http://archives.tcm.ie/businesspost/2008/02/17/story30495.asp

The UK and US supported Kosovar independence, and it seems locals are very grateful in Pristina (Simon Roughneen)

PRISTINA — Kosovo’s leaders are set to declare the Serbian province independent either today or tomorrow morning. But it is not likely to be a smooth transition. The province, which had been administrated by the UN, could end up controlled by the EU for the foreseeable future.

As the United Nations mission (in charge since 1999, when Nato drove out Serbian troops) packs its bags, the Brussels-run EULEX mission will step in with an 1,800-member security and justice force.

Last Monday, Gerald Knaus of Balkan think tank, the European Stability Initiative, told a Brussels conference that EULEX would be allowed to reverse decisions taken by local authorities and assume other tasks, under a mandate of undecided duration.

Kosovo’s independence is backed by the US, but opposed by Russia and will increase tensions between the two at a time when the countries are already clashing over a number of issues.

The decision angered Russia- which called for an emergency session of the Security Council on the issue – as it believes that giving independence to Kosovo will destabilise Europe by setting off a chain reaction of shifting borders.

But the US remains in favour of the move, and part of the wheel-greasing involves unspecified American aid and a fast-tracked future EU membership.

Moscow has carrots too. A new energy pipeline from Bulgaria though Serbia would tie Belgrade into its lucrative gas pipeline diplomacy. This would miscarry a European effort to sidestep dependence on Russian gas via an alternative pipeline linking western Europe to the Caspian.

Serbia’s pro-EU president Boris Tadic opposes losing Kosovo as much as pro-Russian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica.

Other concerns centre on the precedent set by establishing the new state. Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton has condemned the move, going against the Bush administration’s policy.

Iraqi Kurds are also bent on acquiring a state of their own, and have already grabbed ample regional autonomy. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has pointed to numerous regions in the former USSR that could seek independence in the aftermath of Kosovo’s breakaway.

In the Balkans, the Serb part of Bosnia-Hercegovina might become loosened from that unwieldy federation. More immediately, the Serbian reaction to losing what it terms a national heartland remains to be seen.

Nobody – in Pristina or beyond – expects a military reaction, but diplomatic counters are certain, such as closing the new Serbia-Kosovo border to the east.

Ireland’s Minister of State for European Affairs, Dick Roche, told The Sunday Business Post that ‘‘this would not be a precedent for other ethnic groups. There are specifics to each case’’.

At a news conference last Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin rubbished claims that Kosovo had special status.

Roche added that ‘‘it is important that EU states stick as closely together as possible on this’’. However, member states such as Spain and Cyprus, with separatist movements of their own, have expressed their concerns about the Kosovo example.

But the fact that Kosovo’s independence will be internationally-supervised, not to mention controversial, did little to curtail the jubilation around Pristina over the weekend.

The new state will apparently be called Kosova, closer to the Albanian language version, and last minute efforts are being made to get the trappings of sovereignty ready, even if real sovereignty will be curtailed. ‘

“We want to get all the symbols and names correct, to show we are a separate country and heritage,” said Berat Jashari, a student at the University of Pristina.

Follow us on Twitter