Seven years after Serbian troops were driven out of Kosovo by NATO forces (MSNBC), there is a growing sense that independence for the tiny province is on the horizon.
Though the first round of UN-brokered talks produced no final settlement, experts and Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of its population, are optimistic that a resolution is near (al-Jazeera). Still, as this CFR Background Q&A explains, a number of difficult issues need to be hammered out, not least of which is establishing safeguards for the 100,000 Serbs and other minorities remaining in Kosovo. Belgrade is strongly opposed to losing Kosovo. But CFR's Charles Kupchan writes in Foreign Affairs that independence "is the only viable option." The talks process is explored in this report from the United States Institute of Peace.
The final decision on Kosovo's status rest with the UN Security Council and will require Russian support. Russia, with strong ethnic, cultural, and religious ties to Serbia, has urged caution on granting Kosovo outright independence. Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for Kosovo's resolution to represent a "universal model" (Eurasia Daily Monitor) for conflict-prevention in the region, yet warned that granting outright independence might set a dangerous precedent for ongoing separatist struggles in the former Soviet Union, including Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia. Some, including Nicholas White of the International Crisis Group, believe the Kremlin is slowly coming around to supporting independence for Kosovo, provided certain conditions are met.
"Getting Kosovo right," as this Congressional Research Service report (PDF) suggests, is of paramount importance if Balkan countries are to gain admittance into the European Union and other Western institutions. This report by CFR Fellow William Nash urges "thoughtful and decisive preventive action," while this Stratfor analysis examines the implications of Kosovo's independence on the region. The Heritage Foundation held a roundtable on the issue last month. The EU's Institute for European Affairs looks at the prospect of several new Balkan statelets, noting that after Kosovo's status is resolved, Montenegro appears likely to follow it toward independence.