Kosovar Declaration of Independence Imminent?

by Chris Borgen

The situation in Kosovo may be coming to a head in the next few days. (See also this.)

The New York Time is reporting today:

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said on Friday about 100 countries were ready to recognize the province’s independence from Serbia, which political sources say could be declared on Feb 17.

“We have confirmation by around 100 countries that they are ready to recognize Kosovo’s independence immediately after we declare it. We will have a powerful and massive recognition,” Thaci told a news conference…

Latest reports in Kosovo media say parliament will meet on the weekend of Feb 16-17 with the announcement on the Sunday, which coincides with what political sources tell Reuters.

The United States and most of the 27-member European Union back self-determination for Kosovo and its 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority. But Russia, allied with Serbia against Kosovo’s secession, has blocked an independence resolution in the U.N. Security Council.

The situation is causing a political crisis within Serbia. The Southeast Europe Times explains:

Serbia’s nearly nine-month old government was brought to the brink of collapse Wednesday (February 6th), as the country’s nationalist prime minister blocked a new EU deal, supported by the pro-European parties in his coalition cabinet.

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica cancelled the government’s regular Thursday meeting, which was supposed to approve the proposed interim political agreement with Brussels before its signing later in the day.

Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic has been given the mandate to sign the much more comprehensive Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, but not the deal offered to Serbia ahead of pro-Western President Boris Tadic’s re-election on Sunday…

Although Tadic is also opposed to Kosovo’s independece, he believes that his country’s future lies in the EU and has expressed support for the interim pact on political dialogue, free trade, visa liberalisation and educational exchanges.

Besides the possible move by Kosovo’s parliament and the political turmoil in Serbia, there is also the increasingly confident stance of the EU, which is expected to authorize for Kosovo the EU’s largest-ever legal reform and police-assistance mission. This will essentially transfer on-the-ground international participation from the UN to the EU. According to the NY Times:

Peter Feith, a veteran Dutch diplomat, is due to become the “International Civilian Representative” and special EU representative, with a mandate until the end of February, 2009.

French army general Yves de Kermabon has been tipped to head the police contingent, and British diplomat David Slynn, as Feith’s deputy, would run the mission’s least welcome outpost, in the Serb-dominated Mitrovica region of north Kosovo.

Serbia is not pleased by this. As quoted by the NY Times:

“There is no legal basis for the EU mission,” Serbia’s President Boris Tadic said this week. “Such a mission can only be approved by the United Nations Security Council.”

But, of course, that could not happen here as Russia would veto any such further UN program that could assist Kosovo’s bid for statehood. Without a clear Security Council statement either in favor of, or against, Kosovar sovereignty, then the member states fall back to their own independent assessments as to whether or not to recognize such a secession. Law can provide a framework for thinking through the issues (as in this case), but at the end of the day political will is crucial for whichever result is sought.

Kosovo seems to have lined up impressive political backing. But the wildcard is still Russia. If Kosovo declares independence and is supported by the EU, the U.S., and other states, will Russia uncertake countermoves in Abkhazia, Transnistria, or other separatist regions that it supports? Will the threatened ICJ case become a reality? Stay tuned…


2 Responses

  1. Chris,

    your points are well taken. I would, however, disagree that the wildcard for Kosovo’s independence is Russia. For good or for bad, the decision rests mostly with the US government. Such a reading follows also from a recent public disclosure (in Slovenian media) of diplomatic notes from the meeting between a senior Slovenian diplomats and officials of State Department. To be sure, Serbia lost Kosovo de facto already in the second half of 1990s.

  2. Jernej:

    I think we are in agreement that US support is crucial. I just meant that Russia views itself as a stakeholder and whether and how it may react to a Kosovar declaration is an open question of some importance. However, Russia’s stance probably will not be determinative in and of itself.


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