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The Financial Times (Gideon Rachman's blog) - December 2, 2007 Perhaps there is something wrong with me - or I am badly missing the point. But I can't help feeling a certain sympathy for the Russian position over Kosovo. All my friends who follow Russian foreign policy and/or the Balkans tell me I'm wrong and that the Putin government is behaving provocatively and irresponsibly. But, as far as I can see, it is the Russians who are sticking to the letter of the law. Let me re-cap. The situation in Kosovo has been building steadily towards a crisis for months. By December 10 the Serbs and the Kosovars are meant to have reached an agreement. Everybody knows that this is not going to happen - and that the Kosovars will almost certainly declare independence soon after the breakdown of talks. At that point the US will in all probability recognise Kosovo, as will many EU countries (although not the EU itself). The justification for the US-European position is that Kosovo is over 90% Albanian. The argument is that by their vicious treatment of the province in the past the Serbs have forfeited the right to rule it. Refusing recognition to the Kosovars might just provoke a renewal of violence. Independence, at some point, is inevitable. We might as well just get on with it. The Russians respond that recognising a new independent state, without agreement between the two parties or a UN resolution, sets a very dangerous precedent for other parts of the world. What about the Russian-majority territories in the Caucasus like Abkhazia or South Ossetia? What happens if the Serb-majority bit of Bosnia declares independence, as it is now threatening? Now part of this is clearly just mischief-making. It might well suit the Kremlin to find excuses to make trouble for Georgia, for example, by backing the Abkhazians. But the precedent argument is not totally without merit. Clearly, there are members of the European Union who are worried by it. It is no accident that the Spanish - concerned by the possibility of eventual Catalan or Basque declarations of independence - are among the Europeans who are most reluctant to recognise Kosovo. The argument about UN resolutions is also a powerful one. Of course, there is an element of circularity about the Russian position. The main reason there will not be a UN security council resolution recognising Kosovo is that Russia (and China) would veto it. But nonetheless, how would the US or the EU react if the Russians were rushing to recognise a country that had unilaterally declared independence, without UN recognition? Not very well, I suspect.

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