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Nikos Konstandaras

Athens, Greece

Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also the founding editor of Kathimerini’s English Edition, which is published as a supplement to The International Herald Tribune in Greece, Cyprus and Albania. He worked as a correspondent for The Associated Press from 1989 to 1997 before joining the Greek press and has reported from many countries in the region. Close.

Nikos Konstandaras

Athens, Greece

Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also the founding editor of Kathimerini’s English Edition, which is published as a supplement to The International Herald Tribune in Greece, Cyprus and Albania. more »

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Kosovo Isn't About Russia

The Current Discussion: Are the U.S. and Europe right to recognize Kosovo and continue to poke Russia with a stick?

ATHENS - The issue is not whether it is right or wrong to keep baiting Russia, but whether it is right or wrong for the United States to keep rushing headlong into decisions that create more problems than they solve - and whether it is right for the European Union to rubber-stamp those decisions. Russia is incidental to the real issue here, and in fact seems to be baiting the United States and its allies rather more than the United States and Europe are bothering Moscow. Remember the end of the U.S.-led war against Yugoslavia in 1999, when Russian troops entered Kosovo before any NATO allies did? The Russians made their point and left. Now, having taken a clear stand against the United States, the Russians can watch and comment sarcastically as Washington and its allies battle to make an independent Kosovo work.

This time, the Russians have only to stick the letter of international law to keep the UN Security Council from ratifying Kosovo’s independence. It will soon be very clear that it is the United States and its allies who have overturned the international system that had been in place for decades. It is also the people in Washington and Brussels who will have to figure out how to make Kosovo viable as an independent state. That’s no small task. It will depend on foreign military and economic aid for the foreseeable future. It is surrounded by countries which - apart from Albania - are all suspicious of it. The pressure for union between Albania and Kosovo is growing, raising neighbors’ suspicions and regional tensions even further. The Kosovar Albanians may not turn out to be the paragons of good governance and guardians of civil society that their well-wishers would want. And minorities around the globe, some of them larger than the Kosovar Albanians, will demand equal treatment.

But apart from the real problems that Kosovo will face, and the ethical ones that its patrons will have to deal with, the biggest issue here is the future of Serbia. This pivotal country in the Balkans is being pushed into national division and isolation by the rush to recognize Kosovo’s independence. Belgrade can be blamed for most of the sorrow that has been heaped upon the Serbs since Slobodan Milosevic’s policies triggered the wars that destroyed multiethnic Yugoslavia. His cancellation of Kosovo’s autonomy and the brutality with which Belgrade dealt with the Kosovars’ rebellion brought the wrath the West upon his head. But the West’s continued humiliation of the Serbs, to their regional rivals’ benefit, seems designed to promote the growth of Serbian nationalism (and thus divide this nation further) and also to sow the seeds of endless tension in the region.

Whether this is the result of strategy or stupidity is equally lamentable: the United States has shown itself to be most reckless with peace while claiming to promote it. Kosovo has declared its independence and several countries, led by the United States, have already recognized it. However long its recognition remains in limbo, the breakaway state will be independent of Serbia but not independent of endless foreign support.

So it is irrelevant whether or not Kosovo should be recognized by more countries. The precedent has been set and a valuable lesson has been given to the world: When the United States want to push forward with a policy that does them no visible good but proves to the world that they can do what they want, whenever they want it, they will go ahead. They have proven even to the most well-intentioned observer that they care little for the medium- or long-term future but only for the present. One day, the United States will have other things to deal with, and Washington will leave Europe to struggle along with Kosovo. Russia may or may not still be involved in the region at that time.

The best way forward would have been for Europe to put Serbia on a fast track to EU membership. While protecting the Kosovars in their de facto independent state, Europe could have made clear to both the Serbs and Kosovar Albanians that Kosovo would be independent on the day that both ethnic groups became members of the European Union. This road was not taken. It would have been long and difficult, but it would have had a certain destination, the dissolution of nationalism and ethnic hostilities in the unique benefits of EU membership. The other road is even more difficult - and no one can guess where it is headed.

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