The end of the Russian defence of Kosovo

By Orhan Dragaš

After the Kremlin’s recognition of Donbas, it is inconceivable that the Russian ambassador to the UN could say anything against Kosovo’s independence without causing laughter in the chamber, writes Orhan Dragaš.

Dr Orhan Dragaš from the International Security Institute is the author of the books “Two faces of globalisation – truth and deceptions” and “Post-Truth in South-East Europe”.

In a series of harsh criticisms of Vladimir Putin’s recognition of the two breakaway Ukrainian regions, one from Moldova’s pro-European President Maia Sandu was among the first to arrive.

This was logical because Moldova could easily be the first in line to see Russia recognise its “Donbas” in Transnistria, an area that has been frozen for even longer, resulting in Moscow immediately sending its troops to “protect the peace” there.

After recognising the independence of Donetsk and Lugansk, what could hold the Russian president from recognising all other frozen conflict regions on the outskirts of Russia?

In anticipation of the world’s response, some important answers have already been provided, and they are very important for the events in the Western Balkans.

After Putin’s recent decision, Russia’s position on the international scene as an advocate of firm compliance with international law becomes unsustainable.

Russia and its leader concluded they could give up that position to achieve their much more important goal, which is total control over the territory once occupied by the Soviet Union.

WIth its deeds, Russia formally left the framework of international law, violating all fundamental laws, which it has been frantically defending for years and decades.

From the UN Charter, through the Helsinki Final Act, to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteeing Ukraine’s integrity, to the Minsk Protocol, legalising the autonomy of the two rebel Ukrainian regions- everything was scrapped.

Still, Donetsk and Lugansk will not become states just by virtue of being recognised by the Kremlin.

Except for Russia, no one else in the world, except Syria, Nicaragua and the likes, will recognise them. Just as no one but Russia and a few others recognised Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Just as importantly, by entering Donbas, Russia ceases to be an advocate against Kosovo’s independence on the international stage.

It is inconceivable that the Russian ambassador to the UN, at the next session of the Security Council dedicated to the semi-annual report on Kosovo, could say anything against Kosovo’s independence and its international recognition without causing laughter in the chamber.

It is now much more logical for Russia to recognise Kosovo as an independent state, following the same principle it has applied to Donetsk and Lugansk. Russia and Putin have greatly facilitated the path to Kosovo’s recognition for the five EU members that have not done so yet.

Regardless of their internal reasons, Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Cyprus today have much less manoeuvring room to avoid recognising Kosovo than they did yesterday.

And if the remaining members of the EU and NATO move to recognise Kosovo soon, Serbia will have only Vladimir Putin to thank.

Indeed, Belgrade lost its biggest and most influential international defender of preserving territorial integrity overnight. Not by its own will, but by the will of that defender, who has essentially pulled the rug out from underneath Belgrade’s feet.

But more than that, Russia has quite literally charged Serbia many times the costs of its services.

For example, through the energy agreement from 2008, the takeover of NIS oil company and oil fields in Serbia, or through the arrangement on the delivery of weapons and military equipment.

Russia has invested only a fraction of its international authority into upholding Serbia’s claim concerning Kosovo. In return, it has received incomparably more from Serbia than could have been expected, given Moscow’s negligible engagement.

It is also interesting to consider the perspective of Kosovo Albanians and the government in Pristina.

They can rightly say that one of their most potent opponents is not a protector of international law but, on the contrary, its most brutal destroyer. From now on, the Russian vote against Kosovo’s independence will be just a passing echo that no one will pay attention to anymore until it completely disappears.

Serbia now finds itself having to “repackage” its current strategy on Kosovo because relying on Moscow and its influence in world forums can no longer be a viable option.

Moscow’s loss of credibility and authority on the international scene is so significant that playing the card of alliance with it on any issue means instant defeat, and no reasonable government can afford that.

Finally, solidarity with Russia is a legend that ceased to exist.

Putin and Russia remain utterly alone in their adventure; instead of a restrained silence from China, they got clear support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine, which the head of Chinese diplomacy spoke about at the Munich Security Conference.

Belgrade will have to continue to look for its chance with Kosovo in the triangle with the European Union and the United States, without expecting that it could get strong support from Russia in the final stage.

Russia may be willing to provide such support, seeking more benefits for itself, but Serbia would have to reject it, otherwise, it would work directly against its own interests.

Because Russia has suddenly become the most brutal destroyer of the international rules-based order and any further alliance with it amounts to criminal complicity. /EURACTIV