Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 72

Moscow sees Kosovo talks as potential model for secession

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov and other officials have shifted their tactics regarding the negotiations on the status of Kosovo. The new theme of their statements and tactical approach to the negotiations is: “No Haste.” In their view, the negotiations must prepare a settlement “acceptable to all parties” — translation: hand Serbia blocking rights — even if it means delaying the final outcome. Lavrov and his spokesman, Mikhail Kamynin, somberly intimate that recognition of Kosovo’s independence could set a “precedent” with “dangerous consequences in Europe,” i.e., encourage movements in parts of certain countries to press for separate statehood and international recognition (Interfax, April 10). Meanwhile, the United States is the main promoter of Kosovo’s independence, contingent on proper standards of governance and human rights. The EU position is similar. Moscow’s new arguments seek to dissuade some European governments from supporting recognition and, through this tactic, to complicate and prolong the negotiations.

The shift seems due at least in part to the prospect that the Serbian government might officially consent to independence and international recognition of Kosovo, albeit subject to international (i.e., Western) certification that Kosovo has achieved democratic standards. Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vuk Draskovic recently declared that Serbia could agree to international recognition of Kosovo’s independence, including membership in all international organizations save the United Nations (a reservation that seems destined to be abandoned in due course). Draskovic’s statement has triggered a reassessment of policy in Moscow.

The Kremlin had initially calculated that international recognition of Kosovo’s independence could become a “model” or “precedent” enabling Russia to call for recognition of Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, or Karabakh. However, Serbian consent to international recognition of Kosovo would make it impossible for Moscow to apply a “Kosovo model” to the post-Soviet conflicts. In that case, the “model” would stipulate that international recognition of a new state depends on the prior consent of the country from which that entity secedes. Such a model would be useless to Russia and the post-Soviet secessionist territories because Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan would not grant such consent in any foreseeable circumstances. Moreover, rapid progress toward resolving the Kosovo issue with minimal Serbian resistance would deprive Russia of opportunities to play spoiler in the negotiations within the Kosovo Contact Group and UN Security Council. Moscow wants a dragged-out negotiating process with opportunities for tradeoffs, whether at Serbia’s expense or the expense of Moscow’s protégés in the post-Soviet secessionist enclaves, depending on tactical developments down the road.

Moscow is responding in three ways to the situation created by the Draskovic statement. First, it tries to embolden hard-line nationalists in the Serbian government to oppose Kosovo’s independence in principle and to raise insuperable obstacles in the negotiations. Second, it tries to outflank the United States by raising the prospect of destabilization in Europe with some West European participants in the Contact Group and with some Central-East European governments in bilateral channels. And, third, it cries, “No Haste,” so as to frustrate the U.S. and, largely, Western goal of achieving a resolution this year.

The authorities in Tiraspol, Transnistria; Sukhumi, Abkhazia; Tskhinvali, South Ossetia; and Stepanakert, Karabakh (and Yerevan as well) never based their hopes for international or at least Russian official recognition upon a possible Kosovo “model” or “precedent.” When Russian President Vladimir Putin raised this idea earlier this year and turned it into a staple of Russia’s discourse on post-Soviet conflict resolution, the secessionist authorities reacted with caution and skepticism. While putting a few of their eggs in the Kosovo basket, they are clearly loath to stake their case on Kosovo or Russian actions related to Kosovo. They continually stress other arguments, “precedents” or “models” in their quest for recognition (see EDM, February 2, 6, 8).

(part one of two).