The Associated Press
MOSCOW: Russia's foreign minister warned on Wednesday that Moscow would oppose a United Nations plan for Kosovo if the document ignores Serbia's interests.
Sergey Lavrov appeared to signal that Russia would use its veto power in the U.N. Security Council if the measure opposed by Belgrade comes to a vote in its present form.
"We aren't going to stay away from it — that's a matter of principle," Lavrov told lawmakers in the lower house of Russian parliament, suggesting Russia would not abstain if an unsatisfactory proposal is put to a council vote. "It strikes too many chords — political, historic and spiritual."
The plan, drawn up by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari, would grant Kosovo internationally supervised statehood and elements of independence including its own army, flag, anthem and constitution. It needs Security Council approval to take effect.
Ahtisaari earlier this month delivered his plan to the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is expected to pass it on to the Security Council.
Russia opposes Kosovo being split off from Serbia and has called for more work to take Belgrade's interests into account.
"When we talk about the U.N. Security Council vote, we must not view it as something already predetermined," Lavrov said. "If there are attempts to enforce on the Serbs something which is unacceptable to them, that would be unacceptable to us as well."
Kosovo has been under U.N. and NATO administration since a 78-day NATO-led air war that halted a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999.
President Vladimir Putin and other officials have said that granting Kosovo statehood could set a precedent for separatist regions in former Soviet republics, such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which broke away from control of the central government in Georgia in wars in the early 1990s.
"Despite the Western claims that the Kosovo issue is unique, that would create a precedent," Lavrov said.
Georgia's Western-leaning government has pledged to bring the two breakaway regions back into the fold and accused the Kremlin of backing separatists.
Lavrov said Moscow would keep providing assistance to the two provinces, where many residents have Russian citizenship, but added that it would not seek to annex them.
"We aren't waiting and rubbing our hands that they would split Kosovo away from Serbia and we will act in the same way regarding these regions," Lavrov said. "There is no such link here. That would be the wrong stance to take."
In the Kosovar capital Pristina, meanwhile, Prime Minister Agim Ceku said the plan was balanced and had the backing of most of the international community.
"There's no chance left, no delay, no postponement or any reviewing that could push Serbia to agree with Kosovo's independence. Since Kosovo's independence has no other alternative we think this proposal is final and everybody should endorse it," he said.
"I'm optimistic that Russia too will endorse it in the end, or at least will abstain in the Security Council," Ceku said.