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Strains tell within Europe over Kosovo

Trapped between the tough and exclusive positions adopted by the US and Russia, even the semblance of EU unity over Kosovo is falling apart.

The tough and contradictory positions taken by the United States and Russia over Kosovo may lead to a policy split in the European Union and a subsequent loss of credibility as a foreign policy player, analysts warn.

In an interview with AFP on September 8, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Kurt Volker, said Kosovo appeared determined to declare independence in the absence of any settlement on the province’s future status. “We would recognize Kosovo’s independence as, we assume, a number of others would as well, because that is the only stable way forward in the Balkans,” he said. Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister, Vladimir Titov, was quick to react, voicing strong concern that any statements prejudicing a future solution before negotiations wind up would not contribute to the process. Austria’s Foreign Minister, Ursula Plassnik, meanwhile on Sunday indirectly criticized statements both by the US and by Moscow. “Neither of the two [Serbia or Kosovo] will join either the US or Russia, but the direction is the European Union,” Plassnik said.

Despite the State Department’s subsequent insistence that the media had misquoted their official, the sense that the Americans may be gearing up for a unilateral move on Kosovo has lingered. Experts argue that the current stalemate over Kosovo and the prospect of unilateral recognition have caused further divisions within the EU. The situation is similar to that in the early 1990s during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, and may leave the EU without a united voice on the issue. Another stumbling block, they say, is the status of the future EU mission, as some of its members would refrain from sending troops or contributing to a civilian mission in Kosovo without a UN mandate. Caught between a rock and a hard place, EU foreign ministers struggled at a weekend summit in Portugal to build a united front. But diplomats have been forced to concede differences on Kosovo among the 27 states are deep.

While Britain and France seem ready to recognize Kosovo’s independence, Spain, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria are reluctant and other nations are also ambivalent. “The status of Kosovo has to be resolved within the UN,” Spain’s Miguel Angel Moratinos, was quoted as saying at the summit. Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister, Ivajlo Kalfin, said on Tuesday in Sofia that the international community had to bring Belgrade and Pristina to “a quick agreement through mutual concessions”, adding that neither Belgrade nor Pristina should be forced into a solution that they have not both agreed to. One country whose position over Kosovo’s independence is perceived as ambiguous is Germany. Some are convinced, however, that Germany is actually at the forefront of those countries opposing any unilateral move leading to Kosovo’s independence. Last week, Berlin warned against any attempts to sidestep the UN and Russia on Kosovo’s independence, complaining that such moves might jeopardize Germany’s own relations with Moscow. (read more )