Putin’s Balkan Mischief

Russia is again on a tear. This time, the Kremlin has stuck its finger in the West’s eye over the long and painful effort to bring Kosovo to formal independence. Unlike the fracas over an American missile shield in Europe, this conflict shows no signs of blowing over, and threatens to damage further the rocky relationship between Russia and the West.    

At every turn, Russia has challenged Western efforts to facilitate Kosovo’s independence.  After a year of negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin rejected the UN mediator’s report recommending supervised independence, prevented the Security Council from accepting that report, and insisted on three additional months of negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo – even after compromise became impossible.

Three weeks ago in the UN Security Council, Russia again insisted that any agreement required the approval of both Serbia and Kosovo, and that further negotiations were necessary. Russia knows that such negotiations will be fruitless, but believes that another seemingly innocent appeal for more talks would strain EU unity, which appears to be a vital goal for Putin. Further delay might also generate violence in Kosovo and undermine international support for independence.

Putin’s hatred of the Yeltsin era’s “subservient” relations with the West fuels his opposition. But the West’s delay in resolving Kosovo’s status permitted that opposition to gain traction. Indeed, the West has consistently misread Russia’s intentions on Kosovo. Many claimed that the Kremlin was delaying the inevitable but ultimately would not block independence. Now, at the eleventh hour, Russia is sticking to its obstructionist position, and its presidential election in March will likely reinforce anti-Western postures.