Serbia

Kosovo Albanians worry about Russia's veto

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While the politicians profess confidence in the UN Security Council, ordinary Kosovars have more faith in American power.

By Krenar Gashi in Pristina and Podujevo (Balkan Insight, 18 May 07)

"Russians are important," said Izet, 55, a farmer, sitting in a traditional teahouse in the north-eastern town of Podujevo. "The Russians are strong... they won't let us to become independent so easy", he went on, adding sugar to a tiny glass of black tea - the kind that Kosovo Albanians refer to as "Russian tea".

Many Kosovo Albanians are worried that Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is about to use its veto powers to block a resolution on Kosovo's final status.

A draft resolution endorsing "supervised" independence and drawn up by the UN envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, was formally proposed by the US and European states last week.

However, Russia - like Serbia - strongly opposes the idea of granting independence to break-away territories and has said it will oppose the Ahtisaari proposal.

Forcing any decision on Kosovo's status would be "counter-productive", Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said on May 10 in New York.

Many Kosovo Albanians, such as Izet, see Russia as an important power in the global decision-making processes. They don't know much about the procedures of the Security Council but they well remember Russia's might in the era of the Cold War.

These days the "Russian veto" has become a hot topic in Kosovo's cafes, bars and streets.

In the Rreze Llapi tea club in Podujevo, much frequented by retired persons, Izet was soon involved in a harsh debate with his compatriots.

Another middle-aged Albanian who didn't want to introduce himself was convinced the status issue would not be solved for a long time, and punched the table to ensure he got attention.

"Lavrov gave up on Kosovo once", he shouted. "He won't do that again".

Sergey Lavrov, today Russia's Foreign Minister, was the Kremlin's ambassador to the UN in 1999 and so represented his country on the Security Council when it adopted UN resolution 1244 in June 1999.

The resolution obliged Serbia's authorities to withdraw from the province and gave the green light for NATO peacekeepers and a UN administration to be installed.