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Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Belgrade, 12 Sept. (AKI) - Serbia's government has said it is cheered by Russia's premier Vladimir Putin's recent comments apparently hinting his country could veto any "unacceptable" United Nations Security Council resolution, such as one backing independence for the breakaway province of Kosovo. Serbian government spokesman Srdjan Djuric hailed Putin's statement as a "principled stand, in harmony with the highest principles of international law," on the inviolability of the existing state borders.

Belgrade's press on Tuesday ran banner headlines hailing Serbia's "Russian brothers." Former foreign minister, Goran Svilanovic, called for caution, however. He said the issue would never come before the UN Security Council - the organisation's top decision-making body - unless the decision was first agreed upon in the so-called Contact Group for Kosovo, which includes the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia.

UN special envoy for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, was due to present a report on progress in negotiations between Serbs and majority ethnic Albanians in Kosovo during a meeting of the Contact Group on Monday through Tuesday.

Elena Guskova, a Russian academic and an expert on Balkans, told Belgrade media it was too early to say what the Russian position on Kosovo might ultimately be. On one hand, Kosovo's independence would grant the same rights to the people of the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. But on the other hand, it could boost separatist movements in Russian republics such as Chechnya, she said.

Putin - whose country is one of the UN Security Council's permanent five veto-wielding members, along with Britain, France, the US and China - was quoted on Monday by Britain's Financial Times newspaper as saying: "If we find the solution for Kosovo unacceptable, we will not hesitate to use our veto right in the UN Security Council."

Putin's allegedly made the remarks last last Saturday at a dinner with a group of American and Russian journalists and businessmen at his residence in Moscow. But a Russian government official neither confirmed nor denied the statement, saying only he couldn’t recall the word "veto" being used.

Putin reportedly said that the same yardstick should be applied to Kosovo and the former Soviet republics. "If a precedent is set, it will negatively reflect on the post-Soviet region and it will be difficult to explain to the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia why Albanians (in Kosovo) can breakaway from Serbia and they cannot," he stated, quoted in the Financial Times.

Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo say they will settle for nothing less than independence, but Belgrade opposes this, offering instead a form of wide local autonomy. It has warned that if the province secedes from Serbia, this would trigger a chain reaction in other disputed regions in Europe and throughout the world.

Kosovo has been under UN control since 1999 and the world powers, including the United States, have hinted they are prepared to grant independence to Kosovo ethnic Albanians, who make a 1.7 million majority compared with just 100,000 Serbs remaining in the province.

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