– 2008-02-23 22:46:52
Putin Warns Kosovo Will ‘Come Back to Knock’ the West
Mike Eckel / The Canadian Press
MOSCOW (February 22, 2008) — Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a sharp warning to the West on Friday about the consequences of recognizing Kosovo’s independence. He says the decision would “come back to knock them on the head.”
The televised comments, made during an informal meeting of leaders from former Soviet republics, were the strongest by the Kremlin leader since Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leaders issued their declaration of independence from Russian-allied Serbia.
Earlier Friday, Russia’s envoy to NATO warned the alliance against overstepping its mandate in Kosovo and said Moscow might be forced to use “brute military force” to maintain respect on the world scene.
Other Russian officials sought to tone down that view, saying the dispute should be resolved peacefully.
Putin used the meeting of presidents from the Commonwealth of Independent States — a loose, Russian-dominated organization of former Soviet states — to lambast Western nations that have recognized Kosovo’s independence. Among those are the United States, Britain, Germany and France.
“The Kosovo precedent is a terrifying precedent,” Putin said. “It in essence is breaking open the entire system of international relations that have prevailed not just for decades but for centuries. And it, without a doubt, will bring on itself an entire chain of unforeseen consequences.”
Governments that have recognized Kosovo “are miscalculating what they are doing,” he added. “In the end, this is a stick with two ends and that other end will come back to knock them on the head someday.”
Moscow has heatedly protested the Kosovo declaration, which has sparked violent protests by Serbs and international squabbling over whether to recognize the fledgling nation.
Russia’s NATO ambassador, Dmitry Rogozin, said the Russian military might get involved if all European Union nations recognized Kosovo as independent without United Nations agreement.
“If the European Union works out a single position or NATO goes beyond its current mandate in Kosovo, these organizations will conflict with the United Nations,” Rogozin said.
If that happens, Russia “will proceed from the assumption that to be respected, we have to use brute military force,” he said, although he later said that Russia was not making plans for any such confrontation.
Rogozin’s comments sparked quick reaction. Nicholas Burns, the State Department’s third-ranking official, called them “highly irresponsible.” “This cynical and ahistorical comment by the Russian ambassador should be repudiated by his own government,” Burns said.
Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Russia’s envoy to the European Union, used a more conciliatory tone, saying the Kosovo problem should be resolved exclusively by political means.
Russia has staunchly supported Serbia in opposing Kosovo’s secession, and has vowed to block any effort at the UN to recognize its independence.
Russia has been joined in its opposition by China and others, including EU member Spain, who worry the Kosovo example might be viewed as a precedent by separatists in other places.
© The Canadian Press, 2008
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