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KOSOVO / SERBIA / RUSSIA

Pristina Sends Moscow Back to UN

The government reacted immediately Sunday to Kosovo's declaration of independence, calling for a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the move, while former Soviet breakaway regions, long fostered by aid from Moscow, rejoiced at improved prospects of international recognition.

The Foreign Ministry promptly issued a stern warning after the parliament of the former Serb province unanimously embraced a declaration of independence Sunday afternoon.

"We expect the United Nations' and NATO's mission in Kosovo to fulfill their mandate swiftly ... and annul the decision of the Pristina organs," the ministry said in a statement posted on its web site.

It said the declaration could lead to an escalation of tensions and renewed ethnic conflict in the Balkans.

The statement reiterated Moscow's position that a declaration of Kosovar independence represented multiple violations of international law, including breaches of Serbia's sovereignty and the UN Charter.

"Russia totally supports the Serbian leadership's reaction ... and its just claims to territorial integrity," the statement said.

Serbian President Boris Tadic said Sunday that his country would never accept Kosovo's "unilateral and illegal" declaration.

The Kremlin also condemned the decision.

"This is an illegitimate act that deeply contradicts UN Security Council resolutions," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in televised comments Sunday evening.

The Foreign Ministry's statement made no reference to a possible recognition of former Soviet breakaway republics. President Vladimir Putin last week said that Russia would not mimic a "foolish and unlawful decision" by the West.

Britain, France and Germany could move quickly to back Kosovo's new status officially after a meeting of EU foreign Ministers on Monday. But the 27-member Union is deeply divided over the issue. The stiffest opposition comes from Spain and Cyprus, two countries torn by separatist conflicts themselves, and from Greece and Romania, two of Serbia's traditional allies.

It was unclear how soon Washington would recognize Kosovo. President George W. Bush merely said during a visit to Tanzania Sunday that the U.S. would work with its allies to prevent violent clashes, The Associated Press reported.

Leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, autonomous territories that have enjoyed de facto independence within Georgia for more than 15 years, said they would press their case for international recognition.

"Kosovo is a precedent and by no means a unique case," Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh said Sunday, Interfax reported. South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity said that both his region and Abkhazia make a stronger case for independence than Kosovo.

"What Kosovo did today happened in Abkhazia and South Ossetia already 17 years ago," he was quoted as saying.

Both leaders said that they would formally ask both the Commonwealth of Independent States and the United Nations to recognize them as independent states, the agency reported.
Their words were echoed by Abkhaz representatives abroad.

"We welcome this as an example of a people's right to self-determination," Khibla Amichba, a representative of the Abkhaz government to Germany said by telephone from Andernach, near Bonn.

George Hewitt, a professor of Caucasian Languages at London's School of Oriental Studies, to whom the republic has given the title of Honorary Consul in Britain, agreed.
"Whatever happens in Kosovo is a precedent for Abkhazia," he said in a telephone interview from Doncaster, England.

While it was unlikely that any country would recognize Abkhazia, Hewitt argued that support from countries other than Russia might be the only way out of the isolation that has kept the small territory along the Black Sea coast isolated ever since it defeated Georgia's armed forces in a vicious war back in 1993.

"If the West does not want to see Russian power established, it should step in and recognize Abkhazia," he said.

The present status quo meant that Moscow has been able to wield massive influence, because without recognition other countries were unwilling to establish relations, he argued.

Western policymakers have argued that the case of Kosovo must not be compared with Abkhazia or South Ossetia, because ethnic Albanians represented 90 percent of the province's two million people and had been oppressed by the Serbian government in Belgrade.

Kosovo has been under UN administration since 1999, when NATO airstrikes ended the late Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

In Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgian troops tried to bring the territories back under central jurisdiction after both unilaterally declared independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

But the Georgian army was defeated twice and fled, accompanied by much of the local ethnic Georgian population. In the case of Abkhazia, this amounted to around 250,000 people, a majority of the pre-war population.

In a rare show of agreement with Moscow, a senior Georgian politician voiced opposition to an independent Kosovo on Sunday.

"The Georgian leadership will never recognize Kosovo's independence," said Konstantin Gabashvili, the chairman of the country's parliament's Foreign Relations Committee.

Gabashvili argued that the issue might come to the fore if Russia took steps toward the recognition of breakaway republics, but warned that this posed risks to the country's own territorial integrity, Interfax reported.

Moscow and Tbilisi nevertheless traded barbs after the Russian Foreign Ministry said Friday it would defend the rights of its citizens living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry summoned Russian Ambassador Vyacheslav Kovalenko to hand him a note of protest over the statement.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili replied that the granting of Russian citizenship to vast numbers of residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was seen by his government as illegal.
"According to our laws, people living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are our citizens," he was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan said that Kosovo's example would strengthen a bid by the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh to be recognized as a state.

"Recognition of Kosovo's independence can be welcomed by us," Sargsyan, front-runner in the Feb. 19 Armenian presidential election, said in an interview with Reuters.

"If countries recognize the independence of Kosovo and then don't recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, we'll think of double standards," he was quoted as saying.

In a war with Azerbaijan in the 1990s, ethnic Armenians managed to break away from control by Baku, but have yet failed to win international recognition.
In Moldova's Transdnestr region, the separatist parliament was expected to issue a statement on Monday responding to Kosovo's declaration.

(The Moscow Times 18.ii.08)

 
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