By Muhamet Brajshori
Russia consistently opposes Kosovo’s international recognition and remains a major obstacle to UN membership, but Kosovo seeks ways to break the impasse and establish diplomatic relations, according to Kosovo analysts.
“Russia’s Kosovo policy is influenced by wider geo-strategic considerations rather than reality on the ground,” Kosovo Deputy Foreign Minister Petrit Selimi told SETimes.
Selimi explained that Russia is not against Kosovo’s independence but against the perceived unilateral proclamation of independence.
That position, however, dictates Russia’s actions. By preventing Kosovo’s international recognition, Russia’s policy aims to turn Kosovo into a state of “frozen conflict”, local analysts say.
“The goal is to … keep NATO blocked in Kosovo and in the Balkans so that it will not be engaged in the East and the Caucasus,” University of Pristina journalism department head Milazim Krasniqi told SETimes.
Russia has expressed particular interest in leading the anti-drug efforts in the Balkans, which would engage regional countries — except Kosovo — through formal agreements but cut off drug routes that go through Kosovo.
Another thorny issue is Russia’s refusal to recognise — or otherwise deal with — Kosovo passports.
Kosovo officials say they hope Russia will follow the example of over 50 counties which do not recognise Kosovo — including China — but accept its passports without assuming any political obligations.
“Russia will not do it without getting something in return from Pristina, like recognising Abkhazia’s passports,” Kosovo Centre for European Policy analyst Berat Krasniqi said.
Russia’s stand internationally seems to have also created difficulties at home.
“If Kosovo were a UN member, politicians would not focus [almost entirely] on recognition but more on domestic problems,” Berat Krasniqi told SETimes.
There are, however, unofficial contacts between Moscow and Pristina through Russia’s liaison office in Kosovo. The office is headed by a Russian diplomat — Andrey Shugurov — who was accredited in Belgrade.
“We keep the minimum communication necessary for regular exchange of information. These contacts are not called official by Russia, which reflects its position on Kosovo’s independent institutions,” Selimi said.
Kosovo has repeatedly tried to organise meetings between the two countries’ senior officials but without success.
“It is not easy because the Russians refuse to meet us publicly. … We hope that this year some communication bridge will be built,” Selimi said.
But Kosovo officials say Russian diplomats’ statements leave some room for interaction.
“Russian diplomacy … is looking carefully at the developments in the Balkans, especially Serbia’s behaviour. The Russians often say ‘we can’t be bigger Serbs than the Serbs’,” Selimi said.
A major obstacle to establishing relations is Kosovo’s negative image in the Russian media, Albanologist Dimitry Chukov told SETimes.
“Kosovo does not have not a positive image mainly because (the media portrays) the Serbs living in ghettoes … and NATO helping Albanians displace the Serbs from Kosovo,” Chukov said.
The failure to properly protect Serbian Orthodox churches also plays a role in creating the negative image, he added.
Chukov explained that given the traditional support Serbia receives from the Kremlin, Duma, Russian Orthodox Church and academic circles, Russia may change its position on Kosovo only if Serbia does so.
“It is up to Belgrade regarding how Moscow will deal with Kosovo,” Chukov concluded.