The Next Battle for Kosovo
Bush and Putin square off over the question of independence.
6:15 PM, Jun 11, 2007 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
THERE IS SOMETHING alarming about the way Russian neo-Stalinist Vladimir Putin and his cohort revel in their obstructive behavior on the status of Kosovo. At the G8 summit, Russia blocked a compromise proposed by the French (no surprise there) that would have postponed a United Nations vote on independence for the territory in exchange for Russian recognition of its inevitability. Putin said, "I must say that our views on this problem run counter to those of my G8 colleagues."
We all remember where that ended up. There is another, much earlier parallel that is more chilling, but so dramatic as to be excluded by most serious observers--similar Russian incitement of Serbian claims in the Balkans led to the Sarajevo assassination of 1914 and the outbreak of the First World War.
The consequences can hardly be so devastating today, but the underlying motif is the same, and has been so for centuries. Russian meddling abroad in the name of pan-Slavic nationalism is used by authoritarian Muscovite rulers to unify their own discontented subjects. That is why Putin undermines what little remains of the former confidence extended to him by President George W. Bush.
Bush, for his part, took a welcome position of firmness on Kosovo, declaring on June 10, during his tumultuous welcome to Tirana, capital of Albania proper, "Sooner rather than later you've got to say 'Enough's enough--Kosovo is independent.'" The day before, in Italy, the president said, "It's now time in our judgment to move the Ahtisaari plan." Not that the latter, produced for the UN by Finnish diplomat Matti Ahtisaari, is the best of all possible solutions. As I wrote in this periodical earlier this year, the Ahtisaari proposals would leave Kosovo with no more than "supervised independence," and still in the hands of UN administration. Kosovar critics point out that this concept violates the UN's 1960 Security Council resolution 1514, which declared that "The absence of preparation in the fields of politics, economics, society or education cannot be used as a pretext to delay independence."
Still, Kosovars greeted Bush's comments with an affection almost as great as that extended to the president in Tirana. The newspaper Koha Ditore (Daily Times), published in Pristina, the Kosovo capital, exulted Monday that Bush had employed his characteristic directness in dealing with the issue. Baton Haxhiu, a noted Kosovar journalist, wrote in the Pristina daily Express that only an American president could declare himself for Kosovo independence from the middle of Tirana.