Russia names diplomat to join Kosovo troika

(Adds Russian foreign ministry statement)

MOSCOW, July 31 (Reuters) - Russia has appointed senior diplomat Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko to represent the country in negotiations on the future status of Serbia's Kosovo province, the Russian foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

"We can officially confirm the appointment," a foreign ministry spokeswoman said. Botsan-Kharchenko is the special Balkans envoy to Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

He will join one representative each from the European Union and the United States in a "Troika" which has been formed to try to broker an agreement on the future status of Kosovo.

Western powers back a proposal to set Kosovo on the path to independence from Serbia, but that was blocked in the United Nations Security Council by Russia. The "Troika" format was proposed as an alternative.

In a separate statement issued on Tuesday, the Russian foreign ministry said no "artificial" deadlines should be set for the completion of the talks.

That is likely to put Moscow at odds with the Western powers who sponsored the "Troika" plan, because they had said the talks should go on for not longer than 120 days.

"Pre-determining the outcome the mediators will reach, pushing the Ahtisaari plan (to set Kosovo on the path to independence) that the Serbs have rejected, setting artificial time limits on the negotiations -- all this is incompatible with the aim of reaching a compromise," said the statement.

"At the current, critical stage of the status talks process, practices such as these must be ruled out."

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority want independence from Serbia, but many Serbs see the province as their spiritual heartland.

Russia has backed the Serbians, saying giving Kosovo independence could set a precedent that could fuel separatist conflicts elsehwere in Europe.

But Western powers warn delaying a decision could be more dangerous, forcing Kosovo's Albanians to declare independence unilaterally.