Serbia's predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo province, which has a population of two million, has been a UN protectorate since NATO's 78-day bombing campaign against the former Yugoslavia ended a war between Serb forces and Albanian separatists in 1999.
Russia's envoy Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko told a briefing in Moscow that independence of Kosovo could result in division of the province. "We strongly oppose the division of Kosovo," he said. "It is a dangerous path that could set off a chain reaction."
"Kosovo Serbs will not accept Kosovo's independence, and will move into self-isolation," the diplomat said.
Unlike Russia, NATO has made it clear that it favors independence for Kosovo, but the final decision will be up to the UN Security Council, which will hear a proposal by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari in mid-March. Ahtisaari's plan stipulates substantial independence for the Serbian province.
The Serbian parliament unanimously approved a resolution rejecting Ahtisaari's plan Tuesday.
Before the UN Security Council considers the proposal, Serbian and Kosovo representatives will meet for consultations in Vienna, Austria, February 21.
Albert Rohan, the UN deputy special representative, said he expected the talks to end in early March, after which an adjusted text of Ahtisaari's proposals on the status of Kosovo could be submitted to the UN Security Council.
As a veto-wielding member in the UN Security Council and a traditional ally of Serbia, Russia has insisted that a decision on Kosovo should satisfy both Kosovar and Serbian authorities, and must be reached through negotiations.
When asked whether Russia might apply its veto during UN debates on Ahtisaari's plan in mid-March, Botsan-Kharchenko said it was not the primary goal for Russia.
"Our goal is the negotiating process," he said, but added that it was up to the parties to make a decision.
Russian officials have repeatedly said that granting sovereignty to Kosovo would set a precedent, and the international community would then have to recognize as independent the separatist regions in the former Soviet Union, notably Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Moldova's Transdnestr.