On Dec. 10, some two million people, the population of a moderate European city, could have a profound impact on the continents peace and stability. It is then that Kosovos Premier Agim Ceku says he will break off independence talks and declare unilateral independence. That may have no immediate military consequences but it will require a political reaction from the troika the EU, the United States and Russia seeking to broker a settlement.
Moscow simply will not accept total independence. It remains as supportive of its fellow Slavs, the Serbs, as when it mobilized against the Hapsburg Empire in 1914. The present US administration might well rush to endorse Kosovo independence but that will only assist in raising falsely Kosovar nationalist hopes. It is the EU who will face the deepest and most dangerous dilemma. It is by no means certain that all 27 member states will adopt a unified position on Kosovo. The Greeks are suspicious of their largely Muslim neighbors in Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo. Their sympathy is with their Orthodox co-religionists in Serbia. Other EU states with growing anti-Muslim bias may not welcome a tiny upstart state with little economic strength or future which would spell yet more illegal immigration into the EU proper.
It is the Russians who seem to have the clearest idea of the pitfalls within the labyrinthine negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has made it clear that Moscow would support any agreement, adding for the first time the possibility of Kosovos partition. This is not obviously acceptable to either side. Kosovars want complete freedom from Serbia. Serbs will only grant extensive autonomy as a Serbian province.
Brussels had originally imagined the Serbs having been bombed and blasted out of Kosovo would be anxious to make themselves fit for EU accession negotiations, which would have included the abandonment of Kosovo. Few in the EU appear to have appreciated the visceral, almost fanatical devotion of Serbs to a part of their country where ironically they suffered utter defeat by the Ottoman Turks. The problem is that each troika member has a slightly different agenda. Recoiling against what it takes as US aggression with the proposed missile shield, Moscow would probably be content to let NATO and UN forces that have been in Kosovo for the last eight years to become embroiled in a messy and unpleasant confrontation with militant Kosovars.
Unfortunately such a policy would be an immoral abandonment of Moscows wider duty to world peace. If Washington makes clear it will not tolerate a Kosovar unilateral declaration of independence, if the EU makes clear it will only accept an agreed solution and if Russia makes clear to the Serbs its support is equally conditional on a continuing search for a deal, then it will force both sides toward compromises.
There must be no deadlines, no ultimatums and no strong-arm tactics. Better to have no deal than the wrong deal.