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Putin Offers Kosovans Little

Putin backs Kostunica's 'obstructionist' policy towards democratisation of Kosovo
By Shkëlzen Maliqi

Russian President Vladimir Putin's surprise visit to Kosovo last week brought few new ideas on solving the region's problems.


And although Putin stressed Russia's interests in the Balkans, he put forward no plausible argument for Moscow exerting more influence here.


Putin is mirroring his predecessor Boris Yeltsin in his support of Belgrade - the only ally of the conservative and nationalist elements who, parading themselves as moderates, are effectively heirs to the former regime.


Both Yugoslav and Russian presidents claim international toleration of Albanian extremism in the region is to blame for the current instability.


Putin also lashed out at elections due to go ahead in November which he said are premature and will work against the Serb minority in the province.


The Russian leader agrees with Kostunica that Kosovo's Serbs should boycott the elections, that they should not participate in the setting up of joint democratic institutions in Kosovo.


Such an obstructionist attitude towards the democratisation of Kosovo clearly shows how they remain hostage to the past.


Both presidents then proposed the organisation of a regional conference aimed at charting the future of the Balkans. Implicit in this, they say, is the maintenance of all current borders and the continued Serbian dominated Yugoslav federation.


This, despite the fact such a structure has effectively ceased to exist. Their insistence on maintaining federal institutions is both undemocratic and hypocritical.


By obstructing elections in Kosovo, Belgrade is actually committing itself to the continuation of ethnic tensions in the region. For Moscow, as Serbia's patron, the greater the area under the latter's sway the bigger Russia's influence.


But there is no sense to any conference looking at the future of the region without Kosovan democratic institutions. Back in 1990 Slobodan Milosevic insisted that Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo needed to be secured prior to holding free elections. Everyone knows how that policy worked out.


Kostunica is himself now trying to secure sovereignty over Kosovo as a precondition of Serb participation in the elections. Isn't that just an echo of old-style thinking? That democracy can wait or even be suspended until Kostunica is assured that Serbia holds the cards?


But what is he going to do with a federation if Montenegrins and Kosovars don't want to be a part. In any case, who wants to put democracy on hold in the name of the federation.


Shkëlzen Maliqi is Radio Free Europe's chief correspondent in Kosovo.


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