KOSOVA FINAL STATUS: Russia‘s lost battle and Serbia’s proxy alliance

KOSOVA FINAL STATUS: Russia‘s lost battle and Serbia’s proxy alliance 
Tirana Times - http://tiranatimes.com/

By Albert Rakipi 

Almost eight years ago, as NATO airplanes were revving up their engines to initiate the first strikes against Serbia, the Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov was flying over the Atlantic en route to Washington DC to meet President Clinton. After a satellite phone call from vice president Al Gore notifying him that NATO had authorized air strikes against Serbia, Mer. Primakov demonstratively ordered the pilot to make a u-turn and go back to Moscow. The 180 degrees turn around from the Western course of the plane was an instinctive and self-defeating order. At that point NATO’s decision was non-negotiable. 

Despite the inherited great power status, Russia was a weak state because of its anemic economy, internal political problems and difficult relationships with the republics that emerged from the ashes of its Soviet empire. Kosovo produced a golden opportunity for Russia to reaffirm its great power status through negotiations in the Contact Group. However, as an Israeli politician once said of the Palestinians, its diplomats “almost never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Primakov’s act was but the crowning jewel in a chronicle of underachievement by Russian diplomacy that reminded one of Khruschev’s shoe-banging in New York—a useless demonstration of determination without purpose. 

Eight years later Russia finds itself in better circumstances but its diplomacy risks showing the same lack of focus as before. Although it knows that it cannot stop Kosova’s independence even if it uses the veto in the UN Security Council, its UN ambassador did not support the Ahtisaari settlement. Russia was almost alone in its objections by repeating the old mantra that it will support only a solution that is acceptable to both Serbs and Albanians. Everyone knows by now what Mr. Ahtisaari finally said openly: such an agreement is not possible even theoretically. In this context, the Russian proposal to send a fact finding mission in Prishtina and Belgrade is simply a tactical move to postpone the adoption of a resolution on Kosova’s independence. Such “fact finding missions” have been a long practice in determining Balkan borders. They in fact determined Albania’s border with the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes as well as with Greece. One hundred years and thousands of dead later, their success needs no comment. 

Why is Russia joining a battle it knows it cannot win? Will it eventually use its veto in the Security Council on Kosova? Because even the use of the veto would signal Russia’s defeat on the battle for Kosova. The process of Kosova’s internationally-recognized independence would be different—and slightly longer—in the case of a Russina veto yet, as it has been made clear by the US and Britain, it would be unstoppable. Hence, the chances of a Russian veto are small because in diplomatic terms a Russian veto would be identical to Primakov’s Atlantic turnaround on March 25th, 1999. In both cases, the means do not fit the end goal. 

It is much more likely that Russia is trying to postpone Kosova’s independence and raise its profile in the international arena rather instead of positioning itself against the other great powers because of some nebulous pan-Slavic feeling or injured national pride. Diplomacy and war have much in common and just as no general would enter a battle he knew that he could not win, so would a diplomat refuse to engage in actions which bring no benefits. 

Moreover, this is not the Russia of nothing to lose and everything to prove of 1999. Russia is now back as one of the world powers with full rights in the club. Its strength has little to do with size, democracy or liberalism but everything to do with natural gas and the pressure the Kremlin is applying on its old subordinate republics and on Europe. Lately, the Baltic states are even trying to come together to face the comeback of the Russian bear on one hand and European “indifference” on the other—an obligatory indifference perhaps through which Europe guarantees its natural gas supplies. Therefore, Russia has no need to prove its worth through Kosova anymore. Even then, after the tension cooled as the bombardment wore on beyond all expectations, Russia became part of the solution in Kosova through its special envoy Chernomyrdin. 

The dynamics of the powers’ position on Kosova provide a good illustration of the nature of the international system at present. All the arguments against independence in the UN Security Council have nothing to do with the state of affairs in Kosova but are closely connected to the global realpolitik interests of the powers. In the case of the EU, Kosova is serving as an incentive to formulate a coherent Common Foreign and Security Policy. For several EU members, the common position is taking precedence over their reading of the consequences that independence would have for other regions away from the Balkans . 

Of all the anti-independence arguments, only Russia’s uses the proxy approach. But, according to our argument above, such an approach does not benefit Russia’s interests. This is why the Russian approach may be temporary and may change as the final countdown begins. 

On the other hand, Serbia’s enthusiastic acceptance of the proxy country position does not say anything commendable about its political elite at the moment. Although the proxy alliance is not supported by a small number of Serb academics, the Serb government and most of its political parties have thrown their weight behind it in order to salvage whatever is possible of Serbia’s de jure sovereignty over Kosova. Such a strange alliance for such a proud elite cannot produce stable long term solutions. And the region in general and Serbia in particular is in desperate need of solving the Kosova problem once and for all.