Statement by Ambassador Vassily A. Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, during the UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Kosovo
We welcome the participation in today’s meeting of Mr. Ivica Dačić, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Serbia, and we share his serious concerns about the status quo in Kosovo. We thank Special Representative Tanin and his team for their efforts and objective briefing on the activities of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which make it clear that there are persistent, deep-rooted problems in the province that require urgent resolution as well as monitoring by the international community.
We do not share Ms. Çitaku’s optimistic, rosy assessments. Incidentally, I would like to let her know that while it is kind and even touching to hear her concerns about the time at our disposal, she need not worry about that. I would like to say to her that she does not need to worry about our time — the time of the Security Council — as we indeed do have much to say about what is going on in the province. Unfortunately, we have been compelled to conclude that the process of settling the situation in Kosovo has utterly stagnated. The dialogue between Belgrade and Kosovo under European Union (EU) auspices has essentially ceased to function.
Despite the periodic meetings held in Brussels by the EU in which senior officials from both sides take part and which are intended to show that the format is still strong, no work is being done on substantive issues and there are no prospects of reviving the dialogue. It is telling that the executive structures in Pristina that previously provided technical support for the talks have been dismantled. We took note of the idea expressed by President Vučić of Serbia at the trilateral meeting in Brussels on 31 August with regard to launching a discussion of the long-term prospects for relations between Serbs and Albanians and ways to resolve them on a sustainable basis. We have heard no response to that initiative from either the Kosovo-Albanian side or the EU mediators.
We believe that the formation of a so-called Government in Kosovo in September is a clear illustration of the degree to which the situation has deteriorated and the extent of the radicalization in the province. The choice for the majority was between Ramush Haradinaj, who has been implicated in war crimes, and the ultranationalist Albin Kurti, who advocates the establishment of a greater Albania. That only emphasizes the fact that Kosovo is not only not a fully fledged State but that it is a source of instability with the potential to lead to a relapse into ethno-religious conflict in the Balkans and the collapse of the entire regional security system.
We are compelled to note the lack of progress in the relations between Belgrade and Pristina. The EUled dialogue has for many months been at a conceptual dead end. Clearly, the parties view its essence and its ultimate aims in different ways. That is first of all the result of the biased mediation of Brussels, encouraging the Kosovo Albanian leadership to take hostile steps that are poisoning the atmosphere of the dialogue and undermining mutual trust.
The European partners are playing into the hands of the Kosovo Albanians by attempting to shift the blame onto the Kosovo Serbs for the slow pace of implementation of the agreements that have been reached. However, a key item in those agreements is the one on establishing an association/ community of Serb-majority municipalities, which Pristina has been cynically sabotaging since April 2013.
We trust that following the conclusion of the second round of municipal elections, scheduled for 19 November, the Kosovo Albanian authorities will no longer have any pretext for dragging their feet in dealing with these protracted issues. The pace of the process of the return of refugees and internally displaced persons to the province is as slow as ever, as is the work of clarifying the fate of missing persons. It is clear that individuals of non-Albanian ethnicity fear for their safety and see no possibility of resolving their property-related issues.
The oppression of the Serbian Orthodox Church persists. Despite the decisions of every Kosovo authority, including judicial ones, affirming the property rights of Visoki Dečani with respect to its adjacent land — which, I would like to recall here, is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is listed as threatened — the leadership of the municipality has not complied with them. What kind of trust can there be in Kosovan justice after that, especially given the backlog of court cases — approximately 350,000 — mentioned in the report of the Secretary-General (S/2017/911)? The fact is that the project known as the Republic of Kosovo is clearly not working.
Another area where no progress has been made is the investigation into the war crimes committed by the Kosovo Liberation Army. It remains unclear when the Specialist Chambers in The Hague will begin to function. Nor should we forget that the basis for the establishing that court was the report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Mr. Dick Marty, which accused certain present-day Kosovo Albanian politicians of involvement in the illegal trafficking of human organs and other extremely grave crimes. This is a very serious issue that a lot of people do not want to remember. All legal obstacles to the commencement of the court’s work have been overcome, and we trust that initial charges will be brought shortly.
Another difficult topic concerns forcing the issue of the transformation of the Kosovo security forces into a full-fledged armed force, in spite of the positions of both Belgrade and the Kosovo Serbs, an idea that the authorities in Pristina have cherished for a number of years, with attempts being made to give it a pseudolegal basis. In our view, the real issue is completely different.
It is crucial to understand that in and of itself, this undertaking represents a breach of international law, since it runs counter to resolution 1244 (1999), which provided for the presence of a force in the province exclusively on the basis of a Council mandate, specifically the Kosovo Force, which is currently largely composed of NATO member State contingents.
Moreover, such a step would be extremely reckless in terms of security both in the region and in Europe as a whole.
The presence in the Balkans of a new force component in the form of the so-called Kosovo armed forces would fly in the face of the Florence agreement, annexed to the Dayton agreement, designed to support regional stability with support from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It would seem that a military body not under the control of the country’s authorities has appeared on the territory of one of the signatories to the Florence agreement, Serbia.
The importance of countering the proliferation of Islamic radicalism and terrorism in Kosovo is still extremely urgent. We are troubled by the fact that the province is being used for the recruitment of fighters involved in hostilities in the Middle East on the side of the extremists and for staging terrorist attacks in other countries.
With respect to the rule of law and safety and security in Kosovo, we would draw the Council’s attention to the guilty verdict recently handed down by a court in Skopje against a large group of Kosovars who participated in a terrorist raid in Kumanovo on 9 and 10 May 2015. We would note that questions about who in Kosovo was behind the attack and why the international presence was unable to prevent it, not to mention that questions about eliminating such hotbeds of tension remain unresolved.
We were dismayed by the claims from Pristina relating to the allegedly politicized verdict of the Macedonian court and assertions about monetary assistance to the families of the condemned. Given the upcoming rout of the Islamic State and the predicted return to the Balkans of a number of a foreign terrorist fighters to the region, including Kosovars, such an approach to counter-terrorism issues is, at the very least, ambiguous.
Despite the multitude of domestic issues it faces, Kosovo portrays itself as an active player on the national stage and is striving to join the greatest possible number of multilateral structures. We continue to consider that illegitimate, since from an international legal standpoint the province’s representation at that level is through UNMIK.
Moreover, the modalities for Kosovo’s participation in regional bodies, through the so-called Kosovo asterisk formula, based on a footnote, have been established within the framework of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. The European Union, as a conscientious mediator, must ensure compliance with these resolutions in negotiations held pursuant to General Assembly resolution 64/298, of September 2010.
The artificial nature of Kosovan statehood is reflected in the Republika Srpska’s recent reference to the sovereignty of the Republic of Kosovo. This attests to a gradual acknowledgement of the damaging nature of decisions, often taken under external pressure, on the acknowledgement of the independence of territorial bodies that unilaterally secede in breach of international law.
Under these conditions, we deem untimely and counterproductive talks about a reduction of staffing and budgetary parameters of UNMIK. The situation in the province is such that no decision of this sort can be taken, and, incidentally, it must be acknowledged that in essence the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina has been virtually non-existent.
For this reason, we must reject requirements to draw down or close the Mission. Instead we must commence constructive work in cooperation with this important United Nations operation. Let us recall that the Mission has been working with minimal resources. However, it plays a key role in Kosovo affairs and remains a critical tool for international oversight. It deals with issues relating to the normalization of the situation, in line with resolution 1244 (1999), which remains fully in force.
In the light of the aforementioned, we see no justification for any revision of the practice of quarterly reports to the Security Council about the situation in Kosovo. As has been reflected in today’s discussion, this issue continues to require close international oversight and attention.