Kosovo's appointment in Samara
Kosovo's appointment in Samara
The best deal Kosovo and Serbia can get
The best deal Kosovo and Serbia can get
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia 3 minutes

Kosovo's appointment in Samara

Of all the topics Russia and the EU will discuss at their summit in Samara on 18 May - the new EU-Russia agreement, climate change, Russian WTO accession, the Caucasus - there is no issue that has such immediate security implications for Europe as Kosovo.

The UN protectorate's shaky eight-year limbo is drawing to a close, and the next few months will determine whether it will transition positively into independence under EU supervision, or whether it will result in renewed Balkan turmoil.

Unfortunately, the UN Security Council resolution necessary to set Kosovo's new EU-driven future in motion is being thwarted by Russia. The Samara summit would be an excellent time for EU leaders to convince Russia to stop blocking progress in south east Europe by proposing some compromises to partially alleviate Russia's concerns.

The best way to ensure regional peace and stability and lift Kosovo out of its tired temporary UN administration and undeveloped low-growth economy, is a UN resolution based squarely on UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari's plan which recommends "supervised independence" for Kosovo.

Ahtisaari developed his plan after fourteen months of negotiations that failed to forge consensus between Serbia, which insists on its territorial integrity, and Kosovo Albanians, the 90 per cent of the population, who, after Belgrade tried to ethnically cleanse them from the province in 1999, understandably want nothing more to do with Serbia.

The Ahtisaari plan is a compromise solution that offers Kosovo Albanians the prospect of independence, and Kosovo's minority Serb population extensive rights, security, and privileged relations with Serbia.

It is the best recipe for the creation of a multi-ethnic, democratic and decentralised society, and fits within the European Union's goal for a peaceful Western Balkans with EU accession prospects.

Kosovo is first and foremost a European challenge. The EU is already the largest donor in Kosovo, and it plans to assume the lion's share of responsibility in the new state.

The EU has been working hard to prepare the 1,500-strong post-independence International Civilian Office and a new rule-of-law mission which are ready to be deployed immediately following a UN resolution giving the EU a mandate.

In the past few days, the US and EU have submitted discussion documents amongst Security Council members outlining the "13 elements" they recommend for inclusion in a UN resolution, including an endorsement of Ahtisaari's recommendation that Kosovo be given supervised independence.

Ideally, a final status resolution could be put to a vote in late May or June - if the Russians could be won over, that is. And so it is now up to the Europeans to make the case in Samara.

Russia has made its own proposals in response to the "13 elements" - the EU can use this as a starting point in Samara. Russia is calling on Kosovo Albanians to do more to protect minorities, develop decentralisation, create the conditions for sustainable returns, and preserve cultural and religious heritage sites.

All of these elements are in the Ahtissaari proposal, but Russia is against any form of independence until they are fully implemented. The main point of disagreement between the Russians and Western members of the Security Council is whether Kosovo will be in a better position to meet these obligations as a part of Serbia or as independent state, with substantial international support and assistance.

Clearly the provisional authorities and the people of Kosovo cannot move forward on reform until they have the responsibility for governing their own state.

Giving them an opportunity to build a multi-ethnic state under EU tutelage is the best option available. The EU could, without undermining the essence of the Ahtisaari plan, offer Russia an acceptable compromise by proposing a UN resolution that makes no explicit mention of Kosovo independence, puts a two year moratorium on Kosovo's UN membership candidacy, and creates a Special Envoy for Minorities.

Hopefully, with this EU leaders can get their message across to Russia in Samara, and the Ahtisaari plan will find final approval in New York shortly after. With that, a long dark chapter in the history of south east Europe will finally come to a close, and the region can have a real chance to work towards EU membership.

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.