Russia issues warning over breakaway states

The Times/UK
February 16, 2008

Michael Evans, Defence Editor, and Tony Halpin in Moscow


Kosovo's imminent unilateral declaration of independence is set to
drive deep divisions in the international community, with Russia and
the European Union at loggerheads over the planned breakaway from
Belgrade

Even within the EU, which will help the former Yugoslav province to
implement its plans to become a separate sovereign state, three members
are expected to reject formal recognition of the new-look Kosovo, and
others will bide their time before coming to a decision.

Russia warned the West today that recognition of Kosovo's independence
would affect its attitude towards two breakaway regions of neighbouring
Georgia.

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow stopped short of saying that Russia
would recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which declared independence
from Georgia in the early 1990s in wars that followed the collapse of
the Soviet Union.

But it said: `The declaration and recognition of the independence of
Kosovo will doubtless have to be taken into account as far as the
situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is concerned.'

Kosovo will make its declaration on Sunday and the following day, David
Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, will announce Britain's immediate
recognition of the new state by exchanging letters with his counterpart
in the former Yugoslav province. The United States will also
immediately recognise Kosovo.

Mr Miliband will make Britain's position clear after a meeting of the
EU General Affairs Council on Monday. The three EU states expected to
reject recognition of Kosovo are: Cyprus, Slovakia and Romania. France,
Germany, Italy and possibly Poland are expected to join Britain with
instant recognition, but others, including Spain, Greece and The
Netherlands, are likely to delay a decision. The Dutch say they have to
get approval from their parliament.

Inside Kosovo itself, the momentous decision is not expected to lead to
violence and bloodshed between the majority ethnic Albanians and
minority Serbs. Diplomatic sources said that the Serbs who lived in
communities in the north, close to the border with Serbia, were the
most likely to voice their anger at Sunday's announcement in Pristina,
the Kosovan capital.

However, Belgrade has pledged that it is not planning any form of
military action - nor will it end diplomatic relations with Britain or
any other countries which recognise the breakaway republic - and any
public opposition by the Serbs in the north will be tempered by the
presence of 15,000 Nato troops which are still on duty in Kosovo.

The Russians are expected to demand an emergency meeting of the United
Nations Security Council after Kosovo's declaration. President Putin
has already warned the West that Moscow had plans ready for when Kosovo
declared independence.

The Russian foreign ministry said that Western recognition of Kosovo
`presupposes a revision of commonly accepted norms and principles of
international law'.

Russian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia would almost
certainly trigger a war with Georgia, which insists that they are part
of its territory. Formally, Russia supports Georgia's territorial
integrity. But it has granted Russian citizenship to most of the people
living in the two provinces and maintains peacekeeping troops there.

Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili has repeatedly accused Moscow
of trying to destabilise his country by aggravating divisions with
Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He came to power on a pledge to recover the
two provinces and reunify Georgia.

Russia rejects the argument of the US and some EU countries that Kosovo
is a unique case that sets no precedent for other separatist movements.

The leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia made clear that they regard
Kosovo as a model for their own claims. Abkhazia's President Sergei
Bagapsh said: "We have been watching the Kosovo situation very closely
and we will announce our further steps if Kosovo declares its
independence.'

Events are also being studied in neighbouring Armenia and Azerbaijan
which are locked in another `frozen conflict' over the future of
Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian-dominated enclave has had de facto
independence from Azerbaijan since a bitter war ended in a ceasefire in
1994.