Will Russia Partition Kosovo?

Russian troops at Pristina airport in 1999, where they upstaged NATO by arriving first and causing consternation in Western capitals

Don’t take it to the bank or anything, but I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re soon going to see something of a reprise of a bizarre moment at the end of the 1999 Kosovo conflict. Having bombed Serbia into submission and secured a U.N. resolution for an international force to enter Kosovo, the U.S. and its NATO partners were stunned to find themselves upstaged by a Russian armored column that raced into Pristina before them, and took control of the airport for the best part of two weeks.

With the NATO powers, or most of them, again having ridden roughsod over international law in order to shepherd Kosovo to independence, Moscow currently doesn’t recognize the legality or legitimacy of what has transpired there. And I see a perfect storm taking shape: Serbia is furious that the price of Milosevic’s brutality is losing part of their sovereign territory; the Serbs of northern Kosovo have no intention of living under the rule of the avenging ethnic cleansers and Greater Albania nationalists of the new government in Pristina, and are showing a willingness to fight to remain administratively connected with Serbia.

And, very importantly, the Serbs of Northern Kosovo have actually called for a return of Russian troops to the area. President Putin has responded by ordering his government to prepare to deliver humanitarian aid to the Serbs of Kosovo.

The Serb government, meanwhile, has demanded partition of the territory as a solution to the crisis, leaving the northern third of Kosovo inside Serbia even if it has lost the Albanian-majority south. The Kosovo government, flush with NATO backing for its independence, has rejected the proposal.

But Russia doesn’t recognize the authority of the government in Pristina, which it brands as a band of “ex-terrorists,” nor does it recognize the legality of the status-change in Kosovo that NATO has engineered. I suspect that the “humanitarian aid” being planned by Moscow will arrive in Mitrovice and other parts of Northern Kosovo on the back of armored columns traveling through Serbia. And its function will be to cement the partition of Kosovo, to reunite its northern third with Serbia.

Moscow has shown little inclination to accomodate Washington, and would incline to pushing back at what it sees as NATO encroachment on its turf across a wide front — particularly when the murky legality of Kosovo’s independence presents such an opportunity. And, of course, with NATO’s main players bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, Putin may well see an opportunity.

The nationalist government in Pristina, of course, would be inclined to resist, assuming that NATO would come to its rescue as it did when the same element — then under the rubric of the Kosovo Liberation Army, listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. — launched the guerrilla campaign of provocations that triggered Milosevic’s vicious ethnic-cleansing drive, and brought NATO’s intervention to bomb the Serbs out of the province.

This time, the calculus could be different. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Moscow pull a fast one on the distracted White House in the next couple of months.

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10 Responses to Will Russia Partition Kosovo?

  1. VMR says:

    This is not a new scenario: I have read about this possibility maybe two years ago. Thesis was that under Dayton agreement there is an loophole that can be used for in Kosovo case, to facilitate division of the province/state. I have no idea how come I don’t have this article in my Delicious bookmarks. If someone knows what I’m talking about, please leave a link. My recollection is that story appeared in some British paper (Guardian ?), but I wasn’t able to to find it when I searched for it recently.
    Re: separation and Serbs. What an idiotic idea! But, unfortunately, one to be expected from current idiotic government. There is some hope this will be changed after May 11 election, but I’m not holding my hopes up. Serbia has never gotten rid of the Milosevic cancer that is now eating it’s own body – again.

  2. Joshua says:

    What is rather ironic is the fact that the West’s charm of “humanitarian intervention” can be deftly used by other powers, and their pleas for “territorial integrity” of a false state is laughable since they broke up Serbia all at the behest of UNSCR 1199 and the Helsinki Final Act. We all knew that pushing Kosovo into independence would back Russia into a wall and Russia are not proving to let this issue go, considering that they are very wary of other former satellites of the Soviet Union becoming a part of NATO. They’re being encircled and Bondsteel in Kosovo is just another part of the machine for NATO hegemony. Granted Serbia is very weak and it has little to no leverage on anything but it makes little sense for them not to fight for something in Kosovo and a naive partition might appease some of the population there.

    What is troubling though is that southern Kosovo could then be joined with Albania. There really is no Kosovar and the Albanians there have no goal for nationalism except one conjoined with a Greater Albania. That means bad news for Macedonia and othe neighbouring states that harbour a minor Albanian population.

  3. igor says:

    It was one of the worst decisions to get another Muslim State in the heart of Europe, which is ruled by real terrorists/criminals. Russia with its pan – Slavic ideas wouldn’t tolerate such an offense. Rice stupid look what she does. New war in Balkans just a matter of time.

  4. protest against our good russian generals says:

    At the end of WWII, the late Bela Kiraly, commanding a sizable Hungarian military unit, surrendered to the closest Russian colonel, and became his prisoner of war.

    The Russian or Soviet officers were complete barbarians in majority.

    They did not feel any concern for the local population, or for the masses of innocent soldiers on the opposing side.

    The American officers are just different. Educated civilians in uniform.

    The late Bela Kiraly was a Horthy officer, nevertheless a true gentleman, a thinking man, a fierce comrade, and also a person honored by Yad Vashem.

    I wish, Russia had people like him.

  5. Ben says:

    Long live USA the best regardes from Kosova.

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  9. The Russian or Soviet officers were complete barbarians in majority.They did not feel any concern for the local population, or for the masses of innocent soldiers on the opposing side.

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