23 January 2008 – Europe has split into two when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on Tuesday were discussing the status of breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo. Some voted for Serbia to retain its territorial integrity and thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin. Others said that Russia’s position is counterproductive and Kosovo’s independence is inevitable. The original meaning of the resolution drafted by Lord Russell-Johnston was reversed as the assembly voted against Kosovo’s immediate independence.
Lord Russell-Johnston has been concerned with the Kosovo settlement only in the past two years. “The initial draft of the report that I wrote mentioned independence for Kosovo,” he told Kommersant. “I’m absolutely sure that this is the only way to break the stalemate.”
But right before the session Lord Russel-Johnston amended his report to defend the paper against outright negative reaction from those delegations that oppose Kosovo’s independence. That’s why he did not urge to recognize Kosovo’s independence but said that “the potential for compromise is still not exhausted and alternative decisions should be considered”. What is more, he asked the UN Security Council “overcome the existing controversy and come up with any sort of solution” otherwise Europe should brace itself for Kosovo declaring independence.
Presenting the report Lord Russell-Johnston said that Russia which opposes Kosovo’s independence is being illogical. It supports separatist regimes in Transdniestria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia but, on the other hand, it denies Kosovo the right for independence. He believes that Kosovo’s independence will not create any particular disturbances nor will it become a dangerous precedent. He went on to compare Russia with “a bear who is trying to crush a mouse only to show his power”.
Although Lord Russell-Johnston assured Kommersant that the revised draft is very mild, his report caused a storm in the PACE. More than 50 delegates signed up to speak on the Kosovo issue.
Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Russian delegation, got indignant by the comparison with the bear. “It’s strange to hear this kind of comparison from a citizen of Great Britain which has suggested Russia amend its constitution and believes that the British law should work on the Russian territory – I’m referring to the recent conflict over the British Council.” Mr. Kosachev believes that that it is too early to say that there is no point in further talks. This kind of statements will only let the Albanians know that they don’t need to enter any talks with the Serbs as Europe is going to recognize their independence anyway, he said. Mr. Kosachev concluded that the only good thing that Europeans could do for Kosovo and Serbia is admit the whole of Serbia to the EU and then Kosovo will have no point in trying to go its separate way.
This idea sounded very fresh. The EU-hostile Radical Party has so far been the only big ally of Russia in Serbia. Mr. Kosachev has thus admitted that President Tadic’s Democratic Party is the only valid source of power in Serbia as integration with the EU rather than isolation could solve the Kosovo conflict.
However, there was no one else to go on with the Russian lawmaker’s idea. Lord Russell-Johnston said later that everyone was so much interested in their own arguments that they were not hearing what others were saying. Half of the delegations spoke against the report.
“We are not talking about a unique situation,” Britain’s Mike Hancock, Lord Russell-Johnston’s fellow Liberal Democrat, said. “It is dangerous to suggest that the Kosovo solution of UDI is not setting a precedent. We are saying that, because there is no ongoing dialogue, we should simply cave in, give them all the resources that they need and create a failed state in the heart of Europe.”
“We cannot say that all ways to find a compromise have been exhausted if we don’t’ want to see a new war on the Balkans,” said French Socialist Josette Durrieu.
“My country has experienced the imposed separation of part of its territory in the past. Violent separatist efforts were supported from the outside and boosted by pressure from a segment of the international community,” said Czech Communist Katerina Konecna. “We know it under the name of the Munich agreement.”
“The countries that did not accept the independence of Chechnya at the time have no right to accept the independence of Kosovo today,” another Czech lawmaker, Tomas Jirsa from the European Democrats said.
Azerbaijan’s delegation vehemently opposed the resolution saying that Kosovo would surely become a dangerous precedent and hinder the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement.
Ivica Dacic, leader of the Serbian Socialists, Slobodan Milosevic’s former party, asked why the Europeans are willing to grant independence to Kosovo but refuse it to Corsica, Quebec, Catalonia, Basques, Northern Ireland, Kurdistan, Palestine and Northern Cyprus.
“Thanks to Russia, the Duma and Putin!” the Serbian parliament’s deputy speakers said finishing her speech.
When the deputies went out for a break Konstantin Kosachev looked very upbeat. “The situation is fifty-fifty,” he told Kommersant. “The resolution may be passed and it may be voted down. But we shouldn’t underestimate discipline among EU members.” Dutch deputy Tiny Kox, leader of the United Left, told Kommersant that the resolution had already been “murdered”. The judicial committee endorsed the amendments that had already reversed its meaning. A key amendment that was submitted by 12 delegates including Russia and Serbia took out the phrase that talks reached a stalemate and the EU should get prepared for Kosovo to declare independence to introduce a new one suggesting new talks. Most delegates voted against calling the talks stalemated and supported the idea of ordering new talks without attaching any deadlines. But much to the dissatisfaction of the Serbia and Russian delegations, Lord Russell-Johnston’s statement that the EU should expect Kosovo to declare independence soon has not been taken out of the final draft.
In other words, the majority at the PACE agreed with arguments of the both parties indicating that they are against Kosovo’s independence but admit that it is inevitable.