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21st May 2022

Russia confirms veto on Kosovo independence

Moscow has explicitly threatened to use its UN security council veto on an EU and US-backed plan to give independence to the Serb province of Kosovo, dinting hopes that Russia might abstain from the UN vote.

"A decision based on Martti Ahtisaari's draft will not get through the UN security council," Russia's deputy prime minister Vladimir Titov confirmed on Tuesday (24 April), Russian newswires Interfax and Ria Novosti report.

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"The threat of a veto should stimulate the search for mutually acceptable options," he added, following months of hint-dropping by Russian diplomats that they would use the ultimate UN sanction.

UN envoy Ahtisaari's proposal would give Kosovo "supervised independence," with Pristina shortly afterward declaring that it is an independent state and with the US and EU recognising its new status.

Washington has been pressing for a UN decision in late May, but the UN is unlikely to table a resolution unless it has been pre-arranged that the five UN veto powers will either support the move or abstain from the vote.

The G8 summit in Germany on 6 to 8 June could be used for last-ditch talks, with the UN five - the UK, France, the US, Russia and China - all round the table and with Bush and Putin likely to hold their own bilateral.

But some political sources in Serbia suggest Moscow and Belgrade are looking to delay any UN decision until autumn this year or early 2008, with Russia suggesting that Kosovo semi-autonomy would be acceptable to Serbia.

In the meantime, a Russian-orchestrated UN fact-finding mission will between 25 and 28 April tour the region to see what lies behind Serbia's claim that tens of thousands of Serb refugees are still too afraid to go back to Kosovo.

Kosovo prime minister and former ethnic Albanian guerilla Agim Ceku showed impatience with the Serb-Russian opposition this week, amid fears that radical Kosovo Albanians could turn to violence if made to wait too long.

"Russia may demand new negotiations as much as it likes...but in the last few days of May, Kosovo will acquire independence," he said, Ria Novosti reports.

Kosovo is home to 1.8 million ethnic Albanians and over 100,000 ethnic Serbs as well as Serb holy sites. But it has been under UN supervision since 1999, when NATO intervened to stop Serb attacks against the ethnic Albanian population.

Prickly meeting

The Titov veto statement comes after a prickly meeting between German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Luxembourg on Monday (23 April).

Mr Steinmeier said the EU's "aim is to secure peace and stability" and acknowledged that "there are some differences on the assessment of the situation" between Moscow and Brussels.

But with an EU splinter group including Slovakia, Romania, Greece, Spain, Italy and Cyprus recently voicing reservations on the Ahtisaari plan, Mr Steinmeier was unable to say the EU is united on the topic.

"There should be no unilateral efforts to impose solutions because these Balkan nations need to live together," Russia's Mr Lavrov retorted, calling the Ahtisaari plan a "delayed-action land mine."

The Russian also brushed off EU questions about police brutality and arrests of peaceful pro-democracy protesters in Moscow and St Petersburg one week ago. "I think it was Voltaire who said that freedom is following laws," he said.

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