Violent protests in both Belgrade and Mitrovica in Kosovo yesterday by Serbs have been met with impatient threats to Serbia of a slowing down of the building of ties by the EU, and the progress towards the promised Stabilisation and Association Agreement, which would open up eventual EU membership to Serbia. In any rational scenario, such threats would count for a lot and persuade Serbs to abandon violent protest and abide by the EU’s decision to recognise Albanian Kosovo’s independence from Serbia.
The riots though are the actions of only 1000 people at most in Belgrade. The Serbian government may not be able to easily stop them as a determined minority can always register their disapproval with violent actions. There will always be enough Serbs around to carry out violent actions in such circumstances.
The EU clearly believes that reason will win the day, and if there were no other extraneous factors, it is possible that they would succeed. From the BBC
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said continued violence would harm efforts to improve ties.
We received assurances from Prime Minister Kostunica that there would not be a repeat of this episode and we will hold him to that, said a
US state department spokesman.
“The embassies have to be protected, and that is the obligation of the country,” Mr Solana told reporters when arriving for an EU meeting in Slovenia.
“Things will have to calm down before we can recuperate the climate that would allow for any contact to move on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement.”
That agreement, a preliminary deal on EU-Serbia links, was reached last year, but the EU has said it will not sign it until Belgrade co-operates fully with the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
The EU was ready to sign an interim trade deal with Belgrade, but Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica blocked the move earlier this month.
The EU clearly feels that it holds the whip hand, but the EU has made one serious miscalculation. It has not taken into account the determination of Vladimir Putin to influence the situation.
Today Russia considerably upped the anti by making explicit a threat to engage in military action over Kosovan independence. The BBC website does not carry this, but CNN is running the story as its lead, as follows –
Russia has not ruled out using force to resolve the dispute over Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia if NATO forces breach the terms of their U.N. mandate, Moscow’s ambassador to NATO warned on Friday.
“If the EU works out a single position or if NATO steps beyond its mandate in Kosovo, these organizations will be in conflict with the U.N., and then I think we will also begin operating under the assumption that in order to be respected, one needs to use force,” Dmitry Rogozin said, in comments carried by Russia’s Interfax news agency.
If the US thinks that calling on another NATO bombing campaign will be enough to neutralise Serbian opposition to Kosovo’s declaration of independence, as its fallback position if things get out of control, it might have to consider a very different scenario to the last time that happened, where Russia was acting as part of the UN alliance.
Russia this time is proposing to take military action to enforce United Nations Resolution 1244, and force the US and EU into line, who they claim are in breach of the UN Resolution, which guarantees Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo.
This confrontation is getting nastier by the day. The problem is that the EU is playing economics while the Russians and Serbs are playing with thoughts of military force. The EU and the US had better get to the negotiating table with Russia over this as a matter of urgency, or they could soon be facing a humiliating military situation.
Russia has also another option for putting pressure onto the EU, of course, cutting off the gas supply. Gerard Batten MEP UKIP spoke to the EU Parliament in November 2007 pointing out that the EU’s attitude to Russia was hopelessly naive. See him speaking in the video clip above. His words could be prophetic.
UPDATE from International Herald Tribune – February 22nd 2008. Russian official denies that Russia will use military force over Kosovo.
In Washington, Nicholas Burns, U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs, on Friday called on Russia to repudiate a suggestion from one of its officials that Moscow may need to use military force to earn respect after Western governments recognized Kosovo, The Associated Press reported.
Burns called the comments by Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin, “highly irresponsible” and also criticized Russia’s strong language condemning the recognition of Kosovo’s independence by the United States and some European countries.
In his remarks, according to The AP, Rogozin said Russia might need to use military force, but then later spoke in more conciliatory terms, saying that Moscow would not get involved in any armed confrontation over Kosovo.