By Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi and Joe DioGuardi
The world waits to see if talks between US President George Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 1 and 2, break the impasse between the two countries about Kosova’s final status. If Putin insists on exercising Russia’s veto power at the UN, Kosova’s leaders should call for full independence now as the only way to bring lasting peace and stability to Kosova and to Southeast Europe. They should not acquiesce to yet another round of negotiations.
Joachim Ruecker, the UN administrator in Kosova, rightly warned in December 2006 that further delay in resolving Kosova’s final status “would entail significant political and economic costs for Kosovo, for our neighbors, for the region as whole, and for the international community.” And yet, six months later, when “supervised independence” was supposed to have been extended to Kosova under the proposal submitted in March by UN Envoy Martti Ahtisaari, the Contact Group has decided instead to embark on a new round of Prishtina-Belgrade negotiations in the face of a renewed Russian threat to exercise its veto in the UN Security Council.
The call for new negotiations, to gain Russia’s approval for the West’s independence plan for Kosova, amounts to a fruitless and potentially dangerous postponement of Kosova’s final status. The time for further delays is long past in a country where the 92 percent Kosovar Albanian majority has suffered a decade of brutal occupation and genocide at the hands of Serbian military and paramilitary forces. And in the eight-year period since the end of the Kosova war in 1999, its political, economic, and social development has been held hostage for lack of final status resolution.
Hoping to end the stalemate with Russia, last week the U.S., Britain, and France introduced a new resolution calling for four more months of negotiations to be led by a new Special Envoy to the UN Secretary General. If a consensus is not reached, the Ahtisaari plan would then be implemented automatically unless the Security Council “expressly decides otherwise.” Belgrade and Moscow rejected this because it would make Kosova “independent de jure.”
Yesterday Belgium’s foreign minister, Karel de Gucht, agreed. After meeting with Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, he stated publicly that, “Many members of the Security Council and a majority of European nations” want negotiations reopened for four months without a predetermined outcome. Right now it appears that only the United States is prepared to recognize Kosova’s independence if new negotiations fail.
Until the conclusion of the Kennebunkport summit, no one will know for sure whether Russian President Vladimir Putin is simply bluffing (as he has done so often in the past) or is determined to insist that, more than eighteen months after Martti Ahtisaari was asked by the UN to develop a final status for Kosova, Serbs and Albanians should return to the bargaining table. But what the international community does know is that Russia began ratcheting up its opposition to the Ahtisaari plan last winter and that it has shifted continually since war’s end between expressing support for Western efforts to bring independence to Kosova and emphatically embracing its Serbian ally’s opposition to it.
It should be clear by now that Russia is motivated less by its identification with its fellow Slavs in Serbia, or even by its oft-uttered concern that Kosova’s independence will “set a precedent” for breakaway regions in the former Soviet Union, than by its need to demonstrate to the West that it is an international player to be reckoned with in the 21 st century—especially because of its oil and natural gas reserves.
In the face of Russia’s threat to exercise its veto in the UN Security Council, some member states in the European Union are anxious that Russia will cut off their access to energy supply lines if they join the United States in recognition of Kosova’s independence. As a result, they do not want to recognize Kosova’s independence without a Security Council resolution that will transfer the administration of Kosova from the United Nations to a European Union-led International Civilian Office, backed up by the current 17,000-strong NATO led peacekeeping force known as KFOR. Historically, energy reserves have not been the primary issue for Europe. EU member nations have always been divided about foreign policy in the Balkans, and they take action only when the United States exercises leadership.
As Congressman Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said at an historic meeting on June 21 with Russian Duma members responsible for foreign policy, “The issue of final status will either be resolved at the UN, or when the Kosovars declare their own independence unilaterally. I can assure you the following day [after independence is declared] the United States will recognize Kosovo as an independent country, as will the United Kingdom, France, Germany Holland, Denmark, and all the others. So Russia can either be with Europe and the United States on the basis of a United Nations Resolution of a brutal ethnic cleansing at long last being rectified, or it can stand on its own.”
The outcome will depend on how quickly and forcefully the United States will move in the face of Russian intransigence. The longer the delay in Kosova’s final status resolution, the less likely that Europe and the United States will remain committed to the outcome, if only for objective reasons such as Javier Solana’s departure as Secretary General of the Council of the European Union in October 2007 and the early 2008 presidential primary elections in America. The longer the delay, the stronger Serbian obstinacy will become, and the more likely it is that Belgrade will facilitate the secession of Kosovar Serbs in the north (always its ultimate objective) in spite of the West’s insistence that there can be no partition or border change.
Above all, the longer the delay, the legitimacy of Kosova’s political structure, and the international community supporting it, will diminish in the eyes of Kosova’s people, no matter what their ethnic origin. Kosovar Albanians were led to believe that they would be independent by the end of 2006. They have known that Western support for Kosova has been unraveling ever since U.S. and European officials bought into the plea from Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and President Boris Tadic to postpone the resolution of Kosova’s final status until after Serbia’s general elections in January 2007 (otherwise the Radicals would come to power).
The West should not underestimate the potential impact of the helplessness that has now descended on Kosova. Kosovar Albanians only supported the flawed Ahtisaari plan in order to demonstrate their willingness to cooperate with the West and out of a belief that their cooperation would lead to their freedom. They know that new negotiations will only lead to a campaign by Belgrade and Moscow to extract even more concessions from Albanians than the Ahtisaari process already has and to permanently block the integration of Kosova’s Serbs, less than five percent of the population, into Kosova’s political and economic life.
Only a strong signal from the U.S. government will prevent the outbreak of renewed conflict in Kosova. The U.S. Congress must push President Bush to back up his June 10th statement in Tirana, Albania’s capital, that “Enough is enough; the end result must be Kosova’s independence,” and they must do it now.
Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi is Balkan Affairs Adviser to the Albanian American Civic League.
Former Congresssman Joe DioGuardi is the AACL’s founding president.
June 28, 2007