Kosovo’s parliament declared independence on Sunday. The Associated Press reported from Pristinia, KOSOVO that the speaker of Kosovo’s parliament declared that “Kosovo is a republic — an independent, democratic and sovereign state” — and the announcement was greeted with a burst of applause.
This AP report said that “Sunday’s declaration was carefully orchestrated with the U.S. and key European powers …But by sidestepping the U.N. and appealing directly to the U.S. and other nations for recognition, Kosovo set up a showdown with Serbia — outraged at the imminent loss of its territory — and Russia, which warned that it would set a dangerous precedent for separatist groups worldwide … Serbia immediately denounced the declaration as illegal [and unilateral] , and Russia also rejected it, demanding an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council”. The AP report from Kosovo is here.
The UNSC held an emergency session behind closed doors on Sunday afternoon at Russia’s request, backed by Serbia. A more formal open meeting is apparently scheduled for Monday. AP reported that Russia’s Ambassador to the UN in NY, Vitaly Churkin, said: “We’ll insist that it should be an open meeting, and we expect that the president of Serbia will participate”. AP also reported that Churkin said: “We’ll strongly warn against any attempts at repressive measures, should Serbs in Kosovo decide not to comply with this unilateral proclamation of independence.” In Sunday’s private meeting, Churkin apparently argued that “the declaration of independence from Serbia made earlier Sunday violates the council’s orders and other UN rules”.
UPDATE: The BBC and other news sources reported Monday that Russia is trying to get the Kosovo Declaration of Independence annulled.
An AP report from Moscow says that “The Foreign Ministry said Russia supports Serbia’s ‘just demands to restore the country’s territorial integrity’ and wants the Security Council to renew efforts to reach a settlement on the issue of Kosovo’s status. Kosovo’s independence declaration violates Serbia’s sovereignty and the U.N. Charter and threatens “the escalation of tension and ethnic violence in the region, a new conflict in the Balkans,” the ministry said in a statement. It warned other nations against ‘supporting separatism’ by recognizing Kosovo. Kosovo has formally remained a part of Serbia even though it has been administered by the UN and NATO since 1999, when NATO airstrikes ended former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic’s crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists. Russia has stressed its opposition to any decision on Kosovo’s status that is not accepted by Serbia. It has warned that recognition of Kosovo by the United States and other nations would encourage separatists in the former Soviet Union, across Europe and around the world”. The AP report from Moscow is here.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, on a visit to Israel, said at a press conference in Jerusalem that he wished the Kosovars “good luck”. He said in remarks broadcast on Kol Israel that he was not sure what positions would be taken tomorrow in Brussels, but added with what sounded like a Gallic shrug that UN-led negotiations on Kosovo hadn’t made much progress, and there wasn’t much other choice but to support its independence. Kouchner was one of the first UN commissars of Kosovo.
The Israeli Hebrew-Language newspaper Ma’ariv said, in an editorial, that, “Today, Kosovo will declare independence, against the will of the parent state, Serbia,” and adds that, “The coerced solution is causing concern in Israel and in other states, such as Cyprus and Russia.” The editors assert that, “Kosovo’s declaration of independence is a violation of international law“, and suggest that the US is supporting it, “Because it is simply sick and tired of dealing with these problematic Balkans.” [This summary was supplied by the Israeli Government Press Office.]
The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement Sunday night saying, intriguingly: “Regarding Kosovo’s declaration of independence, Israel is monitoring developments and will formulate its position in due course”.
The implications for Israel are obvious, as it is now negotiating something related to the creation of a Palestinian State, though in the past it warned PLO leader Yasser Arafat not to make a unilateral declaration, as he threatened to do (particularly in 1999 and 2000 –months before the outbreak of the Second Intifada).
UPDATE: The next day (Monday 18 February), the Israeli Hebrew-language newspaper Ma’ariv said in another editorial that “Israeli support for a unilateral declaration of independence is liable to weaken Israel’s position against a similar declaration by the Palestinians.” According to a summary provided by the Israeli Government Press Office, “Ma’ariv editors suggest that Israel will, in the end, recognize Kosovo’s independence but only after many other countries, especially the U.S., have done so”.
Prime Minister Hashim Thaci (a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) which fought Serbian troops in a separatist war in 1998-99), President Fatmir Sejdiu, and Parliament speaker Jakup Krasniqi signed the declaration of independence, AP reported from Kosovo, and a new flag was unveiled –not the red and black flag of the KLA , which demonstrators waved in celebration in the streets today, but a very new one, which drew heavily on the European Community’s blue background flag, with a golden yellow image of Kosovo, and with just six white stars — apparently one for each of its main ethnic groups.
Thaci, according to the AP report from Pristina, pledged that the new nation of Kosovo “would be ‘a democratic, multi-ethnic state’ … and added that ‘Kosovo will never be ruled by Belgrade again’ … Thaci on Sunday signed 192 separate letters to nations around the world — including Serbia — asking them to recognize Kosovo as a state”.
The AP report added that “Serbian President Boris Tadic rejected the independence bid immediately, declaring Sunday’s proclamation ‘unilateral and illegal’ … Serbia’s government minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, said Sunday that Serbia would increase its presence in the roughly 15 percent of Kosovo that is Serb-controlled … Serbia’s government ruled out any military response as part of its secret ‘action plan’ drafted earlier this week as a response, but warned that it would downgrade relations with any foreign government that recognizes Kosovo’s independence”. Again, the AP report from Pristina is posted here.