by Srdja Trifkovic
The Russian Ambassador in Belgrade warns of a dangerous precedent; Ahtisaari’s plan is “dead,” says the diplomat.
The ambassador of the Russian Federation in Belgrade, Alexander Alekseev, is a career diplomat who occupies an increasingly sensitive post, considering the continuing lack of agreement between Moscow and Washington over the future of Kosovo. He speaks on Russia’s position on Kosovo with the authority, tact, and easy command of issues involved that have been sadly lacking in his departing U.S. colleague, Michael Polt.
We met at his office on August 2, amidst a hectic daily schedule of appointments that he keeps even at the height of the summer holiday season. We talked in Serbian and English—he is fluent in both—about the vexed problem of the southern Serbian province that the U.N. has administered for the past seven years.
At the beginning of our interview. Alekseev noted that the case for Kosovo’s independence is fundamentally weak, and those advocating it are unable to make a coherent case for it:
A: It is very hard to tell what are the arguments of our colleagues who support Kosovo’s independence. They are making a fundamental mistake in that they assume the right to make far-reaching decisions, and yet they have no understanding of the real situation on the ground. In any event, the reality has now prevailed and the plan previously tabled by Marti Ahtisaari is dead and it is no longer on the negotiating agenda.
Q: The rhetoric from Washington indicates increasing readiness to extend unilateral recognition of independence to Kosovo if no agreement is reached at the UNSC. How is the Russian diplomacy preparing for this eventuality?
A: First of all, we’ll try to work with our friends within the framework of the Contact Group, and now within the newly-established “Troika.” The mediators have to function on the basis of consensus, and without any deadlines. We’ll try to explain to them that it would be a huge, historic mistake to let Kosovo proclaim independence unilaterally, and then to proceed with unilateral recognition of that act. It would be a revolutionary step, not only vis-à-vis the Balkan region but in international relations world-wide. It would be an altogether new page in the history of the security system and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. Such a precedent would be used, absolutely, by many other movements claiming the right to control parts of other countries. They would also try to be recognized as the legitimate authority in that part of another state which they control. Many frozen conflicts could revert back to the hot stage, both in the former Yugoslavia and in the former Soviet Union.
Q: Is there some division within the European Union regarding that eventuality?
A: It would be too ambitious for me to try and predict the outcome of internal discussions within the European Union. It is nevertheless apparent that in Europe there are two schools of thought. Some countries are tempted to follow the path of unilateral recognition, while others take much more careful approach.
Q: Here in Belgrade, when we look at the statements of some Serbian politicians, there is a notable discrepancy between President Tadic and his associates, who talk of the need for Serbia to enter “Euro-Atlantic integrations,” and Prime Minister Kostunica who only talks of “European” integrations. Do you see some ambiguity on this issue, and how does Russia look on the desire of some Serbian leaders to join an essentially anti-Russian alliance, while at the same time relying on Russia to protect them from NATO powers in the dispute over Kosovo?
A: I don’t like to comment the activities of the government of the country where I have the pleasure to serve. Generally speaking, there are huge differences between two integrations. “Atlantic integration” means NATO, and it has nothing to do with the natural concerns of Serbia and the Serbian people. NATO does not make any material contribution to the well-being of a member country, and I can see no reason why Serbia should be involved. “European integration” is a different matter, however. Being in the EU could be helpful to a country, and if it is the decision of our Serbian friends to follow that road, we’ll welcome it.
Q: Kosovo is not the only contentious issue between Russia and the West. There are anti-missile radar systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, the dispute with Britain over extradition demands, rivalry over energy . . . so can we talk of a “New Cold War”?
A: No, not at all. Nobody has an interest to go back to the cold war. We would like to be friends, but friendship assumes equal treatment. Russia must be treated as an equal, and must be involved as an equal in the settlement of international conflicts. If that were to be the case, a lot of problems could be overcome very soon.