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Expert Assesses Potential Fallout Between Russia, West Over Kosovo


International mediators are due to present a report to the United Nations Security Council next week on Kosovo's push for unilateral independence from Serbia. More than a dozen European nations and the United States are poised to recognize Kosovo's independence, while Serbia and its ally Russia oppose it, saying such a move would violate international law. Victoria Cavaliere reports from VOA's New York Bureau that regional experts believe the diplomatic standoff could widen a rift between Russia and the West and might also result in a return to violence in the Balkans.

Mediators from the United States, Russia and the European Union ended four months of talks last week on the final status of Kosovo, saying Belgrade and Pristina were nowhere near a compromise.

The so-called "troika" of mediators will present their conclusions in a report to the United Nations Monday.

Meanwhile, Kosovo's president, Fatmir Sejdiu, said last week the province would declare independence "shortly." He did not, however, name a date.

Although it is formally a part of Serbia, Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO forces drove out Serbian troops that killed an estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians during a two-year war.

Serbian leaders say they want to continue talks until the two sides reach a mutually acceptable solution. They have offered Kosovo autonomy, but oppose outright independence.

Charles Kupchan, the senior fellow for European Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says he believes that any more discussion on the issue will prove futile.

"The distance between Belgrade and Pristina is huge. It has not closed since the very beginning, and there is not a prospect of a compromise from either side. In that sense I fear we are looking at situation where there will be a major rift between Moscow and Washington and Moscow and the European Union," he said.

Russia, a Serb ally, insists the issue should be decided by the U.N. Security Council. In July, Moscow threatened to use its veto power and blocked a Western-backed plan for EU-supervised independence for Kosovo.

Kupchan says Kosovo's independence, which would be monitored by the international community, appears inevitable. But he says western countries must be prepared for the fallout.

"No question that this will be a troubling moment in that there will be ethnic partitions, it will take place without the approval of the U.N. Security Council," he said.

Kupchan says the international community should be ready to act decisively - including putting more riot police on the ground and allowing flexibility among the NATO troops already there.

"By kicking the can down the road (By delaying approving Kosovo's independence), I think you risk an outbreak of spontaneous violence in a way that you don't if you amputate Kosovo, deal with the immediate implications and what most people expect to be moderate levels of violence rather than another huge conflict," he said.

For its part, Belgrade says it is prepared to sever diplomatic ties with nations that breach its territorial integrity.

On Tuesday, NATO chief General John Craddock said his forces are prepared to respond to violence in coming weeks.