I’ve just returned from a week in Brussels where I gave a public presentation concerning the Transnistrian conflict in Moldova, with reference to the various other so-called “frozen” conflicts such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh. But the word I heard time and again was: “Kosovo.”

Monday, December 10th, is the deadline for the negotiations on Kosovo’s final status, mediated by the “troika” of the EU, Russia, and the U.S. As summarized by the Financial Times (via MSNBC.com), based on what was already communicated informally on Friday, on Monday, the troika

will formally tell the UN … that the talks between Serbia and the Kosovar Albanians have failed. Deadlock will be reinforced at the UN next week when Russia, which is firmly allied with Belgrade, will call for negotiations to continue, while the US, UK and France will say they are now prepared to recognise independence for Kosovo.

What this means not only for Kosovo and Serbia, but also for the EU, Russia, the U.S., NATO, and the ongoing frozen conflicts is a matter of much speculation and deliberation. Will Kosovo declare independence this week? As the FT explains, that is actually not likely. For one thing, the EU is unlikely to rush into recognition:

At meetings of EU foreign ministers and heads of government this week, the critical challenge will be to set out a broad direction for Kosovo that unites the EU while also helping ensure stability in the region.

EU leaders are expected to declare at their summit on Friday that negotiations are over and that the future of both Serbia and Kosovo lies in the European Union…

The bigger challenge for the EU is to get all 27 member states to back Kosovo’s independence. Four or five EU members, notably Cyprus and Greece, have misgivings about recognising a unilateral declaration of independence by the Kosovo Albanians, partly out of fear of a precedent for ethnic or national groups at home.

As a result, EU leaders are likely to avoid making a commitment to the independence question this week, focusing on language they can agree on.

The EU’s approach is likely to be mirrored by the Kosovar leadership. The FT reports:

Asked how he viewed the EU’s role in co-ordinating Kosovo’s future independence declaration, Mr Thaci [the former guerrilla leader who is widely expected to be Kosovo’s future prime minister] told the Financial Times: “The EU is the key. We are for a co-ordinated declaration of independence. For us recognition is as important as the declaration.”

He went on to acknowledge that Brussels would be the main source of badly needed aid for an independent Kosovo, and that a declaration of independence by parliament could be delayed until March.

Azem Vllasi, a senior Kosovar Albanian political adviser, also acknowledged the need to delay independence. “We don’t have to hurry with the act immediately after December 10,” he told the FT. “These steps must be in agreement with western countries, and all the signs from western countries are that independence is a thing we can make.”

How this careful coordination may be undertaken is the topic of a new report by the International Crisis Group, Kosovo Countdown: A Blueprint for Transition. Besides the political minefield, there is also the difficult task of forging an inclusive Kosovar identity that would include those not of Albanian ethnicity. The International Herald Tribune has an article on this topic.

I will post further this week on the troika’s report and on the relation of Kosovo to the frozen conflicts, particularly through the optic of self-determination. As I’ll explain in those posts, while the situation in Kosovo may have a effect on the politics of other conflicts in the region, Kosovo is a bad analogy for what is happening in Moldova (and maybe for the other frozen conflicts, as well) and it is perfectly consistent to conclude as a matter of international law that Kosovo should become independent while Transnistria should be reintegrated into Moldova. But I’ll leave all that for other posts.

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Diplomatic Gunboat
Diplomatic Gunboat

It is hard to believe that no one in Brussels was discussing their own local frozen conflict (okay, ‘conflict’ is probably too strong a word). But how does all this breakaway-talk impact the politics of Flanders? Which is the better analogy: Wallonia/Serbia or Wallonia/Moldova?


D. Gunboat