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Russian, American Disagree on Kosovo's Independence

US-based Russia specialist Dimitri Simes told a Washington audience Tuesday that fundamental disagreement over Kosovo's independence from Serbia will drive Russia and the United States even further apart. But a U.S. diplomat says there were no other choices. VOA's Barry Wood has more.

Russian scholar Dimitri Simes seldom finds himself in agreement with decision makers in the Kremlin. But on Kosovo he is siding with Moscow. By actively promoting Kosovo's independence and sidestepping the United Nations, Simes says, Washington is violating international law.

"I think what we have done [in sponsoring and recognizing Kosovo's independence] was wrong and counterproductive," said Simes. "And it contradicts the Helsinki final act [1975] that we are using everyday to criticize Russia and others on human rights violations. But the Helsinki final act, of course, was not just about human rights but about territorial integrity of European states."

After NATO bombing forced Serbian forces out of Kosovo in 1999, U.N. Security Council resolution 12-44 gave the United Nations jurisdiction over the territory.

Simes, who heads the Nixon Center-a Washington-based non-governmental agency that examines global security issues, says the United States has acted arbitrarily in choosing to set aside a U.N. resolution.

"Without changing this resolution, the dismembering of Serbia in no way complies with international law," he said.

Simes says Kosovo's secession from Serbia sets a precedent.

American triumphalism, he says, is wrongly leading Washington to promote NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. And most worrisome of all, he says, Washington's disregard for Russia's opinions almost guarantees that Moscow will not align itself with the west in opposing Iran's nuclear program.

Frank Wisner, the US diplomat who worked nine months with envoys from Moscow and Brussels trying in vain to bring Kosovo's Albanians and Serbia together, said Kosovo's declaration of independence, on February 17 closes the matter. Wisner says he is mystified as to why Russia remains so opposed to Kosovo's independence. He rejects the suggestion that Kosovo sets a precedent.

"Kosovo resulted from a particularly ghastly event of ethnic cleansing, of repression and killing," said Wisner. "It resulted from a NATO intervention. The problem resulted from the agreement of the Security Council to bring resolution 1244."

Wisner also rejects the assertion that Washington and Brussels have violated international law. After nine years of waiting, he said, it was time to choose. The options were either returning Kosovo to Serbian rule, continuing the UN administration, or independence. The latter choice, he argues, was the only viable choice, one that not only closes the matter but promotes stability in the Balkans and in Europe.