The deadline for a negotiated agreement on the future of Kosovo expired on December 10 without a settlement, and ethnic Albanian leaders now say they will declare independence from Serbia ?soon.?  Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since NATO bombing in 1999 halted Serbia?s repression of the Kosovar Albanian majority population.  International negotiations began in 2006 to determine the final status of Kosovo.  Kosovar Albanians seek full independence from Serbia, but Belgrade staunchly objects.  Washington backs a U.N. mediator?s plan for ?supervised? independence, whereas Russia supports ?broad autonomy? within Serbia.

Last week in Brussels, European Union leaders pledged 1,800 police and administrative officials to Kosovo to facilitate a peaceful transition to independence.  However, the EU foreign ministers failed to back a unified position on supporting Kosovo?s independence.  Most of the 27 EU-member states support independence, but Cyprus blocked an agreement.   Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Kosovo?s unilateral declaration of independence might set off a chain reaction in other separatist-minded regions. The U.N. Security Council is currently scheduled to discuss the various positions of mediators from the so-called ?troika? ? the United States, the EU, and Russia ? on December 19.

Matthias Rueb, Washington bureau chief for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, tells VOA?s Judith Latham, that nobody was really surprised when the deadline for reaching a solution within the troika passed without an agreement.  He says the Russian and Serbian sides were just trying to ?buy time.?  However, he doesn?t think Kosovar Albanians ?will rush to a declaration of independence, but rather will wait until after the upcoming Serbian presidential elections so as not to ?fuel the ultra-nationalists.? 

Meanwhile Russian journalist Igor Zevelev, Washington bureau chief of RIA Novesti (Russian News and Information Agency), says Russia will continue to block a resolution in favor of Kosovar independence.  So, what?s next?  Mr. Zevelev says it looks as if many European countries will recognize Kosovo as an independent state, as will the United States.  But it will pose a ?very difficult legal situation? because Russia?s position as a veto-wielding member of the Security Council will prevent Kosovo from acquiring UN membership.  But it?s ?very hard to tell,? Mr. Zevelev says, if new violence will be provoked if Kosovo declares unilateral independence.  He suggests it might encourage ethnic Serbs living in northern Kosovo to secede from the new state and seek union with Serbia.  

Furthermore, other European states with sizable minority populations of their own would feel ?threatened.?  Mr. Zevelev notes that the situation is ?potentially explosive? in Cyprus, where there is a ?de facto self-ruled territory? not ruled by the central government.  According to Igor Zevelev, it might also affect the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova.

But Matthias Rueb says that most EU members disagree with Russia that Kosovo?s independence would set a dangerous precedent for other minorities such as the Turks in Cyprus, the Basques in Spain, or the Hungarians in Slovakia and Romania.  Mr. Matthias thinks such threats of violence have been ?exaggerated.?  He says it is unlikely the Kosovar Albanians will ?tend to riots? when they declare independence, especially since ?world opinion and the Western powers [for example, the United States, Germany, Britain, France, and Italy] are on their side.?  Nonetheless, he predicts that the situation will ?remain in limbo? for some time. 

Belgrade has threatened to break off diplomatic relations with all those countries that recognize Kosovo?s unilateral independence.  But European analysts suggest that posture is likely to be only temporary because Serbia wants eventual EU membership.

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