Russia issues new warning over Kosovo independence

GENEVA Tue Feb 12, 2008 12:43pm EST

1 of 5. Ethnic Gorani children stand in front of graffiti in the village of Brod in the Sharr mountain region of southern Kosovo February 10, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Matt Robinson

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GENEVA (Reuters) - A unilateral declaration of independence by Serbia's Kosovo province would violate international law and damage security in Europe, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.

He said the United States and European countries did not understand the potential consequences of independence for Kosovo, whose Albanian leaders are expected to announce the move on Sunday in defiance of Serbia.

"It would undermine the basics of security in Europe, it would undermine the basics of the United Nations charter," Lavrov told reporters in Geneva.

He said Western countries were dealing with the problem in a "haphazard" way.

"Many of them, frankly, do not understand the risks and dangers and threats associated with a unilateral declaration of Kosovo independence," he said. "They do not understand that it would inevitably result in a chain reaction in many parts of the world, including Europe and elsewhere."

In New York, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin told reporters that Serbia was requesting a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to discuss the issue of Kosovo.

"We are going to support it," Churkin said.

British and U.S. envoys said they knew nothing about the request. U.S. and EU officials have said they see no point in the council taking up Kosovo again since it has been hopelessly deadlocked on the issue for months. Russia opposes this view.

Kosovo's independence move has been delayed three times in the past year in deference to Russia's insistence on continuing to search for a compromise and because of its explosive impact on Serbian politics.

Kosovo is Serbia's medieval homeland but is now dominated by the 2 million Albanians who live there. It has been administered by the United Nations with NATO peacekeeping since 1999.

Its independence is expected to be recognized by the United States and a large number of European Union members. Russia cannot stop independence but has blocked recognition by the United Nations.

DETERMINATION

EU lawyers say U.N. Security Council resolution 1244, adopted in 1999 after a NATO air war drove Serb forces out of the province, provides a legal basis for Kosovo to declare independence.

Lavrov's comments followed a warning by Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who said on Sunday recognizing Kosovo's independence risked opening a "Pandora's box," implying it would be an ill-thought action with uncertain consequences.

Russia will continue to look for another solution to independence, Lavrov said.

"We will work up to the very last moment, doing everything in our power, to prevent this (from) occurring," he said.

Russia's determination over Kosovo, in support of its traditional Serbian allies, is an example of Moscow's growing assertiveness on the international stage ahead of Russia's presidential election on March 2.

It also reflects Russia's concerns that recognizing

Kosovo's independence could set a precedent for other breakaway regions, including several in or near Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend a NATO summit in early April, a sign that he was willing to engage in dialogue with other countries, Lavrov also said on Tuesday.

(Editing by Philip Barbara)

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