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Kosovo declares independence from Serbia

Russia says they violated a U.N. charter
February 17, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Russia denounced Kosovo's independence declaration Sunday and called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, warning that move threatened to ignite a new conflict in the Balkans. The Foreign Ministry, lashing out within minutes of the declaration, said Russia supports Serbia's "just demands to restore the country's territorial integrity." It said nations backing Kosovo's claim were supporting separatism and would shake "the foundations of a world order that has developed over decades."

Kosovo's parliament approved the declaration of independence from Serbia, backed by the U.S. and European allies. Kosovo had formally remained a part of Serbia even though it has been administered by the U.N. and NATO since 1999, when NATO airstrikes ended former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Russia claimed the declaration violates the U.N. Charter ensuring the territorial integrity of member nations and threatens "the escalation of tension and ethnic violence in the region, a new conflict in the Balkans."

The ministry called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, where Russia holds veto power as a permanent member. The Council planned to meet later on Sunday.

Russia wants the council to renew efforts - long-since pronounced dead by the U.S. and other Western nations - to reach a negotiated settlement of Kosovo's status.

Russia has stressed its opposition to any decision on Kosovo's status that is not accepted by Serbia. It has warned that recognition of Kosovo by the United States and other nations would encourage separatists in the former Soviet Union, across Europe and around the world.

Underscoring Russia's claim that Kosovo's declaration violates an existing Security Council resolution on Kosovo, the ministry urged the U.N. mission and NATO forces there to carry out their mandate by "annulling the decisions of the Pristina government organs and taking severe administrative measures against them."

Russia is widely expected to block recognition of Kosovo in the United Nations and continue backing traditional ally Serbia.

President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Russia would not "ape" the West, indicating it would not immediately recognize long-standing independence claims of pro-Russian separatist regions in ex-Soviet Georgia.

The Interfax news agency quoted the leaders of those regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as saying they would soon appeal to Russia and the United Nations for recognition.

"We believe that we have a greater right to recognition of our independence by the international community than Kosovo does," Irina Gagloyeva, spokeswoman for South Ossetia's separatist government, told The Associated Press. "It will now be harder for the West to ignore our demands."

Abkhazia's Vice-President Raul Khadzhimba, also reached by the AP, said his province would step up efforts to win recognition - "first of all from Russia." Neither Gagloyeva nor Khadzhimba would confirm plans for any formal appeals, however.

Putin has built his popularity on restoring Russia's pride after a period of post-Soviet humiliation, and Moscow's firm stance on Kosovo comes amid growing Kremlin assertiveness toward the West.

Putin has held out backing for Kosovo as a glaring example of double-standards and dangerous disregard for international law.


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