A crucial round of negotiations between Serb and Kosovo Albanian leaders opened in the Austrian spa town of Baden, as the December 10 deadline set by the UN for a status agreement approaches fast.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica was in a defiant mood, stating that, "Serbia is a sovereign, free, democratic and internationally recognized state. It will not allow even an inch of its territory to be taken away," said.
Hashim Thaci, a former Kosovo rebel leader who won a recent election in the predominantly Albanian region and is set become the province's new prime minister, restated his countrymen's desire for independence.
"We are ready to make a decision (on independence) and we hope that the United States and the European Union will recognize us soon after that," he said.
Russia's foreign minister accused Western countries earlier on Monday of fueling Kosovo's drive for independence by neglecting Pristina's violations of UN resolution 1244, which establishes the region as part of Serbia.
"The conniving indifference of our Western partners toward violations [of the UN resolution] by Kosovo Albanians and their attempts to avoid proper actions to enforce the full implementation of this resolution have inspired a psychological drive toward Kosovar independence," Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with Russia's Itogi magazine.
Kosovo has been a UN protectorate ever since NATO's bombing of the former Yugoslavia in 1999 ended a bloody war between Serb forces and Albanian separatists in the region. Negotiations on the final status of Kosovo have so far stalled, with Belgrade offering broad autonomy to the province and Pristina insisting on full sovereignty.
The U.S. and some EU states have pushed for Kosovo's independence, while Russia says that security and humanitarian requirements must be met first and that independence would set a dangerous precedent, including for post-Soviet states.