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 Kosovo independence to open Pandora’s box: Russia
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
MUNICH: Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence would “open a Pandora’s box” in Europe and cause a domino-reaction in the Balkans, Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov warned on Sunday.

“We won’t be more Serbish than the Serbs themselves” in rejecting the independence of Serbia’s ethnic Albanian province, but “we want to stay in the international law framework and we don’t want to create a precedent” that could destabilise Europe, Ivanov told an annual international security conference in Munich.

He denied however that Russia would move to recognise the self-proclaimed republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia — which have broken away from pro-Western Georgia — should the West move to recognise Kosovo.

Kosovo’s breakaway is backed by the United States and most members of the 27-nation European Union, and the province is expected to make a unilateral declaration of independence next weekend — something bitterly opposed by Russia, which has long had strong ties with Serbia. Unilateral independence “will cause a domino reaction in the whole of the Balkans,” Ivanov warned.

If EU countries recognised Kosovo it would be logical for them also to recognise the self-proclaimed Turkish republic of northern Cyprus, he suggested. Northern Cyprus is only recognised by Turkey. Addressing the conference on Friday, Serbian President Boris Tadic warned that a high price might be paid if the province declared independence.

“Serious negotiations on Kosovo are needed now,” Tadic said. “If such negotiations don’t occur I fear all three parties will end up paying an extremely high price,” he added, speaking of Serbia, Kosovo and the international community.

Kosovo has been under UN administration since 1999, when a Nato bombing campaign drove out forces loyal to late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic to end a brutal crackdown on the province’s mainly ethnic Albanian population.

Meanwhile, the European Union is set to complete authorisation of a big supervisory mission in Kosovo this week, just before the territory is expected to declare independence from Serbia, diplomats and EU officials said.

They said the 27-nation bloc will use a low-profile diplomatic procedure to approve an operations plan for the1,800-strong police and justice mission — the last of four preparatory documents required to launch deployment.

“The O-plan will be adopted this week by written procedure,” one official said. A senior EU diplomat said the decision did not need to go to ministers since the bloc’s leaders had agreed in principle in December to send the mission, due to replace the UN administration in Kosovo.

Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leaders are expected to declare independence next Sunday, despite fierce opposition from Belgrade and Moscow. EU foreign ministers hold their monthly meeting in Brussels the following day. Russia has argued the EU would be acting illegally but EU lawyers contend that UN Security Council resolution 1244,adopted in 1999 after a Nato air war drove Serb forces out of the province, provides a legal basis.

EU ministers are expected to adopt a general statement on Kosovo’s future next Monday, taking note of the declaration of independence, calling for stability and leaving it to each member state to decide on recognition, diplomats said. Between 20 and 22 EU governments are likely to recognise Kosovo rapidly, but at least five — Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain — are not expected to recognise the new state initially, the diplomats said.

Cyprus is the most adamantly opposed, partly because of what it sees as a precedent that could lead to acceptance of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

“We have repeatedly stated that Cyprus will never recognise a unilateral declaration of independence, which is beyond the UN framework and particularly circumventing the role of the Security Council,” Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou Markoullis said on Monday.

“This position has been accepted by our EU partners. We are not on our own, there are other countries which will not recognise the unilateral declaration of independence,” she said. The EU has also approved a civilian high representative for Kosovo, Dutchman Pieter Feith, who will oversee the police and justice mission and the implementation by Kosovo’s government of standards protecting the province’s Serb minority.

The EU mission will take 120 days to complete deployment and take over from the UN Mission in Kosovo. EU diplomats and officials had been hoping that UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon would give at least a vague endorsement of the EU mission, despite Russia’s prevention of a Security Council resolution on Kosovo’s future.

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