March 21, 2008 / 4:36 AM / 12 years ago

Russia raps U.S. over Kosovo arms, to hold NATO meet

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Moscow will meet NATO to discuss Washington’s authorisation for arms supplies to Kosovo, Itar-Tass news agency quoted Russia’s envoy to the alliance as saying on Thursday.

A UNMIK policeman walks down the street in Mitrovica March 19, 2008. REUTERS/Nebojsa Markovic

By supplying weapons to Kosovo’s government, the United States was arming “former terrorists” and the move could stoke violence in the region, Tass quoted Russia’s ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin as saying.

U.S. President George W. Bush on Wednesday authorized arms supplies to Kosovo, saying it would “strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace”, according to a document on the White House Web site.

“They (Washington) say the weapons will help fight terrorism. At the same time, it is namely former terrorists who are in power in Kosovo right now,” Itar-Tass quoted Rogozin as saying in Brussels.

“How can you fight terrorism, supplying weapons to former terrorists?”

“I have addressed NATO’s secretary-general with a proposal to hold an emergency meeting of the Russia-NATO council to discuss U.S. plans to supply weapons to Kosovo.” He said the meeting could take place on March 28, Tass reported.

A Russian diplomat at NATO said later on Thursday the meeting within the Russia-NATO council would be “extraordinary and informal”. He said it had been agreed before and brought ahead of schedule at Russia’s request.

He said the meeting’s agenda would focus on preparations for a Russia-NATO summit to be held in Bucharest in early April.

“Of course, Kosovo will be discussed as well, because it is a regular theme of talks within the Russia-NATO council,” the diplomat told Reuters by telephone from Brussels.

CONFLICTING APPROACHES

The United States was among the first states to recognize the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo’s Albanian majority from Serbia last month, despite strong opposition from Russia and Belgrade.

Washington responded to Moscow’s criticism by saying arms supplies to Kosovo would be legitimate, because they base on Kosovo’s independence plan worked out by former U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtisaari.

“Under the Ahtisaari plan, which is the basis for Kosovo’s supervised independence, Kosovo is allowed a lightly armed 2,500 person security force,” The White House said in a written statement. “The Kosovo Security Force (KSF) would be subject to NATO oversight and training.”

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted that the only legitimate basis for the Kosovo settlement was U.N. Security Council resolution No. 1244 adopted before the region’s official declaration of independence.

“This resolution does not allow Kosovo to create its own army and allows no arms supplies to Kosovo, except for equipping an international contingent deployed there,” Russia’s Vesti-24 channel showed Lavrov saying during a news conference in Israel.

“Any other (arms) supplies are illegitimate.”

Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs, who want to remain part of Serbia, clashed this week with U.N. and NATO security forces. A Ukrainian U.N. police officer was killed in the rioting, the worst since Kosovo’s independence declaration.

“I would hate to think that these arms supplies aim to coerce Serbs and other ethnic minorities by force to stay within the borders of an illegally proclaimed state,” Lavrov said.

Slideshow (3 Images)

“I don’t believe this will add stability to the Balkans — probably, just the other way round.”

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Brussels and Paul Eckert in Washington)

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Richard Williams

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