Mar 22nd 2007-The Economist
Kosovo is heading for independence whatever the Russians say or do
HOW and when will Kosovo become Europe's newest state? These are questions that European and American diplomats are grappling with at the United Nations. What they are not doing is wasting time debating whether Kosovo should be independent—for it is too late to stop it.
Kosovo is home to some 2m people, at least 90% of whom are ethnic Albanians who have long demanded independence from Serbia. Since 1999 it has been under UN jurisdiction, although it is a province of Serbia. Some 14 months of UN-sponsored talks chaired by Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, have not produced a deal. So Mr Ahtisaari has unilaterally presented his plan for Kosovo's future to the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon. He proposes independence for Kosovo, but with conditions, including an EU-led mission to succeed the UN one and an international overseer, whose job would be modelled on Bosnia's.
Kosovo's Albanians grudgingly accept this but its Serbs, as well as Belgrade, do not. Because jurisdiction now lies with the UN, a new UN Security Council resolution is needed to transfer powers to the EU-led mission and international overseer. But an angry (and veto-wielding) Russia insists it will not assent to the Ahtisaari plan if Belgrade does not. Indeed, Russian spokesmen say that if Mr Ahtisaari cannot find common ground between Serbia and the Kosovo Albanians, somebody else should do the job. Yet this is just a delaying tactic. The Russians know that the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians will never agree.
Mr Ahtisaari's plan is being translated into the UN's official languages, but will shortly be presented formally to the Security Council. In the meantime he is telling EU countries that this is a big test. If it is flunked, not only will Kosovo relapse into violence but also the EU will be seen as having suffered another huge foreign-policy failure. These arguments have had some success. Two sceptical countries, Spain and Slovakia, now say that EU unity counts for more than their doubts.
After years of lost interest in the Balkans, the Americans are also rolling out their heavy guns. In a recent article in the Washington Post, Richard Holbrooke, the American diplomat who struck the Dayton deal to end the Bosnian war, declared that “European security and stability, and Russia's relationship with the West, are on the line.” Mr Holbrooke is a private citizen but still has close ties to the State Department. Few in the Balkans believe that he is simply expressing his own views.
So it is significant that Mr Holbrooke adds what many suspect: if Russia blocks a new resolution, Kosovo will declare independence anyway—and the Americans will “probably” recognise it. Many Muslim countries will follow, though Mr Holbrooke thinks most EU countries may not. Without a new UN resolution, diplomats say the choice is not independence or not; it is between “controlled” and “uncontrolled” independence. Fair use