06MOSCOW10438, RUSSIA AND KOSOVO: THE POLITICS OF DELAY

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW10438 2006-09-19 12:31 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO7364
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHMO #0438/01 2621231
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 191231Z SEP 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2512
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 010438 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/18/2016 
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM UNMIK SR YI RS
SUBJECT: RUSSIA AND KOSOVO:  THE POLITICS OF DELAY 
 
REF: STATE 148147 
 
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns.  Reasons: 1.4 (b, d). 
 
1.  (C)  Summary:  Russia will seek to delay the conclusion 
of the Kosovo status process beyond year's end, arguing that 
a negotiated settlement will be more enduring than one forced 
on Serbia.  The GOR does not like UN Special Envoy 
Ahtisaari's draft status recommendations and might balk at 
agreeing to a statement following the September 20 Contact 
Group Ministerial in New York.  While experts here agreed 
that Russia did not want status talks to end with an imposed 
settlement, most also concluded that Russia would not block 
such a decision because of broader geopolitical interests. 
However, this view was not unanimous; one well-respected 
observer thought it likely that Russia would veto any UN 
Security Council resolution imposing a solution on Kosovo. 
While the Russian Orthodox Church and nationalist politicians 
plan a campaign to express their public opposition to 
independence, observers believe mainstream domestic opinion 
will follow the Kremlin's lead.  Russia will continue to 
argue that the Kosovo settlement will form a precedent for 
resolving other frozen conflicts to capitalize on doubts 
about the implications of Kosovar independence.  End Summary. 
. 
MFA:  THE PARTIES MUST AGREE 
---------------------------- 
 
2.  (C)  The MFA's position on Kosovo status talks has been 
consistent since the January 31 London Contact Group (CG) 
Ministerial:  opposition to "artificial deadlines" and "rigid 
ultimatums," support for a negotiated settlement, and a new 
emphasis on the Kosovo resolution as a precedent for other 
frozen conflicts.  Amb. Botsan-Kharchenko, Russia's Contract 
Group representative, hewed closely to these lines in a 
September 15 conversation with us before departing for the CG 
Ministerial on the margins of UNGA.  Confirming that FM 
Lavrov will participate in the talks, Botsan-Kharchenko 
underlined that Moscow had strong concerns about issuing a 
statement following the ministerial because of differences 
among CG members.  Moscow does not like the current draft of 
UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari's nonpaper providing 
preliminary recommendations on Kosovo's future status.  A 
statement might be viewed as an endorsement of the nonpaper; 
Lavrov will flag Russian concerns in a meeting with Ahtissari 
immediately before the CG meeting. 
 
3.  (C)  Foreshadowing a possibly contentious meeting in New 
York, Botsan-Kharchenko said that Lavrov had underlined that 
the Ministerial would finally provide an opportunity for a 
serious discussion of next steps.  Russia recognized the 
importance of CG unity, but at the same time Moscow insisted 
on the priority of finding a negotiated solution on status. 
Reviewing Belgrade's and Pristina's positions in the talks to 
date, he acknowledged they were far apart (while arguing that 
Serbia had been more flexible), and said that more time was 
needed for a compromise.  He claimed that no one thought that 
such a compromise would be possible by year's end and that 
the CG should not insist on it.  He would not be drawn out on 
when he thought the process could be completed, arguing it 
was more important that the results be mutually acceptable 
than they be reached by a certain date, which might take 
"years."  Russia remained more comfortable with substantial 
autonomy than independence, Botsan-Kharchenko stressed, and 
was opposed to Kosovo's membership in international 
organizations.  He said that assistance from international 
financial institutions could be made available to Kosovo 
regardless of its status. 
 
4.  (C)  Pointing to September 17 Transnistrian independence 
referendum, Botsan-Kharchenko said the Kosovar's insistence 
on independence was already having an effect on other frozen 
conflicts.  On Kosovo's value as a precedent in other 
conflicts, he argued that the critical factor was whether a 
change in status came about as the result of negotiations or 
was imposed on a state. 
. 
SERBIAN CHARGE KURJAK:  HANDWRITING ON THE WALL? 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
 
5.  (C)  While Amb. Botsan-Kharchenko seemed intent on 
demonstrating Russia's unwillingness to accept a "rush to 
judgment,"  Serbian Charge d'Affaires Jelica Kurjak was 
skeptical about GOR support for Serbia as the Kosovo end game 
drew near.  She told us she was not optimistic about Serbia's 
chances to retain Kosovo and did not believe that Moscow 
would endanger its relations with the U.S. and Europe to 
block consensus on Kosovo's final status.  According to 
Kurjak, Botsan-Kharchenko had expressed pessimism to her over 
Serbia's prospects for retaining Kosovo, noting western unity 
in seeking independence by year's end.  Russia, she said, 
would maneuver for space, seek to exploit divisions within 
 
MOSCOW 00010438  002 OF 004 
 
 
the West over timing a
nd highlight the potentially dangerous 
political repercussions for Serbia of an independent Kosovo. 
While it was possible that Russia might balk at an imposed 
solution (Kurjak cited the 2004 Russian veto in the Security 
Council of the Cyprus resolution as an example), the 
relationship between Belgrade and Moscow had steadily eroded; 
the GOR's support could not be counted on. 
 
6.  (C)  Kurjak discounted the value of support from the 
Duma, pan-Slav nationalists and the Russian Orthodox Church. 
While they would all object to Kosovar independence, in the 
end, they would fall into line behind the likely Kremlin 
decision not to block a status decision.  It was hard to live 
on "old myths and stereotypes" of Slav unity when the two 
states had grown apart.  Serbia, she concluded, would fall 
victim to the GOR's embrace of a pragmatic foreign policy 
line.  (Biographical Note:  Kurjak, an academic, counts 
herself a personal friend of the Serbian President and is 
well-connected in Moscow.  Kurjak alluded to GOR 
dissatisfaction with her policy line toward Russia, which 
culminated in its refusal to grant agrement this summer when 
the GOS put forward Kurjak as the replacement for the 
outgoing Ambassador.  End Note.) 
. 
SHIFT IN PRIORITIES 
------------------- 
 
7.  (C)  Many of the experts we spoke to agreed that while 
Russia might seek to slow the process leading to Kosovo's 
independence, Moscow would not block this from happening, 
regardless of domestic public opinion.  While Amb. 
Botsan-Kharchenko claimed that Kosovo remained a potent 
emotional symbol for the Russian public and was now back on 
the domestic agenda, other interlocutors were dubious.  Pavel 
Kandel, an Balkans expert at the Institute of Europe, said 
that Russian policy toward Serbia had significantly evolved 
since the 1999 conflict; Moscow is no longer the "pro-Serb 
fortress" of western imagination.  He acknowledged that the 
Russian public -- which is largely oblivious to most foreign 
policy issues -- paid attention to Serbia, but thought that 
public opinion would not play a role in decision making.  To 
the extent Russia had a Balkans policy, it was focused on the 
region's role in the transit and consumption of oil and gas, 
not on imperial nostalgia.  Russia's relations with the U.S. 
and the West, not old ties to Belgrade, would influence how 
quickly Russia accepted the inevitability of Kosovo becoming 
independent. 
. 
NO GUNS OF AUGUST 
----------------- 
 
8. (C)  Even if Russia wanted to help Serbia retain Kosovo, 
it lacked the ability to do so, according to Aleksey 
Bogaturov, Dean of International Politics at the Moscow State 
Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), which is 
affiliated with the MFA.  The 1999 dash by Russian 
peacekeepers for the Kosovo airport was the high-water mark 
of support for Serbia.  That turned out to be an ill-planned 
and pathetic gesture.  It felt good at home, showed the Serbs 
that Russia wanted to help, but ultimately was an 
embarrassment.  It highlighted how little Russia could really 
do, Bogaturov explained.  Those troops were no longer in the 
region, and Russia had no concrete way of helping the Serbs. 
Russia had a history of giving moral support to Serbia but 
little else.  "We gave them real support in August 1914, and 
it had a disastrous result on Russia," he said.  Besides, 
Bogaturov underlined, while the issue can at times strike an 
emotional chord with some Russians, public opinion is not as 
energized about Serbia as it was in 1999, during the height 
of the NATO air campaign against Milosovic's regime.  Russia 
could help the Serbs after Kosovo gains independence, 
Bogaturov explained.  If there is a move among Kosovar Serbs 
to separate from Kosovo and rejoin Serbia, Russia might lend 
a political hand.  Russia could also keep international 
pressure on the Kosovar Albanians to protect Serb religious 
sites in Kosovo, he said. 
. 
ORTHODOX CHURCH:  A PUBLIC STAND 
-------------------------------- 
 
9.  (C)  While interest in the plight of the Serb minority in 
Kosovo might no longer evoke the same emotional reaction it 
did in 1999, some Russians are likely to object loudly and 
publicly to a status process that leads to Kosovo's 
independence.  According to Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a 
spokesperson for the Russian Orthodox Church's (ROC) Moscow 
Patriarchate, religious organizations and elements of civil 
society planned to draw renewed public attention to the issue 
of Serbian and Orthodox rights in Kosovo.  He singled out 
Russian Railways CEO Vladimir Yakunin -- a close Putin friend 
who is sometimes touted as a fall-back presidential candidate 
in 2008 -- as a leader of opposition to an "illegal" division 
 
MOSCOW 00010438  003 OF 004 
 
 
of Serbia.  (Yakunin has hinted at such a stance on Kosovo in 
recent conversations with the Ambassador.)  Chaplin also said 
that a block of Duma members would raise questions about the 
status process with FM Lavrov and others.  He predicted that 
October would see public rallies led by ROC and visiting 
Serbian Orthodox Church officials as well as extensive and 
positive media coverage from figures like Aleksey Pushkov, a 
Kremlin-friendly talk-show host with Moscow's TV Tsentr. 
 
10.  (C)  Chaplin said the Church was focused on the 
protection of the Serb minority's rights and Orthodox 
religious and cultural monuments in Kosovo.  In his view, the 
West was ignoring what was taking place to the Serbs in 
Kosovo.  He said Patriarch Aleksey II believed that the views 
of all of Serbia needed to be taken into account in 
determining Kosovo's status, not just of those who lived in 
Kosovo.  "Kosovo is for the Serbs like Jerusalem is for the 
Jews," Chaplin said, and a failure to guarantee respect for 
the Orthodox community in Kosovo would only lead to further 
bloodshed.  Chaplin said that the decentralization proposals 
made so far were insufficient.  While the weight of opinion 
in the ROC was flatly opposed to any form of Kosovar 
independence because of the lack of protection for Serbs, 
Chaplin conceded that some saw a split as inevitable and 
would support the retention of Serb areas of northern Kosovo 
within Serbia while the remainder of Kosovo was subject to 
continued international oversight. 
. 
TRENIN:  ODD MAN OUT 
-------------------- 
 
11.  (C)  Unlike our other interlocutors, the Carnegie 
Center's Dmitriy Trenin did not see Russia grudgingly going 
along with Kosovo independence.  In his view, Russia was 
likely to invoke its Security Council veto on a Kosovo 
resolution, motivated by the same considerations that drove 
its Cyprus veto in 2004.  While Putin has yet to make a 
decision, Trenin believed that Russian policy would be driven 
by Serbia.  If Serbia arrived at a consensus with the 
Kosovars, Russia would gladly accede to Kosovo,s 
independence; however, he maintained, Russia was unlikely to 
approve the imposition of independence.  Like the others, &#x0
00A;Trenin was skeptical about domestic considerations as an 
important variable in this foreign policy issue: the Duma and 
Church "will make noise and pretend that they are 
representatives of the people, but when they are made to 
understand the Kremlin,s decision, they will go along." 
Trenin thought it was unlikely that the Kremlin would abstain 
on an issue as important as Kosovo, simply because it was 
unseemly for a "power" to behave in this matter on an issue 
of international import. 
. 
WHAT KIND OF PRECEDENT? 
----------------------- 
 
12.  (C)  Since President Putin's January 31 press conference 
remark asking rhetorically why South Ossetia and 
Abkhazia could not be independent if Kosovo was given 
independence, speculation has been rife about the specific 
effect Putin's comment would have on Russia's Kosovo policy 
as well as on its treatment of other frozen conflicts.  The 
MFA has told us multiple times that it was difficult to argue 
that Kosovo was unique and that as a factual matter the 
Kosovo decision would affect how leaders in other separatist 
regions viewed their own futures.  While some Russian 
observers have been vague in explaining precisely what 
precedent they would draw from Kosovo independence, diplomats 
(including Amb. Botsan-Kharchenko) use the "precedent" 
argument to underline that a negotiated settlement of Kosovo 
between the parties would be a positive precedent for 
resolving other frozen conflicts.  The obverse -- that a 
solution "imposed" on Serbia would in some fashion allow 
other separatist regions to become independent -- does not 
receive as much attention from the MFA. 
 
13.  (C)  Experts we have talked to take very different views 
on the "precedent" argument.  MGIMO's Bogaturov said the GOR 
might use the Kosovo issue as an opportunity to try to 
legitimize the pro-Russian statelets of Abkhazia, South 
Ossetia and Transnistria.  Russia could take advantage of the 
Kosovo issue to press the case of independence for these 
regions, he said.  After Kosovo gains independence, Russia 
could start to change the way it talks about these areas. 
"In the past, we have said we recognize the territorial 
integrity of Georgia and Moldova," Bogaturov explained. 
"After Kosovo leaves Serbia, we could say that these areas 
have de-facto independence.  It will be slow and deliberate, 
but our position will change and we won't talk about 
territorial integrity of Georgia and Moldova anymore."  In 
contrast, Carnegie's Trenin discounted GOR motivations to 
seize upon Kosovo as a model for the frozen conflicts in 
post-Soviet space.  While Putin believed that Kosovo would 
 
MOSCOW 00010438  004 OF 004 
 
 
become a precedent, it is not one that he wants to invoke, 
Trenin emphasized.  Any change to the post-Soviet borders, 
even in a territory as remote and insignificant as South 
Ossetia, would render every post-Soviet border "conditional." 
 The prospect of instability was substantial.  The GOR also 
was concerned with future applications of a Kosovo model 
against Russian territorial integrity. 
. 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
14.  (C)  We expect the GOR to make every effort to slow down 
the status process beyond the end of the year.  The 
"precedent" argument will continue to do double duty -- by 
bolstering the Serbian case against independence and by 
raising doubts about the broader implications of Kosovo 
independence among members of the Contact Group and other 
concerned states like Ukraine.  This strategy has its own 
limitations in the face of a determined push in the CG and, 
in the end, Moscow will likely have to face the question of 
whether to try to block Kosovo independence in the Security 
Council.  If Russia's 2004 veto of the Cyprus resolution 
serves as a model, Moscow might wait until the eleventh hour 
to reveal its intentions.  With the 2007-2008 Russian 
political season looming just ahead, it would be a mistake to 
underestimate the temptation to veto in the Kremlin. 
BURNS

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