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NO 107-108

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Helsinki Charter No. 107-108

May - June 2007


Serbia and Kosovo in Big Powers' Hug


By Ivan Torov

Despite the international community's optimistic announcements, assessments and promises of some six or so months ago that the chapter of the final or some other status of Kosovo would be closed relatively soon and without major turmoil, things have considerably changed in the meantime. As if the process of untangling the Kosovo knot has lately taken such course and proportions that its outcome became hardly predictable - except for those who are much too partial or belong to one of the interested parties. The fact that Martti Ahtisaari has finalized his mediation and distributed his plan for the so-called supervised independence did not bring us any closer to the light at the end of the Kosovo tunnel but only multiplied confusion and controversies, and even anxieties that the search for the status had lost its way in the labyrinth of confronted stands, options, interests and calculations. And fear that the real problems are still to come.

The assessment of European and American diplomacies that the issue of Kosovo - seen as yet another in the series of regional problems and, in a way, the final act of the "old" Yugoslavia's disintegration - would be solved easily and without much resistance, turned unviable when confronted with awakened and infuriated Russian (Putin's) ambition to restore at least a part of its former influence on international developments. And so a dispute, actually marginal from the world's angle, obtained the status of the international problem.

Characteristic for their poor assessments and forecasts of developments even in their own yards, and by underestimating the power of the "new" Russia but also the spiteful vitality of the great majority of Serbia's nationalistic (ruling and oppositionist) oligarchy, Europe and the United States (particularly the former) reached the point when they can only conclude with resignation that they are stuck. And it is this feeling of helplessness but also fear that the fragile European construction (EU) could be the one to pay dear further Russian-American dispute over Kosovo that forces Brussels to defensively wait for Bush and Putin to find some formula for Kosovo. At the beginning Europe hoped Russia and America would work something out in their bilateral contacts. Then everything turned upside down at the recent summit of the leaders of eight most developed countries. Since the summit failed to bring about a wishful relief, Europe now waits for Bush and Putin to meet at the American President's ranch in Maine on July 1-2.

The tactics employed by the two leaders - marked by the "at the cross purposes" formula, i.e. American message that they would, if necessary, unilaterally recognize Kosovo and Russian threat they would exercise their power of veto - created almost a worldwide confusion not only over the final outcome of the Serb-Albanian dispute but also the true intentions of both presidents. With Kosovo as the object of Russian-American geopolitical dispute, many are anxiously wondering whether, after a long break, we are once again standing in the lobby of a resumed cold war. Putin uses Serbia to show that Russia "regained its feet," that its interests "are not to be manipulated with, and that Moscow has made a comeback. By threatening to exercise the power of veto in the Security Council, Russia actually tries to attain some other, strategically by far more important objectives than Serbia, Kosovo and the Balkans. For his part, Bush continues to believe that the US is the only superpower, and with his messages from Tirana, Sofia and Washington tests Russia's readiness to stand in the way of Euro-Atlantic military, political and economic interests.

Though it is hardly capable to hide that it is confused with and unprepared for the latest developments in and about Serbia and Kosovo, Europe still tries to come out with some new proposals - coordinated with Washington - and maintain, inasmuch as possible, the initiative. The recent offer to prolong the validity of the Resolution 1244 for 120 days - the period in which Belgrade and Pristine should conduct yet another round of negotiations - is seen as the West's last concession to Putin before a resolution on the final status is adopted in autumn. The proposal somewhat facilitates Bush's and America's "trade" with Russia and Putin. For, the proposal aims at unblocking the Kosovo standstill as soon as possible without having any of the two parties (US and Europe on the one hand, and Russia on the other) lose face. The Russian leader is thus offered the opportunity to elegantly withdraw from "the world hubbub" he had considerably contributed to by siding with Serbs and threatening with a veto. Putin is also expected to message Belgrade that for its sake - should Kostunica and Tadic turn down the offer - Russia would not further sharpen its relations with the West. At the same time Brussels and Washington warn Kosovo Albanians that the new round of negotiations and postponement of the resolution till autumn - no matter how frustrating for them that might be - should not taken as a reason for staging protests or inciting violence in Kosovo.

The Serbian side - though overtly pleased with the fact that Russia did for it what it itself was incapable to do, i.e. undermined the so-called speedy solution - is still in the most delicate situation of all. By exclusively counting on Russia's support, it became even more stubborn in its insistence on one option only, i.e. Kosovo as a part of Serbia. Simultaneously, its claims that it would not like to see the Kosovo issue prolonged for years and decades became less convincing. It manifests its "constructive approach" by proposing more or less cosmetic changes of its platform for "supervised autonomy," "essential autonomy" or "more than autonomy, less than independence." And by saying over and over again that "Serbia would never recognize an independent Kosovo" and "snatching of 15 percent of its territory," by glorifying Russia and demonizing US, Ahtisaari and "Albanian separatists and terrorists" and trying to provoke splits within the European Union, the Serbian side makes its chances to influence the final outcome minimal. At the same time it risks to be totally sidelined in the finals in the event it turns out that Russia's present staunch attitude has not been solely motivated by keeping Kosovo within Serbia. According to Dusan Janjic of the Forum for Ethnic Relations, Belgrade constantly waits for something to happen - either for the Albanians to become so nervous to stage violence in Kosovo or for some sudden change in the international constellation. What probably best describes Vojislav Kostunica's and his entourage's tactics and ideological matrix is that Russia would never sacrifice Serbia. No doubt that this matrix is dominated by the logic of constant buying of time, testing someone's tenacity and hoping that postponement would relativize and, hopefully, turn senseless the very idea of Kosovo's independence. Such ideological and irrational self-delusion is lately reflected in the almost absolute readiness of the entire political and national elite to sacrifice "the remaining 85 percent" for the sake of "15 percent of the territory." In other words, by accepting Russia as its sole warrant for "the Serbian" Kosovo, Serbia has put itself between the interests of big powers and became an object of their dispute. Though in his interview with the Danas daily President Boris Tadic said it "would be bad should big powers sharpen their mutual relations over our case," it seems that Kostunica's grouping, backed by the Radicals and the Socialists, but also by the Democrats' (in)voluntary indolence, is not much disturbed with the fact that Serbia, Kosovo and some other countries in the region could become big powers' merchandises to bargain with. Moreover, as the status dispute escalates, domestic elites more and more advocate that Serbia should "forever" side Russia and turn down Euro-Atlantic integration. Some nationalistic circles even take that "a cold war is not that bad if it can keep Kosovo within Serbia."

Such and similar frustrated and nationalistic reactions are mostly grounded on the belief, actually on the delusion that today's Serbia has the same strategic importance and the former Yugoslavia. Those who believe it turn a blind eye to the fact that a small country, heavily burdened with warring legacy, war crimes and nationalistic madness, could hardly hope for the better if placed in between confronting interests of big powers. Just imagine another huge wave of national humiliation, sense of defeat, frustration and disappointment when, say, Russia - having compensated its strategic interests with the US and the EU - renounces Serbia. In any case, Belgrade will be the one to foot the bill.


NO 107-108

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