Europe’s biggest headache will become Excedrin #3 on Sunday at 2 pm UTC. Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci announced that the breakaway portion of Serbia will officially declare its independence at that time, setting in motion a potential powder keg in the Balkans — again. The UN, which supposedly administers the cease-fire in Kosovo, has so far said nothing:
Prime Minister Hashim Thaci confirmed Saturday that Kosovo would declare its independence from Serbia on Sunday, the day when the “will of the citizens of Kosovo” would be implemented.
“Tomorrow will be a day of calm, of understanding, and of state engagements for the implementation of the will of the citizens of Kosovo,” said Thaci after meeting religious leaders from the predominantly ethnic Albanian province.
Expectations that independence would be declared on Sunday have been running high but Thaci’s comments marked the first top-level confirmation that the long-awaited break with Serbia would take place this weekend. …
Kosovo inched closer to its historic declaration of independence with a growing sense of excitement among its people and the European Union launching a police and judicial mission to smoothen the birth of the world’s newest state.
Serbia, backed by Russia, has said that the split — supported by the United States and most major European powers, nine years after Kosovo was put under interim UN administration — would be illegal.
The new state will launch itself to the sweet strains of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” which is the official anthem of the EU. Certainly the majority of Kosovars will be joyful, but the Kosovo Serbs will have a much different take on the celebrations playing out all around them. AFP reports that NATO forces will make a very public display of strength in order to tamp down violence, but the passions of the moment will probably not make that terribly effective.
Where does this leave European politics? Russia will take umbrage at this unilateral step. Its traditional ally, Serbia, has now been cut off from a province that has been considered part of its territory for centuries. While the Russians and the Serbs have never been terribly cooperative in the dispute over Kosovo and were never likely to agree to a settlement that did anything but return Kosovo to Serb control, the abrupt split and the explicit EU encouragement for it will complicate Russo-Western relations even further than they are now.
Given that Vladimir Putin supplies a large percentage of Europe’s energy, it might not just be the diplomatic relations that get frosty.
And what of the UN’s administration of Kosovo? That turns out to be a big failure. NATO kept the peace, and the UN was supposed to resolve Kosovo’s status. Instead, they dragged their heels for years, only reluctantly starting talks a few months ago. Like everything the UN does, the talks got stymied by Russian refusals to compromise or cooperate.
The moment the UN and NATO intervened in Kosovo, the independent status of the province was established. There was no practical way afterwards to return Kosovo to Serbian control. Instead of vacillating for almost nine years, NATO and the US should have recognized the province’s independence as soon as the fighting stopped. Postponing the inevitable has done nothing but keep Kosovars at each others’ throats and extended the diplomatic bitterness of the Balkans wars.