process when the ethnic Albanians, who form 90 per cent of Kosovo's population, have waited for independence so long.
But they also acknowledge that administrative shortcomings and a failure so far to protect the rights of the Serb minority mean that even an independent Kosovo cannot be trusted to run its affairs alone. Instead, the UN resolution would put Kosovo under the supervision of the EU, in a similar set-up to nearby Bosnia-Herzegovina
At present, the provisional UN administration in Kosovo is reducing its staff but it cannot be replaced by EU administrators and police until the UN resolution is agreed. Many western officials feel a strong security presence is needed because of the risk of unrest and protests provoked by any deal on the province's fate. Foreign ministers from the EU and Nato, which stations more than 16,000 soldiers in Kosovo, discussed the issue in Brussels. They lent their support to Mr Ahtisaari's approach, which would pave the way for Kosovo's independence without explicit UN backing for its new status.
In Vienna, Mr Ahtisaari presented his proposals to the contact group of leading powers on Kosovo - made up of the UK, France, the US, Germany, Italy and Russia. On February 2, he plans to travel to the Kosovan capital of Pristina as well as Belgrade, beginning the process of negotiation over final details that he hopes will be followed by a UN Security Council resolution in March.
European countries, led by France, Italy, Spain and central and southern European nations, are sympathetic to Russia's call for a delay. But their concern is based on the timeline rather than the proposals. They worry that if a decision is perceived to be imposed while Serbia is in a political vacuum, Belgrade might attempt to hold on to parts of the province populated by ethnic Serbs.
Mr Ahtisaari's plans would open the way for Kosovo to be recognised as an independent state by other countries. "Ahtisaari will talk of a Kosovo government, emblems and a constitution, so it points in one direction," said a western diplomat. His proposed settlement is also likely to open the way for Kosovo to join international financial institutions and the UN. Veton Surroi, a Kosovo negotiator, said the Kosovan parliament's first act after a UN resolution would be to pass a constitution. Fair use.