MOSCOW: Russia emphasized support for its traditional ally Serbia in the standoff over Kosovo on Thursday, warning the West against encouraging the province’s Albanian majority to declare independence and stressing that talks should continue if no agreement is reached by a looming deadline.
“There must be no predetermined solutions or artificial time limits,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after talks with his Serbian counterpart, Vuk Jeremic.
The issue of Kosovo’s future status has become one of the main irritants in the increasingly chilly relations between a newly assertive Moscow and the West. Russia, with the threat of a U.N. Security Council veto, helped Serbia scuttle efforts earlier this year to adopt a Western-backed plan granting Kosovo internationally supervised independence.
Mediators from the European Union, Russia and the United States are racing to narrow the gap between Serbia and Kosovo’s leadership before a Dec. 10 deadline for reporting back to the U.N. secretary-general. Kosovo is threatening to declare independence unilaterally if no deal is reached by then. Lavrov suggested that could spark unrest and encourage separatist movements in other regions, including former Soviet republics.
“It’s necessary to avoid any steps which would create undesirable, illegal precedents undermining stability in the Balkans and elsewhere,” he said. He also emphasized Russia’s insistence that internationally sponsored talks between Serbia and Kosovo’s leadership should continue if they fail to reach a mutually acceptable agreement by Dec. 10. If no deal is reached, “that doesn’t mean the work is over. It only means that the time given to (the EU, U.S. and Russia) to offer solutions through direct talks between the parties is over,” he said.
“In any case, the Kosovo issue must be decided by the U.N. Security Council,” he added, warning Western nations against recognizing Kosovo’s independence outside the organization. Jeremic echoed Lavrov, saying that “the most important thing is to find a solution, not meet the deadline.”
He said that Belgrade is prepared to make compromises but draws the line at independence for Kosovo. “Serbia is ready to take any steps forward that would not jeopardize its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Jeremic said. “We are ready to offer a broad choice of models of substantial autonomy.” Belgrade has previously proposed granting Kosovo a high degree of autonomy, but Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians have rejected the offers.
While Kosovo remains a province of Serbia, it has been under U.N. and NATO administration since a NATO-led air war that halted a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999.
Russia has repeatedly warned that a Western blessing for Kosovo’s independence would bolster separatist leaders in other regions - references to pro-Russian breakaway regions in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova, whose governments have close ties with the EU and the United States.