Page last updated at 15:34 GMT, Sunday, 17 February 2008

East-West divide over Kosovo move

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Albanian flag being waved in Kosovo
An Albanian flag flies over Kosovo in celebration...

The diplomatic gulf between Russia and many Western governments is widening with the declaration of independence by Kosovo.

What the United States and many EU countries see as the inevitable result of war and history is regarded as "immoral and illegal" in the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Most EU governments, certainly the British, see the move as a one-off, the final piece of the shattered jigsaw that was Yugoslavia being put into its new place.

Russia is trying to get the Security Council to declare the Kosovo move invalid. This effort will fail because of the support for Kosovo from three permanent members with a veto on Security Council decisions - the US, France and Britain.

Russia itself last summer blocked any Security Council decision to approve Kosovo's limited independence.

The mandate

At issue is the separation of the province from Serbia without a clear mandate from the Security Council.

Russia supports the view of Serbia that a province cannot break away like this. Serbia has offered autonomy not independence.

Russia says the principles of international law and custom, especially those governing diplomacy in Europe, demand that agreement is made first.

The US and countries supporting Kosovo say that the existing UN Security Council resolution 1244 authorised an "international presence" in Kosovo after the war waged by Nato in 1999 and does not prevent the move to independence.

In the final analysis, though, the Western argument is about politics not law.

The alienation of Kosovo from Serbia, it is felt, has gone too far and the status quo is no longer sustainable or acceptable.

The result is another issue that is added to the growing list of differences between the West and Russia.

The re-emergence of the word West, with its Cold War implications of an almost permanent division with Russia, is a sign of how badly relations have deteriorated over the past few years.

EU recognition

Many EU governments, including the UK, France and Germany, are expected to recognise the limited and supervised form of independence recommended for Kosovo by the UN.

Serb protests against Kosovo independence
...while protests are held in Serbia

They will do so after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

The EU is leaving actual recognition to individual governments. Diplomatic sources say that three member states - Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia - have told EU partners that they will not recognise the breakaway province.

Others might be slow to do so. But there will be substantial support for Kosovo.

Recognition by the United States is not in doubt and is also expected on Monday. The moves have all been coordinated with the Kosovan leadership. The idea is to minimise the expected diplomatic discord.

'Pandora's box'

That there will be discord is certain.

Serbia is not expected to launch any military moves but will certainly do its best to boycott Kosovo while trying to support the Serb minority there. Russia will ensure that Kosovo cannot join the UN.

The stand-off has serious implications for Serbia's future membership of the EU. This could well be delayed and, if relations get much worse, could be put on hold for some years at least.

There is also the possibility that the Serb population in Bosnia-Herzegovina might call for a referendum on their secession.

Whether Russia will use the Kosovo precedent as an argument that Abkhazia and South Ossetia deserve independence or secession from Georgia remains to be seen.

At a recent security conference in Munich, the former Russian defence minister, Sergei Ivanov, spoke of Kosovo "opening a Pandora's box".

At the moment, there is such a gap between the West and Russia that it cannot be bridged. Russia regards itself as under threat (not just from the US anti-missile system, but from a deep hostility) and has taken what it feels are defensive measures.

But those measures (including the threat to target countries helping the US missile shield) are seen in the West as aggressive.

East and West are still divided.

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