Russia’s ambassador to Serbia walked out of a UN Security Council meeting in Belgrade to protest the participants’ refusal to discuss Kosovo. Meanwhile, NATO’s chief vowed that the alliance would not let the Balkan region slip back into violence.
“I am most surprised,” Aleksandr Konuzin, the Russian ambassador, told the gathering in Belgrade. “NATO, KFOR and Eulex are planning to send Kosovo customs officers to border posts in northern Kosovo. This will be a breach of their own mandate, UN Resolution 1244, and the UN Security Council’s decision of 2008. And no one in the assembly raises a single question about that.”
Konuzin also rebuked the Serbian representatives for paying little attention to Serbia’s sovereign interests, reports RIA Novosti news agency.
But according to Reuters, the diplomat left the forum after one of the participants blamed the Kremlin for pursuing own interests in Serbia.
“We [Russia and Serbia] have common interests, and we will defend the country even though it seems that some Serbs wish to see their country under foreign control,” replied the diplomat, as quoted by the agency.
Kosovo customs officers mentioned by ambassador Konuzin are expected to start their work in northern Kosovo on Friday, to the great consternation of local ethnic Serbs, who comprise a majority in the region. The Serbs even built stone barricades in the city of Mitrovica to block roads on the border between the two lands, and succeeded in halting several UN trucks.
Violence in northern Kosovo sets back all progress – NATO chief
Another urgent Security Council session on the issue was held behind closed doors in front of the full council in New York. Serbia’s minister of foreign affairs, Vuk Jeremic, and his Kosovo counterpart flew to the United States to take part in the meeting. In statements made after the meeting, the UN called on Belgrade and Pristina to refrain from violence.
Thus, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon expressed his concern over the creation of two customs control posts in northern Kosovo.
“I call on all concerned to refrain from unilateral actions which could escalate tensions in the area,” he said. “I urge Pristina and Belgrade to continue the European Union-facilitated dialogue and build on its success so far, and to take practical steps toward the implementation of the agreements reached so far.”
But Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, had to reiterate Russia’s concerns over the impression that international peacekeeping forces are taking sides with the Albanian authorities in this dispute.
“We have serious concerns about where all this is going,” said Churkin. “[Serbia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Vuk] Jeremic made it very clear that the entire proposition of the EU playing this mediating role in the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade may be put in question. So this sudden departure from the path of the dialogue at the moment when it was beginning to show some promise, in our view, is completely unjustified, unwarranted and very dangerous.“
This message was echoed by NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who came to Kosovo on Thursday for a brief visit. Rasmussen said the recent violence in the disputed area was “bad for the image of Kosovo and a clear setback for the progress achieved.“
“Let me be very clear: there can be no turning back,” he added. “NATO has spent 12 years ensuring stability and security. We will not allow that achievement to be put at risk.“
Tensions between the two paries have been growing since an incident in July in which Kosovo’s authorities attempted to send police to border posts in the north to enforce a ban on imports from Serbia.
This led to clashes with local residents in which a border post with Serbia was burned down, a Kosovo policeman was killed and several others wounded.
NATO had to deploy peacekeepers in the area to break up the two parties.
The local UN Security Council meeting was convened in Belgrade on Thursday following requests by Russia and Serbia to address the whole issue. Serbia is urging the UN to prevent the Albanian authorities from reusing force in northern Kosovo to seize the two disputed border posts.
Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 2008 with the support of the US and some EU countries. But Serbia and the northern parts of Kosovo, as well as Russia, China and some other states, do not recognize their mandate.