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Complexities Mount for Kosovo's Final Resolution

Ioannis Michaletos, Athens, Greece, May 28, 2007

An ethnic Albanian man walks past graffiti reading "no negotiation" in the town of Orahovac, Kosovo. United Nations envoy Martti Ahtisaari has proposed internationally supervised independence for Kosovo, a move backed by the United States and the European Union but adamantly opposed by Serbia and its traditional ally Russia. (Photo: Ermal Meta / AFP-Getty Images)

The final resolution for Kosovo, being decided now in the United Nations Security Council, is another episode in the conflict-driven history of a province that has characterized and shaped the history of the Balkans since the Middle Ages. Eight years after the NATO bombing campaign against the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo's future is in limbo and predictions about a potential outcome are hard to assess. A previous article on Worldpress.org two months ago provided the framework upon which negotiations are being discussed and the difficulty in finding a permanent and viable solution.

The Ahtisaari plan, named after Finland's ex-president, who negotiated between the Kosovo-Albanian side and the Serbian government, is a 60-page report the guidelines from which are going to be used in the U.N. discussions as the main reference for any given solution. Therefore, it is integral to analyze any flaws or misinterpretations in the report so as to better understand the road ahead for Kosovo.

The Ahtisaari report does not adequately mention how it will impose a probable independence on Kosovo since according to the latest amendment the Serbian state has already included in its constitution a clause whereby Kosovo is an integral part of the country. Thus, in case the Security Council decides for Kosovo independence, it will have broken the cornerstone of international relations, and that is respect for the sovereignty of states. It is worthwhile to mention that in the case of Iraq, serious thought is being put into a tripartite disintegration of the country between Kurds, Sunnis, and Shias, but the Bush administration is being cautious because of the precedent that it will set for other regions in the Middle East. But a precedent set from Kosovo's independence could be used in the case of Iraq, enabling the states to cut loose the Gordian knot in the region. These are all of course predictions and speculations as to how two seemingly different international issues could be related by the use of precedents in international law.

Moreover, the provision for disbanding the Kosovo Protection Forces, made up of ex-Kosovo Liberation Army members, seems unlikely to be achieved since there are no reliable information in the report as to how this could be accomplished, and most importantly, what the reaction of the Albanian community would be. That community will do its utmost to keep an armed paramilitary force in operation. The plan mentions the creation of a new force that would be trained by Austrian and British military officers; judging by the current state of affairs in Kosovo and recent Balkan history, however, it is doubtful that the force would be regarded as a local force by the Albanians.

The Ahtisaari plan fails to address the issue of existing Albanian paramilitary forces, which are linked with organized crime and roam freely between Pristina, Presevo, and Tetovo. Since these groups are a direct threat to regional stability, there has to be a conclusive plan as how to combat them, otherwise the fragile societal scene will be in peril for years to come.

Under the Ahtisaari plan, Kosovo will not be independent but will have all the necessary structure to become independent if it wills so. It is interesting to note that there is no other similar state structure in the world like the one being proposed by Ahtisaari. Therefore, quite naturally Kosovo will declare its independence as soon as it feels able and gain its place in the "great family of the world's nations." The simple fact that it will have its own flag and national hymn and the ability to sign international agreements is a clear indication that as soon as the plan is confirmed and voted upon independence will not be far behind.

Even though the plan can be considered a victory for the Albanian side, it seems that quite a few of its members have rejected it and called for outright recognition of independence—rejecting provisions for the protection of minorities and the presence of an international European Union-led force. It is fair to assume that the idea of a "Great Albania" is still energizing large portions of the Albanian population that would be positive in accepting a union between Kosovo and Albania regardless of the official statements of the latter.

The Looming Russian Veto Card

The Russian side has skillfully rejected any plans for independence, while at the same time pressed for its plans in the Caucasus area. In simple terms, if Kosovo becomes independent, Russia would not feel obliged to follow international law any more and would proceed to dismember Georgia and establish fully its role in one of the most strategic areas of the world, where energy routes pass. The blow will be severe for the interests of NATO, which has a strategic aim of securing a presence in Georgia, as well as for the interests of Western oil corporations that have invested heavily in pipelines and energy projects in the Caspian Sea Basin. Any alteration in the current status will further empower the Kremlin and hamper the West's ability to influence Central Asian politics.

Apart from the above, the Russian stance is rigidly following the norms of international law as it has been enforced since the end of World War II. Kosovo independence will give any minority nation in the world carte blanche to proceed accordingly, thus igniting conflicts across the globe. Over the past few weeks, the issue of Western Sahara has been discussed by the Security Council. The United States refuses to recognize the plight of the indigenous citizens in favor of the Moroccan state, a staunch ally in the Arab world nowadays. Russia, of course, comes down on the side of international law. Moreover, as The National Interest mentions, "Russia, at present, can make a claim of consistency in its position—that it supports the territorial integrity of states as its guiding principle in these issues."

Chechnya is a region that could also set a precedent, this time against the Russian interest, although it seems unlikely that the United Nations could ever force Moscow to allow this war-torn province to become autonomous, let alone independent.

Peripheral Concerns

The situation in Kosovo is one that could best be described as a political and diplomatic nightmare in the midst of a regional storm. The aspirations of Albanian irredentism, American and Russian global policies, and Serbia's determination not to suffer a dramatic loss of national territory, all add to an explosive mixture of unknown proportions.

If the Albanians are not satisfied by greater autonomy in Kosovo there is potential for the re-establishment of the K.L.A. and a consequent NATO reaction that would create the framework for a war between the international community and Kosovo's Albanians. Already NATO has deployed more troops in the area, in order to secure positions in a future conflict. Moreover, according to an important briefing, Serbs have taken precautionary action by gathering forces in Northern Kosovo in order to protect Serbs residing there from hostile Albanian action. An Albanian move on either the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (in Tetovo) or Serbia (in the Presevo valley) in order to pressure the international community on independence is still a possibility, and that is the reason behind the decision of the F.Y.R.O.M. government to back a "Kosovo blueprint" that paves the way to independence. Of course a "Bon gesture" by Skopje is of little use if independence is not declared after all and the Albanian factor plays the destabilization card in order to secure more concessions.

In general, the Ahtisaari plan has mostly failed to address security concerns in Kosovo and beyond; therefore, it will soon lose its importance in the upcoming resolution on Kosovo's fate. American and Russian power politics are the determining factor, along with the stronger EU and Balkan states' considerations, aspirations, and interests. On a wider level, it seems the notion that the "international community" could overcome all obstacles and provide suitable solutions across the world is fading fast and leaving behind traditional nation-state politics, as if the 1990's were a footnote in world politics.

It is important to note the worldwide range of the Kosovo issue. On one side are the supporters of the Serbs, the Serbian diaspora along with the Eastern Orthodox Church, Midwest Evangelists, Republican Jews, Conservative Brits, Russians and middle-class individuals concerned about security across the globe. On the other side are the Albanian diaspora, Muslim states, Liberal Americans and Europeans, and individuals linked to the State Department. The Roman Catholic Church, two Muslim states (Indonesia and Turkey), NATO, and Pentagon officials and assorted interlinked interests have remained neutral. It is a broad snapshot of the conflict but a mapping of the sentiments across the world is not hard to come by, especially since the medium of Internet has enabled researchers and analysts to muster a multitude of global polls, opinions, and intentions in a relatively short time and with a high level of accuracy.

Kosovo has a long way to go before normality can be established and animosities relinquished. For the time being, it is the powder keg of the Balkans and an issue of global importance to the defenders of state sovereignty and the ones striving to form a "global village." Whatever the outcome, the Balkans will once more become the birthplace of worldwide changes.

See the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy for Kosovo for the full Ahtisaari plan.

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