Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Russia, U.S. clash over Kosovo and Missile shield

Published: May 31, 2007
POTSDAM, Germany, May 30 — The United States and Russia, with relations between them at their most contentious since the collapse of the Soviet Union, openly sparred here on Wednesday at a meeting of foreign ministers of the Group of 8 industrialized nations.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, accused the United States of starting a new arms race and implicitly threatened to veto any United Nations Security Council resolution that, like the one proposed by the United States and its European allies, would recognize the independence of Kosovo.

Even as the White House and the Kremlin were announcing plans for a rare kiss-and-make-up meeting between President Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin, their top diplomats were clashing here in the historic castle where Churchill, Truman and Stalin met to decide how to carve up Germany after World War II.

This time, the big issue was the carving up of the former Yugoslavia, where the mostly Albanian-inhabited province of Kosovo wants to secede from Serbia. That, along with the American plan to place antimissile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, has pitted Russia against the West in a war of words with flashbacks to the cold war.

Mr. Lavrov harshly criticized Washington’s plan to build a missile shield over countries that were once part of the Soviet sphere of influence. And he took issue with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for calling Russian concerns about it ludicrous.

“All they’re saying is, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not aimed at you,’ ” Mr. Lavrov said at a news conference after the meeting. “It’s such answers that are ludicrous.”
“We quite agree,” Ms. Rice said with a sly smile, countering that Russian officials themselves have bragged that their strategic defense systems can easily overwhelm any missile defense system that the United States puts up in Europe. Mr. Lavrov was having none of it. “I hope that no one has to prove that Condi is right about that,” he interjected.

Their clashes are indicative of a chill in their countries’ relations. In February, Mr. Putin delivered a blistering speech accusing the United States of undermining international institutions and making the Middle East more unstable through its clumsy handling of the Iraq war.

Russia is also deeply unhappy about the expansion of NATO into the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and about the perception in Russia that the West has supported groups that have toppled other governments in Moscow’s former sphere of influence.
Mr. Bush, Ms. Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates have tried, without success, to reassure the Russians that the missile system is aimed at preventing attack by the likes of Iran or North Korea.

The tensions have heightened to the point that the two countries have decided to hold a one-on-one session between Mr. Putin and Mr. Bush on July 1 in Kennebunkport, Me. But it is hard to see how that will tone down the sparring, given how far apart the two behemoths are on Kosovo.

The United States and its Western European allies favor a draft United Nations resolution endorsing supervised independence for Kosovo, where a NATO bombing campaign in 1999 helped defeat Serbian forces. Russia is adamantly opposed.
At the meeting on Wednesday, Mr. Lavrov repeatedly questioned why the United States was so intent on resolving Kosovo’s status when other areas of the world were in dispute.

“Lavrov said, ‘Why don’t we solve the case of Western Sahara first?’ ” said a European official who was at the session, speaking on condition of anonymity under customary diplomatic rules. “He even brought up Abkhazia,” the obscure Black Sea region that has been trying to secede from Georgia. “And every time Lavrov said something, Condi would jump in,” the official said. “It was like tennis.”
Rice emphasized Kosovo was an issue of international concern and she wanted agreement as soon as possible. "We and several of my European colleagues here believe that the Ahtisaari report provides the right basis for resolving the issue," Rice told the news conference.
[Washington Post]

Mr. Lavrov did not tone down his ire over the Kosovo plan after the meeting, when the foreign ministers held their news conference and most tried to act cordial. He hinted, as Russian officials have before, that Russia would veto any Security Council resolution seeking to recognize Kosovo as an independent country, unless Serbia agreed first, which diplomats said was very unlikely.
“I can’t imagine a situation where the Security Council will approve such a resolution,” Mr. Lavrov said. “Such a situation will not happen.”

A senior Bush administration official acknowledged that the administration, in more than six years, had not figured out how to manage its relationship with Russia. “There are a lot of things we have that are of common interest, and at the same time, we need to push where necessary,” said the official, speaking anonymously under diplomatic rules. “And to be able to do both things at the same time is hard, particularly for American administrations. We either tend to do one or the other, and for this to work we have to do both.” Fair use from NYT,Washington Post.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Secretary General snubs Serbia

After Serbian Government sent a letter to the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon, asking him to restart negotiations over Kosovo, some Serbian sounded sure that this was the end of Kosovo’s independence. Well, the Secretary General has answered back via his spokesperson Michele Montas by saying “The issue of Kosovo is already at the Security Council and The Secretary General fully supports the Ahtisari proposal”. OUCH! THAT HURTS! Kostunica and his government better get used to these kinds of snubs. Sources: RTK, B92.

Ferik F.

Pro Mladic Rally in Serbia

BELGRADE -- Some 200 SRS members gathered in front of the B92 building in New Belgrade.

Serb Radical Party (SRS) lawmakers and activists placed posters with Hague fugitive Ratko Mladić's and Vojislav Sheshel's name in New Belgrade. (FoNet)

They responded to calls from the Serb Radical Party lawmakers to paste “Ratko Mladić Boulevard” posters in a street recently named after slain prime minister Zoran Đinđić. The Radicals have decided to place posters bearing the name of the Hague indictee in protest of the arrests of persons who put up similar posters last week.
After gathering at a street corner, the SRS activists walked to the building housing B92 radio, television and internet offices, pasting several posters on the walls, chanting Mladić’s name and shouting insults at the employees. Party official and member of the Serbian parliament Aleksandar Vučić addressed the gathering. “This is our way of demonstrating they cannot frighten us and that freedom has been and remains the most important thing in Serbia, so let them come and arrest us. We expect them with enthusiasm and see no problem it that,” Vučić said, after pasting a poster himself. “Our protest was carried out because in Serbia today, kids and young people, as well as everyone else, have no right to think differently from the anti-Serbian regime of Boris Tadić and Vojislav Koštunica,” he concluded.
Ratko Mladić has been indicted by the ICTY for war crimes and genocide committed in Bosnia during the 1992-1995 war in that country. The former Bosnian Serb Army(VRS) general and commander was charged with being responsible for the deaths of approximately 8,000 Srebrenica Muslims and has been on the run for the past 14 years.
Sociologist Milan Nikolić told B92 the lasted campaign of support for Mladić did damage to Serbia’s image abroad. “Research shows that the Radical’s target group is comprised of citizens with low income, poor education, as well as refugees and IDPs. However, the interests of the citizens in question will not be served by Serbia’s deteriorating position in the international community,” Nikolić said. “Viewed from abroad, the Radicals are the representatives of Serbia’s political elite,” Nikolić said, adding that the SRS has its members in Serbia’s delegation to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly.
When Serbia became a member in 2003, it undertook the obligation to accept and promote the values of that institution, including the rule of law. G17 Plus: Prosecutor should file chargesMeanwhile, G17 Plus has called on the state prosecutor to file criminal charges against responsible persons from the Serb Radical Party (SRS), who organized today’s Mladić poster campaign. In a statement issued Saturday, G17 Plus said the act was a criminal offense punishable by law and that organizers had to face the consequences. “We expect the police to start proceedings against the responsible persons from the SRS based on charges of disturbance of public order,” the statement said.
Fair use from B92.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Europe must now stand up to Russia over Kosovo

By Philip Stephens
Published: May 24 2007 19:48 Last updated: May 24 2007 19:48
When I hear foreign policy realists extol the virtues of inaction I think of the Balkans. As Yugoslavia began to unravel during the early 1990s, an over-excited European foreign minister said that posterity would recall that this had been “the hour of Europe”. In the event, Europe sat on its hands as the region fell to carnage. History records only an eternal shame.

It took the intervention of the US – yes, those interfering, imperialist Americans again – to put an end to a slaughter that mocked Europe’s self-perception even as it trampled upon its values. Let no one forget, peace was restored to that south-eastern corner of the continent because Washington agreed, albeit with some reluctance, to deploy its military power to that aim.

Now Europe is to be tested again. The time has come to close one of the remaining Balkan chapters by putting Kosovo on the road to independence. For the enterprise to succeed, Europe must show in 2007 the unity and boldness so conspicuous by its absence during the 1990s.
The (American-led) military intervention in 1999 to expel the marauding army of Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic left Kosovo as a United Nations’ protectorate. Eight years later the time has come to end the constitutional limbo. The road-map has been drawn by Martti Ahtisaari, the UN special envoy.
After many rounds of fruitless negotiation with Belgrade, Mr Ahtisaari concluded this year that a negotiated solution to Kosovo’s status was impossible. Serbians will not yet accept that Kosovo was lost to them forever by Milosevic’s crimes.

So the UN envoy put forward a plan for gradual independence – supervised at the outset by the European Union and safeguarded by existing Nato forces. Independence, incidentally, is the non-negotiable demand of the overwhelmingly ethnically Albanian population.

Few would say Mr Ahtisaari has produced the neatest of constitutional blueprints. In his anxiety to protect properly the rights and interests of the minority Serb population, he has alighted on a system of political and administrative checks and balances almost numbing in their complexity.
Nor do those who work for the international agencies that now run Kosovo claim that this is a place obviously ready for democratic self-government. For all the billions poured in as reconstruction aid, the economy is moribund. Unemployment runs at somewhere above 40 per cent. Corruption and organised crime are rife. Kosovo has neither a properly functioning judiciary nor police force.

There are awkwardnesses too that extend beyond Kosovo and indeed well beyond the Balkans. Unlike, say, Bosnia, Croatia or Macedonia, Kosovo was never an independent republic within the old Yugoslav federation. Instead it was a province of Serbia. The fear among some elsewhere is that independence might thus set a dangerous precedent. Spain worries about Catalonia, Slovakia about its ethnic Hungarian minority, Greece about Cyprus.

In other circumstances any one of these imperfections might have been enough to make the case for delaying Mr Ahtisaari’s plan. The problem, as Margaret Thatcher used to say, is that there is no alternative. Kosovars will accept nothing less than independence. Delay makes things worse. The process of state-building cannot begin properly until Kosovo is assured of statehood. Serbia will be reconciled to its loss only when it is seen to be irreversible. As for precedents, the UN will simply have to make it clear that Kosovo is indeed the exception to the rule. What is required now is a new resolution to end Kosovo’s protectorate status and begin the process that will take it to statehood.

In spite of the individual misgivings in some capitals, the Ahtisaari plan has thus far secured the support of all 27 EU governments. Energetic diplomacy by the US has secured the backing of a large majority in the UN security council. That leaves Russia as the only serious obstacle.
How serious, we do not know. Vladimir Putin’s regime has thus far said that a new UN resolution to implement the proposals would be unacceptable. Russian diplomats have talked of the dangers of setting a precedent for Chechnya, Russian politicians of solidarity with fellow Slavs in Serbia.

Kosovo has become entangled with Mr Putin’s broader – and crassly misguided – effort to rebuild Russian prestige by threatening its near neighbours, deploying energy as a crude instrument of power and being generally obstructive. In the Kremlin’s new mythology of victimhood, the Nato intervention against Mr Milosevic was one among a shoal of deliberate efforts by the west to humiliate Russia and its allies.

Whatever Moscow’s motives, though, it will carry out the threat to veto a new resolution only if it calculates that, in so doing, Russia can divide Europe from the US and Europeans among themselves. A veto exercised against a united international community would serve only to humiliate Moscow.

The answer then is for European governments to bury any misgivings and, to borrow the cliché, stand shoulder to shoulder with the US. Germans need to talk less about the risks of confrontation with Russia, more about bringing to a permanent end the cycle of violence that began with Berlin’s recognition of Croatia. Spaniards, Greeks and the rest should forget about precedents. The stakes are too high to be held hostage to hypotheses.

Rather, European governments, individually and collectively, should tell Moscow that, regardless of any Russian posturing at the UN, they intend to carry on with the process of moving Kosovo towards statehood. There will be no room for temporising.
Europe’s vital security interests are at stake in Kosovo. The soldiers, civilian administrators and aid workers threatened by a return to disorder and violence are overwhelmingly European. Russia has nothing at stake but misplaced pride.

Europe’s responsibilities, of course, will begin rather than end with recognition of Kosovo’s independence. Bringing to Kosovo, and to the rest of the western Balkans, the peace and prosperity the rest of Europe takes for granted demands a clear glide path for EU accession. Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Albania, Montenegro, as well as Kosovo and, yes, Serbia, should all expect to be full EU members by the middle of the next decade.
What all this requires of European political leaders is just a small amount of the political courage so lamentably absent during the early 1990s. So what is it to be? Europe’s hour or, once again, Europe’s shame?
Fair use.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Alleged plot suspect says he loves U.S.

The Philadelphia Inquirer (Troy Graham and George Anastasia)
& Courier Post Online(Lisa Grzyboski )

Agron Abdullahu never would have participated in a plot to kill American soldiers, his lawyer said, because of his gratitude to the United States for saving his family from the war in Kosovo, its homeland.

Abdullahu, 24, was charged last week with aiding and abetting three fellow ethnic Albanians [who were born in Macedonia, but grew up in the U.S] in acquiring firearms in an alleged plan to attack soldiers at Fort Dix.

Authorities said that while Abdullahu joined the others on trips to practice shooting weapons, he said he did not want to kill people.

[Trigger happy prosecutor?]

At Thursday's hearing, Abdullahu's defense lawyer, public defender Lisa Evans Lewis, said that what the government characterized as weapons training was really a vacation. She said Abdullahu did not know the men were planning an attack.

"Given the great feeling of indebtedness he has toward the United States, he insists that he would never do anything to harm the people of his new homeland," Lewis wrote of Abdullahu, a legal permanent resident living in the Collings Lakes section of Buena Vista Township.

She said Abdullahu, who has a legal gun permit, is never listed in the federal government's complaint as a 100-percent participant in the alleged murder conspiracy. There are also no allegations in the complaint indicating Abdullahu knew the Duka brothers were illegal immigrants when he helped them obtain guns such as a 9 millimeter Beretta handgun and an SKS semi-automatic rifle and instructed them on their use.

Family members described Abdullahu as someone who worked six or seven days a week, often for 10 to 12 hours, paid the bills for the family, and even bought his 21-year-old sister a car.

[Phony accusations and phony indictment?]

[One of the allegation by the prosecutors was that Abdullahu was an "islamist" but]...
His father, Sejdulla Abdullahu, said no one in the family speaks Arabic. He said the family was not religious and that the only religious ceremonies they took part in were at funerals.

As a 16-year-old, Abdullahu came to Fort Dix with his family as refugees from Kosovo to avoid massacres by Serbians. [So much about the Serb propaganda that attempted to link him to the KLA] After settling nearby, he became a baker at the ShopRite in Williamstown, where he worked until his arrest. His lawyer has acknowledged Abdullahu is a gun enthusiast, but has also said he enjoys renovating cars.

Raymond Million, a former boss and friend who was willing to post the equity of his home as part of a bail package, also spoke on Abdullahu's behalf Thursday.
"You don't find a man that has the character that he has," Million said.

Fair use.

Jihadist or Good Citizen?
Alleged plot suspect says he loves U.S.

Full text of US and EU draft UN resolution on Kosovo

The Security Council,
Bearing in mind the purposes and principles of the Charter of the Unitted Nations, and the primary responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security,
Recalling its resolutions 1160 (1998) of 31 March 1998, 1199(1998) of 23 September 1998, 1203 (1998) of 24 October 1998, 1239 (1999) of 14 May 1999, and 1244 (1999) of 10 June 1999,

Recognizing the specific circumstances that make Kosovo a special case, including the historical context of Yugoslavia's violent and nonconsensual break-up, as well as the massive violence and repression that took place in Kosovo in the period up to and including 1999, the extended period of international administration under resolution 1244, and the UN-led process to determine status,

Reaffirming its commitment to a multf ethnic and democratic Kosovo, which will reinforce regional stability,

Recognizing the progress that has been achieved in the implementation of the standards for Kosovo and calling for their continued implementation in accordance with the European Partnership and the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement (S/2007/168/Add.l),

Reaffirming the urgent necessity for more progress on the return of internally displaced persons and refugees;

Underscoring its determination not to tolerate violence, provocation or intimidation,

Recalling the jurisdiction and mandate of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia,

Determining that the unresolved situation in Kosovo continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security,

Acting under chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations,

1. Expresses its appreciation to the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for his Report on Kosovo's Future Status (S/2007/168) and endorses the provisions contained in the accompanying Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement (5/2007/168/Add. 1) ("Settlement");

2. Requests the International Steering Group referred to in Annex IX of the Settlement, which is attached as Annex 1 to this resolution, to appoint the international civilian representative (ICR) in accordance with the Settlement, and decides that the ICR shall have the authorities described in that Annex;

3. Authorizes the European Union to establish a Rule of Law Mission to support implementation of the Settlement and promote the development of the police and justice sector in Kosovo, and decides that the Mission shall have the authorities described in Annex X of the Settlement, which is attached as Annex 2 to this resolution;

4. Decides that the international security presence established under resolution 1244 shall continue to be authorized to carry out its responsibilities following the adoption of this resolution; that, effective as of the end of the 120-day transition period following the date of adoption of this resolution, its authorities shall be those of the international military presence (IMP) described in Annex XI of the Settlement, which is attached as Annex 3 to this resolution; and that it shall be authorized to use all necessary means to carry out its responsibilities;

5. Decides that the existing international civil presence shall continue to exercise its mandate in accordance with resolution 1244 during the 120-day transition period following the date of adoption of this resolution, that it shall during this transition period implement the responsibilities assigned to it in accordance with the Settlement, and that during this period it shall consult with the ICR on all matters relating to the implementation of the Settlement;

6. Decides that, except as provided in paragraphs 4 and 5, the provisions of this resolution shall replace the provisions of the resolutions mentioned above;

7. Requests the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to continue to maintain a Mission in Kosovo, including a comprehensive field presence, to support the democratic development of Kosovo and the work of the ICR in accordance with the Settlement;

8. Welcomes the declaration adopted by the Kosovo Assembly on April 5, 2007, which accepted fully the obligations set forth in the Settlement and declared that its provisions shall be binding, and underscores the importance of Kosovo complying in full with those obligations, taking note in this regard of the particular importance of the provisions contained in the Settlement on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and on the Rights of Communities and their Members;

9. Recalls the EU-Western Balkans Summit Declaration adopted in Thessaloniki in June 2003, and welcomes the reaffirmation by the European Union of its commitment to providing the countries of the region a concrete, tangible European perspective;

10. Requests the ICR to report to the Council every twelve months, beginning with the first report three months following the date of adoption of this resolution;

11. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.

Russia and the West:The big chill


The Economist print edition
America and Europe confront a new freeze in their relationship with Russia
Cartoon:Peter Schrank

AMERICA'S security is “threatened less by Russia's strength than by its weakness and incoherence,” wrote Condoleezza Rice, now America's secretary of state, in 2000, shortly before Vladimir Putin and George Bush were elevated to their countries' presidencies. The Russia that Ms Rice visited this week sees itself differently. It feels economically strong, assertive and more coherent—at least in its anti-Americanism.

Russia has learned to use its vast natural resources to exert power in Europe and beyond. This week, just ahead of a testy bilateral summit with the European Union in Samara, its clout was enhanced by Mr Putin's crude but effective diplomacy in Central Asia. He persuaded Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to send more gas exports through Russia, spoiling the rival plans of America and Europe for a trans-Caspian pipeline that would skirt south of Russia. Ms Rice's comment that “no one needs a monopoly” in natural resources will merely bring smiles to the faces of Kremlin officials.

Just before Ms Rice's visit, the Kremlin's rumbustious anti-American rhetoric hit new peaks. In his speech on Victory Day (May 9th), Mr Putin seemed to liken America to the Third Reich. “The victory once again will be ours,” Russia's state television channel echoed. This week Ms Rice and Mr Putin agreed to tone down such verbal hostilities. But they made no progress on wider disputes.

One difference between the two sides is how much they matter to each other. To Russians, America is a yardstick of their own place in the world. To Americans, Russia is just one factor in its foreign policy—and not the biggest one. Few things give Russians as much sense of their own importance as a spat with America. “They like to counter America. It makes them feel good,” says one senior American official.

Russia's self-esteem has long been inseparable from its relationship with America. To have America as an enemy in the cold war gave the Soviet Union a sense of urgency and purpose. The end of the cold war deprived Russia of a vital adversary. It is only logical that Russia should now demonstrate its resurgence by sparring with America again. America's troubles in Iraq make this an apt moment for Russia to return to the world stage.

“America is a crucial part of Russian domestic life and its self-consciousness,” says Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Moscow Centre. “America consolidates Russia's elite and prolongs its existence.” But America has a big place in popular imagination too. Lev Gudkov, a sociologist, says the view of America as rival is inseparable from the perception that it is a country of wealth and happiness: a Utopia. (“Tell them I've gone to America,” says a character in Dostoevsky's “Crime and Punishment”, before putting a gun to his head.)

America has no equivalent neurosis. Russia matters, but much less than in the cold war. “Then, the American-Soviet relationship defined everything else. Now, everything else defines the relationship with Russia,” says a Russia analyst in Washington, DC. As a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, Russia can block resolutions on Kosovo's independence or Iranian sanctions. But as Richard Haass, head of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), says, “Russia has failed to articulate a positive strategy. Oil allows it to be a spoiler, but it is unclear what it stands to gain from it.” A CFR report concludes that a strategic partnership between Russia and America “no longer seems realistic”.

This is a big shift from Bill Clinton's hopes of integrating Russia into the West in the same way as America did for Germany and Japan after the war. “Clinton believed that America cannot be secure without a democratic Russia,” says Ms Shevtsova. Yet America's help in transforming Russia into a free-market economy in the 1990s is at the root of much Russian anti-Americanism, as America was blamed for the transition's failings. “The Clinton administration's embrace of Yeltsin and those who were thought to be reformers around him has failed,” Ms Rice argued in 2000. Mr Putin too sees the 1990s as a wasted decade and has spent the seven years since reversing much of the Yeltsin legacy, including on privatisations and freedom of speech.

The failures in the 1990s were not the only thing on which Mr Bush and Mr Putin agreed. The high point in their relationship came after September 11th 2001. Mr Putin was the first leader to call Mr Bush and offer support: “a master-stroke of diplomacy”, says Mark Medish, vice-president of the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. Russia helped America to gain access to Central Asian states and provided helpful intelligence in the early months of the war in Afghanistan. “The Russians were among the few who had operational information on the ground,” Mr Medish says.

That co-operation led to two misjudgments. The White House felt that Russia's support meant there was a “strategic partnership” based on similar values; the Kremlin believed America would reward it. Inevitably, both sides now feel disappointed. Mr Putin thinks he got nothing out of his westward swing. Some of his grievances are legitimate, say former and present members of the American government. “We used Russian intelligence in Afghanistan, but did not want to let them too close to what we were doing,” says a former top official. Russia is still subject to the Jackson-Vanik amendment that penalises countries with non-market economies and restrictions on emigration. “It clearly does not apply to Russia. But Bush did not put any of his political capital into getting it lifted,” the ex-official adds.

But the main reason for the rift is Russia's behaviour abroad and at home: its arms sales to Iran and Syria, its links with Myanmar, its political use of energy, its harassment of the opposition and non-governmental organisations and its use of law as a repressive tool. The toning down of language that Ms Rice and Mr Putin want only masks these deeper problems.

The danger is not that Russia will prevent the independence of Kosovo or the placement of American missile defences in eastern Europe (both will go ahead, whether Russia likes it or not, Ms Rice said in Moscow). Nor is it that Russia will pull out of arms-reduction treaties. The bigger fall-out will be in Russia itself. Hatred of America gives cover for growing authoritarianism, nationalism and concentration of money and power in the hands of former and present members of the security services. If this continues, Ms Rice's successor may need to review what constitutes the real threat to America's security. Fiar use.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A new battle of Kosovo


The outlook is darkening in Kosovo—and in Serbia


IN THE cafés of Pristina, Kosovo's capital, most of the talk is of parties. Who is planning the best one to celebrate the country's independence, which Kosovo's leaders have promised will come within weeks? Such questions make their advisers in the province blanch. If, as seems likely, the resolution of Kosovo's future is delayed again, the anger of ordinary Kosovars could be felt quite soon.

On maps, Kosovo is Serbia's most southerly province. But some 90% of its population are ethnic Albanians who have long demanded full separation from Serbia. Since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999, the place has been under the jurisdiction of the United Nations. This week members of the UN Security Council circulated rival drafts of a resolution on Kosovo's future. Many countries, including the Americans and (though some had to be cajoled) all members of the European Union, favour a plan for Kosovo drawn up by the UN's special envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, that envisages a conditionally independent state. But Russian diplomats are firmly against this; they are circulating a counter-draft. They have not quite promised to veto any resolution that endorses the Ahtisaari plan, but they have come close to it. At least one American diplomat has retorted that, if Russia blocks a resolution endorsing the Ahtisaari plan, Kosovo should declare independence anyway—and America, for one, will recognise it.

Surroi, accuses the Russians and Americans of “playing chicken” with Kosovo's future, which is just one of many points of dispute between Russia and the West. Lots of “rough scenarios” are on the agenda, he says. If the Ahtisaari plan were to be fully endorsed, the UN mission in Kosovo could be replaced by an EU one, with an international pro-consul similar to Bosnia's. If not, the outcome may be a lot murkier.

Until now, in the hope that Russia would cave in, Western diplomats have insisted that there is no Plan B. Now they are falling back on a Plan C, for contingency. One idea, if Russia refuses to budge, is being called “Ahtisaari minus status”. It would accept much of the plan, including the replacement of the UN by the EU. But determining the formal status of the territory would be put off until a review in, say, a year's time. American diplomats furiously reject this suggestion, arguing that Kosovo's status must be settled now. Yet without the endorsement of the Ahtisaari plan, all other options are unpalatable.

What if the UN fails to approve Kosovo's independence? It was assumed that Kosovo's assembly, which the province's Serb members boycott, would declare unilateral independence, leaving America and others to recognise the new state. But Kosovo's leaders now say they will do nothing without the Americans' say-so. If the assembly declared independence without a new UN resolution, the UN representative in Kosovo would be legally bound to annul the decision, making recognition by any other country tricky. The UN mission in Pristina has asked the lawyers in New York for guidance on what to do—and it is still waiting for the answer.

There may yet be a new breathing-space. Failing a resolution in the next few weeks, some smart money is betting that the whole issue could be deferred until the autumn. Serbs in ethnically compact northern Kosovo are certainly optimistic. Marko Jaksic, a leading Serb in north Mitrovica, is confident that there will be no new UN resolution, thanks to Serbia's resurgent friend, Russia. Even if there is one, he says that northern Kosovo would ignore any declaration of independence.

In Serbia's capital, Belgrade, meanwhile, months of wrangling over the formation of a new government are coming to a head. This week Tomislav Nikolic, leader of the extreme nationalist Radical Party, was chosen as speaker of parliament. He said it was a pity that Serbia was not a Russian province. If no new government is formed by May 14th, a new election must be held—with the Radicals likely to benefit. Sadly, rising hostility in many EU members to expansion of the club has reduced Brussels's leverage against a nationalist revival in the Balkans.

Fair use.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Serbia sinks deeper into the abyss

The Serbian parliament the other day elected the deputy leader of the extra-extra Radical Party of Serbia as the speaker of parliament. The Radical Party is lead by, Vojislav Seselj, whose trial is ongoing in The Hague for alleged crimes he perpetrated in Kosovo. The return of the Radical to power in Serbia is the same as if Bath Party of Saddam Hussein were to return to power in Baghdad. The Radicals lead Serbia through out the 1990’s in the coalition with Slobodan Milosevic, and we all know the outcome of their actions. But what’s in store for Serbia now? Well if we go by the program of this party and statements of its leaders we should expect the following:

Worsening of relationships with the neighboring countries. One of the programs of the radical Party is to unite all the Serbs who live in the neighboring countries into one country, namely Serbia. That means half of Montenegro is gone, half of Bosnia, a chunk of Croatia, and of course the whole of Kosovo. I get a feeling that these countries don’t like this plan.

Bye Bye EU,NATO and most definitely the US. The acting head of the Radical Party has recently stated that Serbia should forge closer relation with Russia and China. He hates the U.S (yes HATES), the idea of all Europeans living peacefully in one union is anathema to him, and the sole mentioned of NATO drive him nuts.

What about Kosovo? He stated recently that he would be willing to send in the Serb Army if Kosovo is given independence.

So the bad news for the citizens of Serbia seems to never end. Their country is sinking deeper into the abyss. If Kosovo needed another reason to justify its independence, now they have it.

Here is a snapshot of what the Serbian Media is saying about his election. From BBC Monitoring:

“Popular tabloid Blic sees Mr Nikolic's appointment as a retrograde step. Its main headline reads: "The only one missing is Sloba", referring to the former Yugoslav president and war crimes suspect Slobodan Milosevic.”

This one from B92:

"This looks horribly like when the Nazis came into power in Germany in 1933," he says. "We all know what will follow: re-equipping the army and preparations for a new war, during which Kostunica and Nikolic will again flourish weapons and point the finger at 'Serbian lands', while young people will either be killed or become physical and mental invalids."

“Some of the English-language comments on the site are by Albanians and say this is why Kosovo can never be part of Serbia again.”

Ferik F.

Hardliner elected Serbia speaker

Tomislav Nikolic
Mr Nikolic becomes the second most powerful leader in Serbia
A leader of Serbia's hardline Radical party has been elected to the powerful post of parliamentary speaker.

Tomislav Nikolic was elected with support from outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's conservatives.

The conservatives and a pro-Western party had earlier failed to agree on a coalition that excluded the Radicals, which won most seats in recent polls.

The Radicals reject closer ties with the EU and Nato and co-operation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Correspondents say Mr Nikolic's election could mark a return to the isolationist nationalism of former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic, who spearheaded the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Under the Serb constitution, the speaker is the second most powerful official after the president.

'You are history'

Mr Nikolic won 142 votes from the 244 lawmakers present during a marathon 15-hour debate to nominate a speaker.

A rival candidate from the pro-Western Democratic Party of President Boris Tadic won 99 votes.

Talks between Mr Tadic and Mr Kostunica's parties over forming a coalition government broke down over the weekend.

Both sides blamed each other for failing to reach an agreement that would keep the Radicals out of power.

During coalition talks, Mr Kostunica was keen to remain the leader of any new government.

His party came third in an election in January which saw the Radicals emerge as the single strongest party, with Mr Tadic's party in second place.

"The future belongs to us, and you are history," Radical Party lawmaker Aleksander Vucic said in parliament, apparently addressing the Democratic Party.

A pro-Western lawmaker said in turn that Serbia had taken a step back "to the dark days of Milosevic's reign".

Serbian leaders must reach agreement on a new government by 14 May to avoid another election. Fair use from BBC.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Kosovo is only a few weeks apart from independence

Pristina. In an interview with the Croatian state television, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Agim Ceku expressed his confidence that Kosovo would gain independence “only in a few weeks”, AFP reported.

“I sincerely hope that Kosovo will quickly gain independence and I believe that we are only a few weeks apart from it”, Ceku stated. He ruled out the possibility of Kosovo’s future unification with neighboring Albania and stressed that there was only one project for unification, that is, unification with the EU.“Kosovo is looking towards Brussels, not Tirana”, Ceku stressed.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister will take part in a meeting of the Southeast European Heads of State and Government in Zagreb. The Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica will also take part in the meeting.

Fair use from FOCUS News Agency.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Another possible mass grave with Kosovo Albanian found in Serbia

Prosecution looks into possible mass grave site

BELGRADE -- The war crimes prosecution plans to investigate a possible mass grave near Kosovo.

The office of the Serbian war crimes prosecutor said authorities would begin digging at the site near the town of Raška on June 5.

Earlier, RFE reported that the grave was located at an abandoned quarry in the village of Rudnica on the administrative boundary line between Kosovo and Serbia.

"We have indications that there is a mass grave in the Raška area," Reuters quoted Bruno Vekarić, spokesman for the prosecutor. "We suspect they are Albanian victims."

Officials from Kosovo will attend the investigation in June, the head of Kosovo's missing persons commission, Arif Mucolli, told Reuters.

"Some witnesses saw a vehicle unload something at that spot," said an unnamed official in the Serbian war crimes court, quoted in Belgrade weekly Vreme.

"We will know very soon whether it was earth from a road being built nearby or bodies."
Fair use from
B92, Reuters.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Macedonia could unilaterally recognize Kosovo

3 May 2007 | 12:18 | Source: BIRN
SKOPJE -- Macedonia might follow U.S. and EU suit and unilaterally recognize Kosovo’s independence.

BIRN reports that Macedonian foreign minister Antonio Milososki's statement that his country might opt for the move in the event of the issue not being resolved in the UN Security Council, has surprised few in Skopje.

Milososki was quoted as saying that if efforts to resolve the issue in the UN Security Council fail and influential members of NATO and EU start recognizing Kosovo, Macedonia should seriously consider such a move.

Security expert Biljana Vankovska told Balkan Insight that the minister`s statement came as no surprise as "Plan B was always that if the Ahtisaari plan is not accepted in the UN, the U.S. will recognize Kosovo and secure support for such a move from countries in the region".

"Thus, we can expect that Macedonia will abide by the U.S. position as it is waiting for an invitation to become a NATO member and both the current and the former government have pledged they will follow the US lead on Kosovo," said Vankovska.

The U.S. is seen as a major ally, especially after the U.S. recognition of Macedonia’s constitutional name, which Greece has long disputed, and the U.S. support for Macedonia’s bid to join NATO.

Although Skopje`s official position has been that the country will support a solution acceptable to both sides that would not endanger Macedonia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, Macedonian officials have not dismissed the possibility that Skopje would be among the first countries to recognize Kosovo, in case no solution is found in the UN.

Former state secretary for foreign affairs Emil Kirjas says that the matter should be resolved as soon as possible as "any delay to resolve the Kosovo issue will have negative impact not only on Kosovo but for the entire region".

Kirjas also said that "if our main allies in NATO and EU decide to unilaterally recognize Kosovo, then Macedonia should seriously consider that option".

While Kirjas does not expect such a move will have severe consequences for Macedonian-Serbian relations, Vankovska says support for Kosovo will open the door for additional problems with Serbia mainly in regard to Macedonia’s identity. Fair use from BIRN/B92.

Bush to make historic visit to Albania

3 May 2007 | 10:17 | Source:
TIRANA -- The White House confirmed last week that President George W. Bush will visit Albania on June 10th.

He also plans to visit the Czech Republic, Poland, Italy and Bulgaria, after attending the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Germany from June 6th to the 8th.

Bush plans to meet with Albanian President Alfred Moisiu and Prime Minister Sali Berisha.

According to Moisiu, the visit carries great symbolism. A superpower, he said, is building reciprocal respect and collaboration with a small country such as Albania.

"This shows proof of the great values of American democracy, which remains an inspiration," the president said April 26th during a meeting in Tirana with the former Supreme Commander of the NATO Allied Forces in Europe, General Wesley Clark.

Berisha said he considers Bush's visit as a high point in the excellent relationship between Albania and the United States.

"Since Albania's independence, in the most critical moments of national liberty for Albanians, the United States has played the role of helping to save rights and freedom," he said.

He also referred to the situation in neighboring Kosovo. "The dreams of Kosovo's Albanians for their free, democratic and independent state find understanding in the administration of President George W. Bush."

The United States has also supported Albania's NATO ambitions. Last month, Bush signed into law a bill reaffirming his country's support for the NATO accession of five countries - Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Macedonia and Ukraine.

The NATO Freedom Consolidation Act of 2007 also opens the door for the extension of new US military assistance to the countries next year.

U.S. officials and diplomats have encouraged Albania's acceptance into NATO in 2008.

Albania, meanwhile, has contributed troops to the U.S.-led missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since February, the country has had 120 non-combat troops, stationed at the Mosul Airport.

In December 2006, Albanian Defence Minister Fatmir Mediu said Albanian troops would stay in Iraq as long as U.S. forces remain there.

Bush will be the first US president to visit Albania.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton scheduled a visit to Tirana, but it was cancelled. Two US secretaries of state have visited Albania - James Baker in 1991 and Colin Powell in 2003. Fair use from SE Times /B92.