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January 23, 2007
Kosovo Quagmire Drags On

The UN has dragged its feet on the final determination of the status of Kosovo ever since the intervention in 1999 that stopped a war between the ethnic Serbs and Albanians in the province. Member nations had pressed for a resolution to the standoff over the last couple of years, and hoped that the recent elections would give an indication of a direction to pursue. However, after Serb nationalists won a significant but not overwhelming victory, it appears that the various European powers will continue the stalemate:

Russia and the West were on a diplomatic collision course yesterday over the future of Kosovo, which will soon take a big step towards declaring its independence from Serbia.

As results from the Serbian election confirmed a strong showing for the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, American, British and other Western leaders braced themselves for what is likely to be a bruising showdown with the Kremlin.

The dispute centres on the fate of Kosovo, the largely ethnic-Albanian province of Serbia, which has been under Nato control since its troops seized the region from Serbian forces in 1999. On Friday Martti Ahtisaari, the UN special envoy to Kosovo, will reveal a plan to grant the province “supervised independence” that could lead to it taking responsibility for foreign affairs, defence, and a seat at the UN.

“The independence of Kosovo is a reality, so we demand recognition of Kosovo’s international subjectivity without any delays,” said Agim Ceku, its Prime Minister.

Not so fast. Russia, which has attempted to revive its flagging influence since the collapse of the Soviet Union, will not allow the Serbs to lose Kosovo. Vladimir Putin wants to remind Europe that Russia has always thrown its weight behind the Serbs in the Balkan conflicts. Putin has some scores to settle with Europe after their meddling in Ukraine and Georgia, and Kosovo allows him an opportunity to stick a thumb in the eye of the EU.

The Serbs will no doubt encourage this. They have long ties to Kosovo, and the province has deep significance to the Serbian identity. With the end of Yugoslavia and the Balkan wars that followed, the Serbs have retreated from most of their former regions already. They do not want to lose Kosovo to another independence movement. Albanian Kosovars have a different opinion, of course. However, in this case, it appears that they do not have the political support to carry independence.

In fact, none of the main parties in the election desired independence, according to the Times of London. That calls into question the entire purpose of the UN occupation of the province. If the people do not want independence and the Albanian minority insists on starting wars to get it, that seems to be an internal problem for Serbia, one that does not require outside intervention. If the elections were free and fair and demonstrate that the separatists cannot attract popular support, then it seems strange that the UN would take the position of mandating independence.

In this case, Putin may be right. If so, then the entire eight-year quagmire has been for naught, and will undoubtedly drag on even longer as the UN attempts to impose a solution that most Kosovars apparently don't want.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 23, 2007 4:46 AM

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