12:55 GMT +311 December 2018
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    Kosovo - a delay fuse

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    MOSCOW. (Alla Yazkova for RIA Novosti) - The UN Security Council is starting debates on Martti Ahtisaari's Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement. But the former Finnish president's proposal may fail to stabilize the situation in the region.

    The proposal contains a number of basic principles for granting Kosovo "conditional" independence or "independence under international control." Although the document does not contain the word "independence," it is clear that de facto the territory will get all the attributes of statehood. Under the proposal "an international civilian representative (ICR)" delegated by the European Union will have "ultimate supervisory authority over the implementation of the Settlement," while NATO and EU forces will provide security in the province.

    The Kosovo Albanian leaders have adopted the proposal with reservations, whereas Belgrade has turned it down flat. The reasons are clear - Ahtisaari's approach to Kosovo's future status is glaringly at variance with the Constitution of Serbia, which lists the province as one of its autonomous regions.

    It will be virtually impossible to build the "multi-ethnic society" proposed by Ahtisaari with an Albanian majority and a Serbian minority. The head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Joachim Ruecker, was forced to acknowledge this as far back as September 2006.

    Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, Director of the Serbian Government's Coordination Center for Kosovo and Metohija reported to the UN Security Council that more than 260 crimes against Serbians had been committed in the province in 2006 alone. She strongly criticized Ahtisaari for saying at a meeting with Belgrade's delegation on August 8, 2006 that Serbs must accept the plan because they were "guilty as a nation." Serbia has filed an official protest in response.

    Inability to conduct official dialogue (or reluctance of the Western mediators to continue it) has resulted in the transfer of Ahtisaari's proposal to the UN Security Council, where it is most likely to become a foundation for replacing Resolution 1244 of June 10, 1999, adopted immediately after the cessation of NATO's air strikes against Yugoslavia, of which Serbia is a successor. Importantly, unlike Ahtisaari's proposal, this resolution directly reaffirmed "the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."

    The U.S., EU and NATO leaders have backed the Ahtisaari proposal although far from all EU countries consider it a pledge of positive developments around Kosovo. Spain, Romania, Greece, Austria, and Slovakia have expressed certain reservations on this score. Terry Davis, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, made it clear, although cautiously, that he supports the territorial integrity of all EU members, including Serbia, of which Kosovo is part.

    But if it comes to the voting in UN Security Council, a decision will primarily depend on its permanent members, and the world media have been actively discussing a potential Russian veto.

    Russia has consistently advocated continued search for a compromise that cannot become a long-term solution unless supported both by Belgrade and Pristina. Before the Security Council adopts a new resolution, it should verify compliance with resolution 1244, as Russian envoy to the UN Security Council Vitaly Churkin said on March 27. This is the basis on which the parties should continue the talks and a search for compromise.

    Integration of Serbia and other West Balkan states into the EU and NATO would facilitate a gradual resolution of the conflict. Experience shows that when Romania and Hungary entered these alliances, their disputes over Transylvania and the Hungarian minority status in Romania gradually came to a halt. But to achieve this, the world powers must display political wisdom, and the conflicting parties should be ready to compromise.

    For the time being, the situation in Kosovo leaves much to be desired. In the Western experts' estimate, a province with almost two million people does not have a legal system; the ownership of idle plants and factories remains vague; there is no tangible investment; the financial and credit systems do not work; there is no law enforcement system capable of dealing with drug trafficking and other transnational crimes. The Pristina television keeps talking about a series of contract murders connected with the operation of radical groups, about the economy, which is totally imbalanced, and about "Kosovan identity", which is presented as a product of a "young Albanian nation capable of uniting its other branches around it."

    Such TV programs show that the idea of a "multi-ethnic" Kosovo is not accepted by society, the living standards of non-Albanians are going down, and their number is continuously declining. The EU-initiated study has shown that one third of the prewar (before 1991) Serbian population has already left Kosovo, and almost all urban residents have moved out, except for Serbs from Mitrovica. The rural population is scattered all over the territory, and can only survive if it is reliably protected in the framework of a single state - otherwise its exodus is inevitable.

    The idea about the overwhelming Albanian majority (over 90%) is one of the major arguments in favor of Ahtisaari's proposal, but its supporters ignore the reasons that have led to this demographic change. Albanians have a high birth rate that is backed by the demographic policy of Albanian authorities. Moreover, a deliberate ousting of the Serbs began in the 1970s. After 1999, about 200,000 Serbs and other ethnic groups had to flee from Kosovo. If Kosovo is proclaimed independent (pro forma or de facto), they may be joined by another 100,000 displaced persons without means of subsistence. In the foreseeable future, Kosovo may face a humanitarian catastrophe like the one that hit the region in the late 1990s.

    Searching for a way out, international experts have been citing the Bosnian settlement, which is far from completed. Judging from their repeated statements about intentions, the Kosovan Albanian leaders are not likely to limit themselves to the province. Their actions could trigger off a chain of armed conflicts that are extremely dangerous for the Balkans and the rest of Europe.

    This is one of the reasons why Russia may use its right of veto in the UN Security Council - it does not want the current Kosovo leaders to have a carte blanche. No doubt, there is a risk of the Kosovan Albanians proclaiming independence unilaterally if the proposal fails in the Security Council. If the U.S. and Europe do not back them, they will resume armed struggle. But there is little sense in laying the blame for that on Russia, as some foreign media are already doing. Kosovo will remain a headache for Europe regardless of whether Moscow supports Ahtisaari's proposal or not.

    Alla Yazkova is the head of the Mediterranean and Black Sea Group at the Institute of Europe, the Russian Academy of Sciences.

    The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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