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Russia May Hold the Key in Determining Kosovo Independence

(Washington, DC -- September 22, 2006) Russia's decision on whether to support or veto a new UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution could determine Kosovo's future status as an independent state, according to an expert on the Balkans. Nicholas Whyte, Director of the International Crisis Group's Europe Program, told an RFE/RL audience last week that as negotiations over Kosovo continue, several factors could affect Kosovo's claim for independence. Russia's position on whether the UNSC resolution is "acceptable" may be the determining one, Whyte said.

Although Russia has shown interest in the past in the status of Kosovo, Whyte said Russia's current motives are unknown. As a result, Whyte said, "all we can do is watch the Kremlin" to see what will be "the price for unblocking the situation" regarding the territory's final status. Whyte noted that speculation ranges from Putin agreeing to a "declaration" on the precedent set by a resolution of Kosovo's status and its application in conflict zones such as North Ossetia and Abkhazia, to a demand for "enhanced rights for Russians [residing in] Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania," to debate over the "future of Ukraine."

In speaking about the ongoing UN-brokered negotiations between Serbian and Kosovar Albanian representatives in Vienna, Whyte acknowledged that the two sides appeared to be deadlocked, with the Serbian delegation maintaining that Kosovo should never become independent while the Kosovar Albanians vow never to return to Serbian rule. Yet, there are those "in the region", Whyte said, who "accept that [independence] will come and understand there will be a political price" to be paid for this independence. Much of the negotiations process, Whyte said, has focused on decentralization and the rights of municipalities in a future Kosovo, and "not the status question." Whyte expressed confidence in UN Special Envoy Marti Ahtisaari, who will make his recommendations to the UNSC within the next two to three weeks.

"The situation is very different from three years ago," Whyte said, expressing his belief that the UNSC will support independence for Kosovo, because "it is impossible to maintain a United Nations protectorate against the wishes of Kosovo's population." At the same time, Whyte said, the international community must keep an active presence there through police and judicial forces, particularly in "northern Kosovo."

The fundamental challenge that faces an independent Kosovo, Whyte said, "Is how it treats its minorities." Whyte said that Kosovo's success or failure will be judged by its ability to integrate its minority Serb population and assure them of their rights as citizens of the new state.

Archived audio of this briefing can be heard in RealAudio and Windows Media formats.