PRISTINA, Serbia (Reuters) - Kosovo is prepared to make a unilateral declaration of independence and is pressing the West to go ahead with a vote at the United Nations even if Russia is likely to veto the proposition.
Ethnic Albanian leader Veton Surroi said on Thursday Kosovo would press ahead to statehood in partnership with its Western backers if Russia blocks a draft resolution under consideration at the U.N. Security Council.
“The hypothesis that Russia will use its veto is more likely,” said Surroi, a Kosovo negotiator and unofficial roving ambassador in the province’s bid for independence.
“If something like that happens, we have two obligations towards Kosovo citizens — the process of independence, and the partnership with the international community.”
He was speaking to reporters on his return from the Czech capital Prague, where he met U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday.
“I specifically asked President Bush for the resolution regardless of the threats of a veto,” Surroi said.
“I don’t think we should be held hostage to the threat of a veto, neither should we be held hostage to a more sophisticated plan that would delay implementation of this or that.”
Russian opposition is frustrating Western efforts to adopt a U.N. resolution clearing the decks for a declaration of independence eight years after NATO went to war to halt the killing and expulsion of Albanians by Serb forces.
Ten thousand Albanians died in Serbia’s 1998-99 counter-insurgency war before the United Nations took control. The West sees no prospect of forcing 2 million Albanians — 90 percent of the population — back into the arms of Belgrade.
The United States had forecast a vote this week, but has apparently retreated in the face of a threatened Russian veto.
Moscow demands further negotiation between Serbia and the Kosovo Albanians, something the West says would be futile after 13 months of fruitless direct talks ended in March in stalemate.
Washington has hinted it would recognize a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo should Russia veto, but the 27-member European Union, which seeks to act by consensus, would likely be paralyzed.
The West fears fresh delay may spark unrest by Albanians tired of eight years of political and economic limbo, posing a challenge to Kosovo’s 16,500-strong NATO-led peace force.
Neither would it improve the chances of a deal. In twice delaying the decision from last year to accommodate Serbia, Surroi said, Kosovo had become collateral damage in the West’s worsening relations with President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
“If the decision had been taken in December of last year, Kosovo wouldn’t be in a package with the radar system in the Czech republic, the Estonia mess or any other issue on which Russia has a problem with the West,” he said.
“In the meantime we’ve seen a deterioration in relations between the West and Russia, and Kosovo as part of that.”
Additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci