Kosovo: The End of the Road—What's Next?

As much as Serbs want into Europe, even more they cannot accept losing Kosovo. (Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP-Getty Images)

On Dec. 10, the 120 days of negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo under the mediation of the United States-European Union-Russia troika ended as widely expected. In failure. The two parties did not move an inch closer from where they were before the talks started. The troika submitted its report to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, simply stating that no solution was reached.

This means that the entire prolonged process of negotiation, first run by former Finish President Martti Ahtisaari, and then by the troika, didn't come up with a solution for Kosovo.

After eight years of United Nations administration, installed at the end of the NATO bombing campaign in 1999, which forced Serbs troops out of the province, Kosovo cannot wait any longer. It will accept nothing less than independence. Serbia appears more ready for collective self-annihilation than to let Kosovo go.

With the United Nations Security Council blocked by the Russian veto, alternative roads are sought. The United States concluded it was clear that solution through talks was not possible. It wants Kosovo independent. Russia called for more talks. The European Union is fighting for internal consensus, but it is leaning toward the United States' position.

By this point several things are clear.

Will Kosovo go for U.D.I. (unilaterally declared independence)?

Yes, but in coordination with its Western allies lead by the United States. Kosovar leaders originally wanted to declare it straight after Dec. 10, but braced themselves at the urging of the United States. The idea is to wait for the Serbian presidential elections set for Jan. 20 to pass first, and in that way help the chances of more moderate incumbent Boris Tadic.

Will the West recognize Kosovo?

Yes. The United States will take the lead, and the European Union will follow. The Union's total internal disarray from a month ago seems to move toward a "virtual unity," in the words of Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. Cyprus, motivated by its own internal divisions, was the "last man standing," but was under increasing pressure by its club members to "take responsibility."

Can Russia stop this?

Apparently not. Russia blocked the process in the Security Council and it is arguing vociferously against independence but, unless there are some hidden cards up its sleeve, it would likely not go further in a row with the United States and the European Union.

Will there be violence?

That is unfortunately the big unknown. Serbia remains adamant that it won't let Kosovo go, but has also reiterated that it would not resort to violence. Yet some of its officials implied that war is within Serbia's legal means if all else fails.

Serbia's plan in a case of U.D.I. for the time being entails diplomatic measures, legal action against states that recognize Kosovo, the cutoff of transportation channels and electricity with the province, and so forth. But this is all on paper. Once tensions start to mount, who knows?

There could be some violence but not a full-scale war, say most predictions. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said he expected Serbs and Kosovo Albanians to be reasonable and not to risk the stability of the region. KFOR, as the peacekeeping forces in Kosovo are known, fears sporadic, lower intensity incidents.

On the same day negotiations ended, Serbia opened a government office in Mitrovica North, the Serbian part of the ethnically divided town in the north of the province. The United Nations Mission in Pristina called this a "provocation." The next day Pristina University students protested asking for no more delays and a declaration now. A week later, and a day before the discussion in the Security Council, which was scheduled for Dec. 19, Serbs in Mitrovica went out on protests telling the European Union not to bring its mission in Pristina if Kosovars declare independence early next year.

A European Union Summit the weekend before managed to agree on sending a mission that could (gradually) take over from the United Nations. The summit also implied fast track European Union candidate status for Serbia, as a sweetener for the bitter pill ahead. Still, so bitter is the pill, it's likely that sweet carrot won't suffice. As much as Serbs want into Europe, even more they cannot accept losing Kosovo. It also comes with a lot of ethical dilemmas attached.

What's next?

After a possible U.D.I. next February, Serbia would resort to its action plan of diplomatic, legal, and tactical measures, and as it pledged, it would not use force. But a lot will be happening on the ground. Serbs in Kosovo could self-organize in their enclaves and in the north of the province, where half of the 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo live, and they could get help, according to analysts, from arriving "volunteers" from Serbia. Belgrade would deny any involvement.

Over such a development Kosovars would definitely respond. Such a situation, with a lot of commotion on the ground, electricity and communication cutoffs, and mounting tensions, would be highly combustible.

In just a couple of days in the March 2004 Kosovo burst into riots from a seemingly completely stable situation. Now tension runs high.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Risto Karajkov.