Monday, December 10, 2007

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A slow motion explosion in the Balkans

CNN reports that all of the major players involved in Kosovo agree on one thing -- the status quo cannot hold:

Kosovo will press ahead with plans for independence, a spokesman for the region's Albanian leaders said Monday as negotiators were due to confirm that talks to settle the future status of the Serbian province had failed.

Spokesman Skender Hyseni said independence for Kosovo was "not an issue of if but when," The Associated Press reported. "Kosovo will look at its own agenda, but it will certainly be much earlier than May... Kosovo is only going to follow its own roadmap."

Hyseni's comments came as negotiators of the U.N.-appointed three-party "troika" of the U.S., European Union and Russia were due to deliver a final report confirming their failure to reach an agreement after nearly two years of talks.

On Friday the troika issued a statement declaring talks had reached an impasse. "We carefully considered with the parties every reasonable option that would provide a way forward to common ground," said U.S. troika member Frank Wisner. "That common ground was not found."....

The troika of mediators said it had discussed a wide range of options to resolve Kosovo's status, including full independence, supervised independence, a territorial partition, substantial autonomy and confederal arrangements. They even discussed an "agreement to disagree" solution, to no avail.

The troika's report said both parties pledged to "refrain from actions that might jeopardize the security situation in Kosovo or elsewhere and not use violence, threats or intimidation."

But the failure of the talks coupled with Albanian moves towards independence have triggered fears Serbia will take violent means to prevent the loss of Kosovo....

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic has told CNN that Serbia will not use force to achieve its political objectives. But an adviser to Serbia's prime minister said last week his country would defend its sovereignty "using all means" at its disposal.

"The state has no recourse other than war when someone does not respect the U.N. Security Council," Aleksandar Simic, an adviser to Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, told state television.

Russia, a staunch ally of Serbia, has warned Kosovo against any self-proclamation of independence. Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has said it may "aggravate ethnic rifts" and "rekindle violence."

CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said the main threat of violence was from militias forming as both sides grew impatient with the failure of negotiations to produce a settlement.

"Nobody really feels the status quo can go on much longer," said Oakley. "The people of Kosovo are in dire straits economically and nobody is going to put money into the region until this issue is settled."

The Economist also provides some useful background.

I will be pleasantly surprised if the next six months pass without any significant amount of bloodshed in the Balkans.

posted by Dan on 12.10.07 at 11:11 PM


"They even discussed an "agreement to disagree" solution, to no avail."
Ned: Well, I guess this is a case where we'll have to agree to disagree.
Principal Skinner: I don't agree to that.
Ms. Krabappel: Neither do I.

posted by: Jacob on 12.10.07 at 11:11 PM [permalink]

There is something sadly ironic about outside countries deciding whether Kosovo may become independent. And warning Kosovo not to take any independent action toward becoming independent. It is small wonder the militias are recruiting and stepping up their activities. Is that Abba I hear singing "Fernando" in the background?

posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 12.10.07 at 11:11 PM [permalink]

No, I disagree, there is too much on stake for all parties. Violence will have severe economic and political repercussions for both sides, and this is what makes this situation quite different from the mid- to end nineties. Also there are still EU troops with a robust mandate stationed in the Kosovo that could prevent open violence.

I assume the Kosovo will declare independence in the near future, and Serbia will not be very pleased, but refrain from military action. In the end the prospect of international isolation (again) and the economic repercussions will stop those sentiments. This does not mean that there might not be some smaller outbreaks of ethnic violence, or car-bombs and the like. But I would not assume either side to back this. And I certainly don't think there will be a "significant amount of bloodshed" (although this is a question of defining signficance I guess).

Oh and let's hope that this is a realistic assessment!

posted by: Roland Kappe on 12.10.07 at 11:11 PM [permalink]

Roland, thanks for a refreshingly reasonable comment. I wholly agree. The talk of something approaching armageddon is over-blown, I think, and Russia's threat to absorb South Ossetia and Abkhazia a bluff. If everyone proceeds as calmly as possible, listening to everyone else all the while, Kosovo can separate as did most of the rest of the former Yugoslavia.

Steve LeVine, author
The Oil and the Glory (Random House)

posted by: Steve LeVine on 12.10.07 at 11:11 PM [permalink]

Kosovo is not "like the rest of the former Yugoslavia." It is a province of Serbia, whereas the other post-Yugoslav states were separate republics. It also occupies a unique place in Serbian historical memory.

Nonetheless, I generally concur with the idea that the threat of a new all-out war in the Balkans is overblown. The Serbian government has few options: it can hardly engage in a renewed civil war against Kosovars, one which couldn't help but badly affect the civilian population, while seeking EU candidacy. It is precisely because the central government cannot offer a serious military response to the Kosovar Albanian separatists that talks have failed.

The question is whether the kinds of violence on the fringes of which Mr. Kappe speaks will be severe enough to provoke a spiral of killings that draws in the government.

posted by: Charli Carpenter on 12.10.07 at 11:11 PM [permalink]

"I will be pleasantly surprised if the next six months pass without any significant amount of bloodshed in the Balkans."

I think you're going to be pleasantly surprised. But really, I don't think you should be surprised at all.

Think it through. The Albanians have no reason to be violent -- they're about to get most of what they want. While I wouldn't call the Albanians politically mature, they have learned the virtue of patience; they've waited for eight years now, they can wait a few more months. The only way they'll turn violent is if a significant stretch of time goes by with no progress towards independence. And that's not very likely.

The Serbs have no way to be violent -- there are almost no Albanians left in Serbia (barring a few semi-illegal workers doing scut work in Belgrade), and attacking Kosovo is right out.

Minor scuffles, sure. But large-scale violence with dozens dead and hundreds injured? Very unlikely.

N.B., I'm confident about this to make a side bet -- some nice Armenian cognac, say, against whatever tipple you drink over there.

Doug M.

posted by: Doug M. on 12.10.07 at 11:11 PM [permalink]

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