The West seeks a way around Russia's veto in the Balkans
WHEN the Americans and their friends in the European Union last week withdrew a proposed resolution on the future of Kosovo from the UN Security Council, it was clear that Russia and Serbia had won a hard-fought diplomatic battle. But Vojislav Kostunica, Serbia's prime minister, said that many more fierce engagements lay ahead. This is all the more true because Kosovo has increasingly become part of an argument between the West and Russia which has little to do with its rival Serbs and Albanians.
Still technically part of Serbia, Kosovo and its 2m people have been under the jurisdiction of the UN since the end of a war there in 1999. Some 90% of the population consists of ethnic Albanians who demand nothing less than independence. Serbia's leaders say that Kosovo, a land studded with medieval Serbian churches, can have anything it wants except full independence—the only thing Kosovo's Albanian leaders say they will not compromise on.
In the past four months Western countries have circulated several draft Security Council resolutions on Kosovo's future. All aimed to give it independence, making it the seventh and last state to emerge from the wreckage of what was Yugoslavia. Russia, with its power of veto, objected every time. It said it would support such a package only if it were agreed between Serbia and Kosovo's Albanians. Last year 14 rounds of talks between them, overseen by Martti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, failed to achieve any result.
Now, say the diplomats, it is time for the parties to talk again, this time under the aegis of the Contact Group, the informal body that has co-ordinated policy towards the former Yugoslavia since the early 1990s. Its members are Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States. Officially, this is what Russia and Serbia want. In fact, Serbia has no idea what its strategy should be. Kosovo's Albanians have no intention of making any more compromises than they already have for Mr Ahtisaari's plan for an internationally “supervised independence”, which has now hit the buffers at the UN.
Russia may have less interest in Kosovo itself than in the chance to stir up differences between its EU neighbours. But some EU diplomats say they have no intention of being thwarted by Russia. Along with the Americans, they aim to use the coming months to build up a critical mass of European countries ready to recognise a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo when the talks inevitably fail. But, in exchange for this, the EU wants Kosovo's government to invite a strong EU mission to replace the withering UN one in the disputed territory.