BELGRADE (Reuters) - Two of Serbia’s closest neighbors are expected to move toward recognizing Kosovo on Thursday, a blow to Belgrade’s efforts to counter the secession of its former province.
On Wednesday, the United Nations’ General Assembly supported Serbia’s initiative to seek an International Court of Justice opinion on the legality of the independence declaration made by Kosovo in February and recognized by 48, mostly Western states.
Serbia hoped the legal review would stop further recognition of Kosovo and newspapers carried jubilant headlines such as “Victory for Serbia” and “Success for Serbia at the U.N.”
“This is a great diplomatic victory, it’s Serbia’s great victory, the first one in the international field after many years,” President Boris Tadic said in a statement on Thursday. “In sports terms, this is a marathon and it is necessary to prepare.... many future steps in the coming years.”
Just hours after the vote, Montenegro and Macedonia, close allies and the only two former Yugoslav republics Serbia did not fight in the 1990s wars, signaled they were about to recognize Kosovo. Both states are majority Orthodox Christian like Serbia.
“They are being blackmailed by certain states which threaten to make problems for their European integration,” Russia’s Ambassador to Serbia Aleksandr Konuzin told Reuters.
“Montenegro and Macedonia are under the strongest external pressure which is aimed at forcing these two countries to recognize the so-called independence of Kosovo.”
One Western official denied that Western lobbying of those countries had sought to jab Serbia in timing the recognition.
“I can’t imagine that others won’t draw that conclusion, that these master marrionetters, the Americans, have done this again,” the official said. “We have encouraged them all along and this was not a date that was chosen, as far as I know, in response to what happened yesterday.”
Macedonia’s parliament was due on Thursday to debate a resolution by the three main ethnic Albanian parties asking the government to take immediate steps to recognize Kosovo. The decision was expected to pass after the ruling party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski announced its support.
For months the Macedonian government has been under pressure from its ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up a third of its two million population, to recognize its northern neighbor.
Montenegro’s government is expected to decide formally on the recognition of Kosovo on Thursday after parliament passed a resolution last week. The move was seen as an effort to speed up the country’s European Union integration.
Pro-Serb parties in Montenegro have threatened to protest if the government makes what Serbia’s Jeremic said would be “a knife stabbed in Serbia’s back.”
Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 after NATO bombed the country to stop the killing of civilians in a two-year counter-insurgency war.
Kosovo declared independence on February 17, and the United States, France, United Kingdom, and other nations recognized it immediately. By the end of the month Australia, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and eight other countries followed suit.
In March Slovenia and Croatia, both former Yugoslav republics, recognized Kosovo. Portugal became the 48th country to recognize Kosovo two days ago.
Additional reporting by Kole Casule in Skopje, Ljilja Cvekic in Belgrade, Dusko Mihailovic in Podgorica; editing by Adam Tanner and Elizabeth Piper