by Neil Clark
So that's that, then. After a meeting with the Italian prime minister Romano Prodi at the weekend, President Bush announced that it was time to bring the issue of Kosovan independence "to a head". In other words, Kosovo should become independent even without the approval of the UN security council. Now the emperor has spoken, is there really any point discussing the future of the disputed Serbian province any further? Well yes, actually, there is.
What is at stake is not just the illegal seizure from Serbia of the cradle of its national history, and rewarding the campaign of violence by ex-KLA members which has seen an estimated 200,000 Serbs, Roma, Turks and other non-Albanian groups fleeing or being driven from the province since 1999. There is also the question of whether one dangerous and globally lawless state, the US of George Bush, has the right to redraw the map of the world in any way it chooses.
Bush is pressing for "independence" for Kosovo, and the word needs to be in inverted commas as the Kosovo the US has in mind will be no more "independent" than Iraq or Afghanistan - though not out of concern for Kosovan Albanians, or a passionate belief in self-determination. Contrast Washington's stance on Kosovo with its position on the pro-Russian breakaway provinces in Georgia and Moldova, whose claims for statehood they regularly dismiss. Rather, Bush is acting because this is the final stage in what has been called the west's "strategic concept" - the destruction of the genuinely independent and militarily strong state of Yugoslavia and its replacement with a series of weak and divided World Bank-Nato protectorates.
Many will support the independence of Kosovo on simple grounds of self-determination: about 90% of Kosovans desire separation from Serbia. But Kosovo is no simple case. Given the recent history of the area, the minority rights of the non-Albanian population must also be a central concern. And the verdict of the Minority Rights Group that "nowhere is there such a level of fear for so many minorities that they will be harassed simply for who they are...nowhere else in Europe is at such a high risk of ethnic cleansing occurring in the near future - or even a risk of genocide" hardly inspires confidence in the future.
Furthermore, it is difficult to see how the creation of another new state in the Balkans will not destabilise the region further. Albanian separatists both in Montenegro and in Macedonia, where military hostilities took place as recently as 2001, will be encouraged. Serbia will face further disintegration: Albanians in the south of the country are keen to be included in a new Kosovo, while Hungarian demands for self-determination in Vojvodina are also likely to intensify.
Far from being concerned about this fragmentation, Washington encourages it. "Liberating" Kosovo from direct Belgrade control, achieved by the illegal 1999 bombardment of the rump Yugoslavia, has already brought rich pickings for US companies in the shape of the privatisation of socially owned assets.
Even more important, it has enabled the construction of Camp Bondsteel, the US's biggest "from scratch" military base since the Vietnam war, which jealously guards the route of the trans-Balkan Ambo pipeline, and guarantees western control of Caspian Sea oil supplies. The camp, which includes a detention facility used to house those detained during Nato operations in Kosovo, was described by Alvaro Gil-Robles, the human rights envoy of the Council of Europe, as a "smaller version of Guantánamo" following a visit in November 2005. To guarantee US hegemony in the region, it is essential that Kosovo is severed permanently from Serbia - a country which, with its strong historical links to Russia, is never likely to be as obedient a servant as the empire demands.
Since the end of the cold war, Russia has allowed the US to surround it with military bases and, through interference in the electoral process, bring to power governments ready to do its bidding. But the tide is turning. The US's attempt to engineer another "colour-coded" revolution in Belarus backfired spectacularly last year and, buoyed up by oil revenues, an increasingly assertive Russia is challenging the empire's Drang nach Osten. And at last week's G8 summit, President Putin reiterated his support for Serbia and his opposition to Kosovan "independence". Let's hope he keeps his word.
For those who believe the best hope for peace and progress for humankind is the derailing of the US juggernaut, it is imperative that on the issue of Kosovo, the bear makes a stand.