23:11 GMT +324 November 2017
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    What will be Russia's response to Kosovo's independence?

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    MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Yelena Shesternina) - The troika of international mediators (the U.S., EU and Russia), after several months of trying to think up an elegant solution to the Kosovo problem, has admitted its failure.

    The final report, which it decided to submit to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon ahead of schedule (the original deadline was December 10), does not contain a single concrete recommendation to Belgrade or Pristina, or indeed, to the UN. What will happen next? How will Moscow respond if the Kosovo authorities carry out their threat and proclaim independence unilaterally?

    The troika mission has failed, as it should have. The positions of its members were too wide apart.

    Washington was pressing for the province's independence and Moscow went out of its way to argue that there should be no haste. The European Union, supposed to represent the interests of all its 27 member countries, was doing a balancing act between the two positions.

    Not everyone in Europe would welcome the appearance of a new state on the world map. The most vocal opponents are Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia. They know that as soon as Kosovo declares its independence their own separatists will be quick to put forward similar demands.

    But it is not the position of the mediators that is the main stumbling block. The Serbs were prepared to offer Pristina everything, including the broadest autonomy, the likes of which no other autonomy in the world enjoys, as long as the word "independence" is not used.

    The Kosovars, however, were determined from the start that secession from Serbia was only a matter of time. Yes, they were ready to go through the diplomatic motions, even to sit down at the negotiating table with the Serbs, but no more than that. And why should they if the United States and several European countries had promised them independence in advance? The Kosovars do not quite know themselves what they will do with the independence. They seem to hope that the West will address their numerous economic problems with greater zeal than now.

    Moscow is still behaving as if the issue of the province's independence has not been closed. But it seems that it has. The Kosovars are right when they say it is only a matter of time. The question that remains is when the independence will become official and how it will be "acted out"?

    The scenario until the end of the year is more or less clear. After Ban Ki-Moon reads the report it will be submitted to the UN Security Council. The discussion promises to be stormy, but the result is a foregone conclusion: Moscow will categorically object to any document that contains the word "independence." If it manages to persuade the West that another round of talks is needed, it would be its biggest foreign policy triumph of the year.

    Most experts believe the Kosovars will not dare to proclaim independence immediately after the collapse of the UN debate. First, they have to wait for the presidential elections in Serbia, where the first round will take place on January 20. Second, it would be good to enlist the support of the "united Europe" in addition to that of the United States. The EU leaders will try to agree their actions on the "Kosovo issue" at their summit in Brussels next week. The declared position so far is encouraging: the EU says it is necessary "to prevent unilateral moves on Kosovo's part."

    The Europeans, at least those of them who do not think Kosovo would set a dangerous precedent, are developing at least two secret plans. According to the report of the International Crisis Group, Britain, Germany, Italy and France will support independence before May 2008. For starters, they will try to get the Brussels meeting to pass a joint statement to the effect that the EU considers the Kosovo negotiations closed and the best way out of the impasse is to revert to the Ahtisaari Plan (Martti Ahtisaari is the UN Secretary General's special representative who developed a plan for Kosovo's independence). If Spain, Greece and other countries opposed to the Ahtisaari Plan put their foot down, the European Commission will give every country a carte blanche to decide whether or not to recognize Kosovo's independence.

    The second plan has been worked out in Paris. According to a leak to the press, Pristina will issue its "final warning" in January and officially proclaim independence in February. Albania would be the first to recognize the new country, followed by the United States, Muslim countries and some EU members.

    What are Moscow's options in this situation? There are not many. The "adequate response" variant (recognizing the independence of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transdnester) is unlikely to be used.

    Sergei Lavrov has said more than once that the Foreign Ministry will proceed strictly within the legal framework and will not violate the territorial integrity of other states. And there is no point in aggravating the quarrel with Georgia, especially because the West would certainly throw its weight behind Tbilisi (it is not for nothing that it has prudently declared the Kosovo case "unique").

    Such a response will not lead to a reversal of Kosovo's independence, and Russia will end up with more troubles on its borders than it can handle. Tbilisi would not take the secession of rebel republics lying down, no matter who wins the presidential election.

    So, the chances are that we will again see Moscow trying to do some diplomatic footwork. For example, stopping Kosovo from being admitted to the OSCE and, far more importantly for Pristina, to the UN. After all, Kosovo cannot join the United Nations without the consent of the Security Council.

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

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