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reflections

Jun 11, 2007 | 03:51 GMT

5 mins read

Geopolitical Diary: Kosovo Divides the International Community

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
During a historic trip to Albania on Sunday, U.S. President George W. Bush — the first American president to visit the Balkan country — called for a final ruling on Kosovo's independence. The stop was one of many on Bush's tour of Europe following a tumultuous few days at the G-8 summit in Germany, at which Kosovo was a major topic of discussion. The G-8 talks on Kosovo dealt more with the fact that this will be the first real test of relations between the global powers in decades than with negotiating an agreement that will benefit the secessionist region. As Russia, France and Germany assume new roles in the international community, the Kosovo issue has gotten caught between the competing interests of these powers and those of the United States. Meanwhile, the Serbs and Kosovars are growing impatient with the delays. The Serbian secessionist region comprises 90 percent ethnic Albanians and less than 5 percent Serbs, though Serbia still maintains a tight hold on the province since it is the birthplace of the country's national identity. The United Nations and NATO began overseeing Kosovo in 1999 after a series of wars in the Balkans. At the time, none of the major powers knew what to do with Kosovo. Having just tackled the problems with their own separatist regions, the Europeans did not want to deal with another breakaway state; the United States under then-President Bill Clinton was growing increasingly preoccupied with its own domestic issues; and the Russians were furious with NATO for carrying out the Kosovo war without the permission of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC). Hence, the powers decided to stall for more time in order to see whether tensions in Kosovo would die down on their own. That was eight years ago. The relationship between the Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo now has reached a breaking point; the Albanians want nothing less than independence and the Serbs want anything but autonomy. Negotiations between the Serbs and Albanians have failed and the UNSC has been mulling over the issue for months, promising a resolution by mid-2007. But Kosovo's leaders are tired of waiting and are ready to declare independence, with or without U.N. support. The G-8 summit was supposed to be a forum for world leaders to openly discuss the issue before the UNSC vote, scheduled for sometime in the next few weeks. But the talks were overshadowed by a confrontational June 7 meeting between Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin and the aftermath of their discussions. When Kosovo did come up during the summit, the global powers were split on how to proceed. The biggest roadblock for Kosovar independence is Russia — more for Moscow's own reasons than anything else. Russia has made clear that it will not accept Kosovo's independence under any circumstances. Though French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with Putin on June 8 to negotiate a compromise, the talks failed and Sarkozy proposed postponing the Kosovo decision for another six months in order to give Putin some time, to "oblige the Serbs and Kosovars to negotiate and to avoid a split in the international community.'' Putin immediately shot down this idea. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is nearing the end of her EU presidency, also rejected the proposal. This came as no surprise since Merkel is intent on using the Kosovo issue to cement her legacy as EU president and is pushing to fast-track Serbia's EU membership talks as Belgrade's reward for letting Kosovo go. During his visit to Albania, Bush said he is running out of patience with Russia's unwillingness to negotiate over Kosovo. But Russia is not simply unwilling to compromise; it is actively campaigning for support for Serbia. Putin personally invited Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica to St. Petersburg after the G-8 conference. During the visit, Putin guaranteed Kostunica that Russia will veto Kosovar independence, and he vowed to help Serbia with its security, energy and economic needs — all of which are big concerns for the small state. Over the past century, Moscow has promoted itself as the protector of Serbia, a fellow Slavic state. Russia has historically used this link as an excuse to get involved in many conflicts, including World War I. However, when the Kosovo war began in 1999, Russia had neither the political clout nor the internal stability to stand up to the West — and Moscow is still very sore about it. But things have changed. During the past few months, Russia has made every effort to demonstrate to the international community that it is stable and strong enough to re-emerge as a global power. To this end, Putin used the G-8 summit as a chance to stand up to the West on a number of issues, including Kosovo. It now appears the issue will be the first real test of the new relationship between Russia and the West. Moscow is attempting to use Serbia as a bargaining chip, as well as a tool with which to keep the West occupied far from Russia's borders as it consolidates power. Putin needs a crisis to prove that Russia can go head-to-head with the West, and Kosovo fits the bill. The United States has promised Kosovo its independence; now Russia will attempt to undermine Washington's ability to deliver.

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