Serbia considers retaliatory steps against West if Kosovo breaks free - December, 2007

Serbia considers retaliatory steps against West if Kosovo breaks free
Moscow refuses to give up on Kosovo:

December, 2007

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica condemned the United States on Wednesday for supporting the independence of Kosovo as Parliament debated a measure that would sever diplomatic ties with Western countries that recognized the province's statehood. "America is openly striving for the destruction of the international order," Kostunica said in Parliament. "America, which once seemed like a symbol of freedom, now advocates the policies of force." The measure in Parliament, proposed by Kostunica's government, rejects the idea of the European Union's setting up a mission in Kosovo before the status of the breakaway province is resolved. The resolution threatens to halt Serbian integration into the European Union if Kosovo gains statehood, and denounces NATO and the West for their alleged support of separatists in Kosovo.

If adopted, the measure would oblige Serbian officials to reject Kosovo's independence and would almost certainly lead to further deterioration of Serbia's relations with the West. Ethnic Albanians, who make up about 90 percent of the two million people in Kosovo, have said they will proclaim independence early in 2008. The United States and several EU countries have said they will recognize Kosovo's independence because the province has not been under Serbian control since 1999, when NATO intervened to stop a military crackdown against separatists. Serbia, backed by Russia, insists that Kosovo remain a part of its territory and has urged more negotiations with the Kosovo Albanians. Kostunica accused the U.S. of blocking efforts to find a compromise through its open support of Kosovo's independence.

"The United States has decided that there could be no more talks," Kostunica said. "America decided that the problem, which the UN Security Council started to solve, must be solved outside the council." The Serbian president, Boris Tadic, was more moderate in his speech, saying the country must strive to keep Kosovo, but it should not give up "its European future" in the effort. The resolution says Serbia must "reconsider" diplomatic ties with Western countries that recognize Kosovo's statehood. It says that, because of NATO's alleged support for Kosovo independence, Serbia must remain outside the Western military alliance. The document also said the possible signing of a pre-membership trade-and-aid deal with the European Union in January "must be in the function of preserving the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

The nationalist leader Tomislav Nikolic said in Parliament that his Radicals, the biggest group in Parliament, would support the resolution if it guaranteed that Serbia would not sign the so-called EU Stabilization and Association Agreement unless the agreement explicitly specified that Kosovo was part of Serbian territory. "Our fight for Kosovo is the fight for the state borders," Nikolic said. The leader of the opposition Liberal Party, Cedomir Jovanovic, who does not oppose Kosovo's independence, said the resolution represented "a blow to Serbia's ambitions to become a EU member." Jovanovic accused Tadic and Kostunica of turning Serbia into a "training ground for the conflict between Russia and America, from which they will see no harm, but Serbia will."


In related news:

Ex-Soviet leader Gorbachev blasts EU, NATO over Kosovo status

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sharply criticized on Saturday attempts by the EU and NATO to decide the future of Serbia's Albanian-dominated breakaway province of Kosovo. The UN Security Council has failed so far to bridge divisions over the future of Kosovo. On December 19, the U.K.'s UN envoy, John Sawers, said there was no possibility of overcoming the difficulties in talks within the UN, and that the European Union would now assume responsibility for determining Kosovo's status. "It is an unprecedented step, which will certainly result in failure, both politically and morally," Gorbachev said in an interview with the government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta. "For the first time in history, two organizations are trying to assume responsibility for the future of a country - Serbia - which is not a member of either of them," the former Soviet president said. Most Western countries are seeking independence for the volatile area, which has been a UN protectorate since NATO bombings of the former Yugoslavia ended a war between Kosovo Albanians and Serb forces in 1999, but is still recognized as part of Serbia under the international law. "By destroying the international law and replacing it with poorly disguised tyranny, the proponents of this approach have certainly miscalculated the outcome of their actions," Gorbachev said. He urged the participants of the Kosovo talks to show political wisdom and continue the dialogue until mutually acceptable solution has been found. Kosovo's 2-million Albanians are expected to declare independence with Western backing sometime in the beginning of 2008. The Russian Foreign Ministry earlier said Russia would undoubtedly use its veto power at the UN Security Council if a decision on Kosovo's unilateral independence was made. The UN Security Council will revisit the issue of Kosovo in January amid fears that the unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia would destabilize the situation in the Balkans.


Russia plans controlling Serbia oil, gas

Russia has offered Serbia $1.5 billion for control of its oil industry and additional deals related to a gas pipeline and a gas underground storage. The Russian government offered $750 million in cash and $750 million in investments for a majority interest in Serbia's NIS oil company, the Serbian daily Blic reported Wednesday. No international tender would be involved, Blic said quoting an unidentified Serbian government official. The offer includes arrangements for a leg of the Russian South Stream gas pipeline, yet to be built, that would transport natural gas from the Black Sea across Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and on to Western Europe. The construction of large natural gas underground storage at Banatski Dvor, 65 miles north of Belgrade, is also included in the offer. The deal would give Russia full control of Serbia's gas and oil markets, Blic said.


Ultranationalist leader calls for Russian military bases in Serbia

Serbia's possible loss of Kosovo does not sit well at all with Tomislav Nikolic. And if it happens, Nikolic, who could become Serbia's next president, favors a very muscular response. Serbia needs Russian military bases established inside its borders to counter the U.S. "threat" over Kosovo, he said. And if Kosovo declares independence, he added, Serbia should use force to protect non-Albanians there if NATO does not. In an interview with The Associated Press, Nikolic, an ultra-nationalist who is a front-runner in coming presidential elections, advocated downgrading Serbia's diplomatic and economic relations with the United States and other Western countries if they recognize Kosovo's independence. And Serbia, he said, should impose "a complete blockade" of the southern province if it secedes. The pro-Russian leader of the Serbian Radical Party, the biggest group in the parliament, will face pro-Western incumbent Boris Tadic in presidential elections scheduled for Jan. 20. Polls show the two in a statistical dead heat.

The outcome could determine whether Serbia continues moving toward membership in the European Union or returns to its nationalist past. "I think that my chances of winning the vote are better than ever," Nikolic said at his office in the Serbian parliament. Over his head hung a portrait of the Radical Party's founder, Vojislav Seselj — now on trial for war crimes. Nikolic said Serbia could not sit idly by as its cherished Kosovo province, considered the cradle of Serbia's medieval state, wins recognition by the United States and most EU countries. Kosovo is expected to declare independence early in 2008. "It is obvious that there will be a unilateral proclamation of independence, and that the United States will immediately recognize it," Nikolic said. "I will demand from the parliament that we be ready for such an act."

"We must react with measures that are currently available to us, and those include complete isolation of Kosovo by Serbia, including the stoppage of trade and the movement of people and the adoption of measures to protect non-Albanians," he said. If the 16,000 NATO troops in Kosovo fail to protect the Serbs, a minority in Kosovo, from triumphant ethnic Albanians, "then Serbia will have to help in the preservation of peace and security," Nikolic said. But he said the Serb military would intervene only with NATO'S approval. "Serbia is not capable of fighting NATO," he said. The way to establish military balance in the Balkans would be to establish a Russian military presence in Serbia, he said. "If we already have an American base (in Kosovo), why can't we have a Russian base in Serbia?" he asked. "They would be watching each other and taking care of each other, and Serbia would be perfectly safe."

Nikolic said Serbia must "reduce its diplomatic ties to a protocol level" with all states that recognize Kosovo's statehood, while enhancing its ties with Russia, a traditional Serb ally, as well as with China and other countries that refuse recognition. "Our road toward the European Union has to be careful, while our road toward Russia is open," Nikolic said. "Our people would punish us if we cooperate with those who don't respect us as a state and a nation — with those who occupy Kosovo." Kosovo has been run by the United Nations, backed by NATO troops, since the alliance's 1999 bombing campaign ended a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists. Serbia has rejected phased-in, supervised statehood for Kosovo. Kosovo Albanians, who comprise 90 percent of the province's 2 million people, want nothing short of independence.


EU force in Kosovo 'not impossible': Russia's Lavrov

Russia's foreign minister said Friday that a proposed European Union police mission to Kosovo might be acceptable if it was approved by the United Nations and Serbia. "If the EU wants to replace the UN in this way, it is not an impossible variant," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Vesti 24 television news channel. "But to do so, there are two things to respect: first, an appropriate resolution at the (UN) Security Council ... Secondly, there must be approval from Belgrade," he said.

"Because the indispensable characteristic in any peace operation is agreement of the country on whose territory this operation occurs." Kosovo is expected to declare unilaterally its independence early in 2008 following the collapse of international attempts to reach a negotiated deal with Serbia. Last week European leaders said they were ready to send a major police mission to the southern Serbian province in a move intended to help ease any transition from the UN administration, in place since 1999, to independence. Kosovo has been administered by the UN since NATO bombed Belgrade in 1999 to end a crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians, and the Albanian majority has been impatient for independence ever since.

Lavrov added that though that "nothing must change in Resolution 1244," the 1999 UN resolution allowing the province to be under the world body's supervision. EU officials believe 1244 gives the bloc the right to back the kind of internationally supervised independence which UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari has suggested. A Russian newspaper on Friday quoted Lavrov as saying that Moscow would veto any attempt by the UN Security Council to back independence for Kosovo. "If a resolution is proposed that approves a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, then of course there will be a veto," Lavrov told the Vremya Novostei daily. It was not the first time Russia has threatened to veto UN backing for Kosovan independence, which the United States and EU support.

Russia supports Serbia, which says the majority ethnic-Albanian province should be allowed autonomy, but no more. Lavrov's interview came two days after the UN Security Council, where Serbian ally Russia is one of five countries with veto power, failed to break the impasse. He defended Russia's isolated position, saying, "They criticise us for putting a veto, that we are refusing to sanctify the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo with a UN Security Council resolution." "But this is not blocking attempts to resolve the problem. The veto is an integral part of the UN statute. And the UN statute is the cornerstone in modern international law." If the European Union circumvents the UN Security Council, "then they will put themselves outside of international law," Lavrov said.


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