Three Arguments Agains Kosovo Independence

By Yevgeny Primakov, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Astory published in [MN #5] offered an in-depth analysis of a plan for Kosovo 
presented by Martti Ahtisaari, special envoy of the U.N. secretary general and 
former president of Finland.

The document, drawn up on the basis of Ahtisaari's numerous trips to Belgrade 
and Pristina, as well as a number of meetings with statesmen from different 
countries, skirts the issue of Kosovo's independence. At the same time, 
however, it provides essential trappings of a sovereign state - the emblem, the 
flag, the anthem, as well as an issue of special importance, the right to join 
international organizations - including the U.N., the EU and NATO.

Serbia took a sharply negative view of the plan. The position of Kosovo's 
Albanians, however, is not so negative because U.S. and some West European 
politicians are telling Pristina that the proposal will lead to Kosovo's formal 
separation from Serbia and that the province will eventually become an 
independent state. This status, they say, is a foregone conclusion: the plan is 
a bona fide road map to independence, but it cannot be granted right away. Amid 
such statements, demonstrations in Pristina against the plan resemble a means 
of pressuring the Serbs and the world community as a whole to embrace the plan 
- or else.

What is to be done in this situation, given the extremely complex nature of the 
problem at hand and its obvious implications for other conflicts in various 
parts of the world, not to mention global relations?

There are several factors that need to be taken into account if a compromise 
solution is to be achieved.

Kosovo and Metohia are considered to be the Serbs' native and ancestral land, a 
land where their civilization, culture and identity evolved. The Serbian 
Constitution, recently adopted in a nationwide referendum, calls Kosovo an 
inalienable part of Serbia. Kosovo's formal secession from Serbia - not a 
compromise solution acceptable to the Serbian side - will sharply strengthen 
the positions of the country's radical forces.

The Albanians have also lived in Kosovo for centuries. As a result of the 
standoff between the Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, not least with the use of 
force, ethnic Albanians account for 90 percent of the province's population. 
Under Josip Broz Tito, Kosovo had an autonomy status as part of Yugoslavia. 
Following the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Kosovo's Albanians created their 
own parliament (Skupstina) that in 1990 passed a law on the province's 
independence. That did not lead, however, to its breakaway from Serbia; rather 
a de facto diarchy was established in Kosovo. Ibrahim Rugova, elected 
"president" of Kosovo, adhered to a moderate position, specifically during 
negotiations with Belgrade.

There was a handful of advocates for Kosovo's independent status outside the 
province. In 1996, as Russian foreign minister, I met with the Albanian foreign 
minister at a U.N. General Assembly session in New York. He told me that his 
country (even his country - Ye.P.) only saw a solution to the Kosovo problem 
within the borders of Yugoslavia. A similar position was recorded in a number 
of documents adopted by the Contact Group, comprising Russia, the U.S., 
Germany, the U.K., and France. The Group's first statement on Kosovo was 
adopted on September 24, 1997 with my participation. The resolution was based 
on the assumption that the Kosovo problem was Yugoslavia's internal affair. We 
subsequently revisited the Kosovo issue on numerous occasions, but the general 
consensus was that Kosovo is not an independent state entity. The debate 
between myself and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright proceeded 
along the following lines: "Kosovo is part of Yugoslavia" (Albright) and 
"Kosovo is part of Serbia" (myself). Whatever the case, both the U.S. and 
Russia considered Kosovo to be a "part" of another state. Furthermore, the U.S. 
State Department put the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which was using force to 
drive the Serbs out of Kosovo, on a list of terrorist organizations.

But starting in 1998, the situation began to turn around. There is no need to 
mention the rest of the story - it is well known. Its main distinguishing 
feature was that it was not diplomacy, not politics, but NATO that had become 
the principal player on the Yugoslav scene. The situation did not change when 
the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) formally 
took over, creating "provisional self-government" and conducting 
[parliamentary] elections that were boycotted by the Serb population. Nor did 
anything change for the better when international military and police forces 
were brought into Kosovo - a total of 16,500 servicemen from NATO member 

Today, the Serbs have become second-rate citizens, exposed to constant pressure 
from Kosovo Albanians who are determined to evict even the tiny number of Serbs 
that remain in the province.

What now? There are two scenarios. One is to treat the Ahtisaari plan as a 
basis for serious negotiations between the parties involved, even if this 
requires considerable time. It may be recalled that the Cyprus and Irish 
problem has been debated for decades. This is not to suggest that the Kosovo 
crisis should be allowed to drag on. But is a forcible settlement, infringing 
on the interests of the Serbs, really the best method of maintaining stability 
in the region? Jumping the gun can be as dangerous as marking time.

The second option is to use the Ahtisaari plan as a basis for a U.N. Security 
Council resolution. This line of action is favored by the U.S. It is acting in 
haste, apparently without assessing the possible fallout of this haste. But if 
it is drafted by the U.S. and other Western countries, I believe that Russia 
should veto a resolution recognizing Kosovo's independence. The U.S. must 
understand Russia's motives.

I would like to mention three.

First, granting Kosovo independence could reopen interethnic armed conflicts in 
the post-Soviet area that required so much effort to extinguish - between 
Georgia and Abkhazia, Georgia and South Ossetia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and 
Moldova and Transdnestr.

According to Condoleezza Rice, she often told her Russian interlocutors that 
Kosovo "may not be a precedent." But can this proposition be used as a policy 
basis? I do not think so. Kosovo's secession from Serbia is a special case: The 
attempt is being made to separate an autonomous republic from a state with 
internationally recognized borders. But the secession of an autonomous republic 
from a state must be approved by the state's entire population. I am afraid 
that Kosovo's secession from Serbia will fuel separatism in Europe, among other 

Second, granting Kosovo independence could affect the state structure of the 
Balkans, which is more or less well balanced today - not immediately, of 
course, but gradually eroding the system of the existing state borders.

Third, Russian public opinion. Fortunately, gone are the days when it could be 
simply ignored. Today - I will not go into the historical, traditionalist or 
purely psychological factors - it is strongly on the side of the Serbs who 
have, in addition, suffered more than others in the Balkans over the past few 

I am asking Condoleezza Rice, with whom I used to have good business contacts 
and, I hope, still have a friendly relationship, to pay attention to these 
motives. Clearly, they far outweigh the desire of the U.S. administration to 
achieve at least one success story in settling a crisis.

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