Media Conference Call: Charles Kupchan on Kosovo (Audio)

Media Conference Call: Charles Kupchan on Kosovo (Audio)

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ROBERT MCMAHON:  I'm Robert McMahon, deputy editor of  The issue before us is Kosovo and what has been termed the train wreck, diplomatic and possibly otherwise, in the event of the failure of a U.N. Security Council agreement on Kosovo's status.  We are fortunate to have with us today Charles Kupchan, CFR's senior fellow for Europe studies to help us sort through the issues. 

And, Charlie, I wanted to start out by taking a broader look at where this issue is, where Kosovo's status is on the radar screens of the media Western powers.  I mean, we've seen nothing like the Balkan's crisis diplomacy of the 1990s and yet there is an expectation of violence and of a sort of domino effect that could cause real problems and not just the Balkans. 

CHARLES A. KUPCHAN:  Well, I think that the diplomatic landscape now is getting increasingly complicated, mainly because Russia, to the surprise of, I think, many people, has continued to dig in its heels on the Kosovo issue and refused to back down on its support for Belgrade's position and its willingness to veto any resolution that favors independence within the Security Council. 

Just today, there are reports of Russia beginning again naval patrols in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.  Clearly, the suspension of the CFE Treaty about a week ago is a worrisome sign of relations between Russia and the U.S., Russia and the EU heading south.  And I think that even though Russia's position has caused jitters particularly in European countries, we are heading to a scene that's, I think, fairly positive in the sense of their existing almost unanimity within the transatlantic community to recognize Kosovo in the aftermath of a unilateral declaration of independence. 

The main holdouts on the European side, I think, are still Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Romania and Slovakia, but the last couple of months the EU has been doing a lot of work to try to build a consensus so that 20-plus members would move to recognition -- not necessarily simultaneously but fairly soon after the unilateral declaration of independence.  And I think most analysts now see that happening sometime within the first few months of next year, probably not until after the Serb presidential elections which are scheduled for January. 

What impact these moves would have on U.S.-Russian relations is I think difficult to predict.  Putin in his more obstreperous moments has suggested that he might recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two break away regions of Georgia, in light of the fact that that could actually lead to a war in the Caucasus, that the Georgians might well respond by sending troops into those two regions.  I am somewhat skeptical that he would actually go so far as to follow through on that pledge.  But certainly the Kosovo issue in some ways is the most dangerous of the issues facing Russia and its new standoff with the West because unlike in the CFE Treaty or other issues, lives are on the line and we may see renewed bloodshed in the Balkans sometime early next year.

MCMAHON:  So, I mean, given the importance of that relationship, especially Washington-Moscow, I mean, is it something that can be averted by maybe kicking this down the road a little more?  You mentioned transatlantic unity on Kosovo, so the December 10th report comes in from the diplomatic troika that's been dealing with this, a Security Council report is made to the Security Council by the U.N. secretary general and then is there sort of gentile discussions or does -- do the capitals then take over for a while and maybe U.S. and Russians start to get together on this issue to try to advert some of these really serious roadblocks that are ahead -- especially given the U.S. -- the importance of the U.S.-Russian relationship on Iran and other big issues?

KUPCHAN:  My sense is that the clock is running out on this issue from two different perspectives.  One is that the Kosovar-Albanians who have been, I think, quite patient and done a reasonably good job of adverting outbreaks of violence in Kosovo are hard pressed to move toward independence and fearful that if they don't move, they will have great difficulty sustaining the relatively peaceful situation in Kosovo. 

And secondly, my sense is that the repeated delays from the beginning of the end of the Ahtisaari plan through this year, now December 10, there's a sense in Washington and I think a major EU capitals that it's enough.  And I do not expect a new round of negotiations to be launched because I think all the major diplomatic envoys have reached the conclusion that there's not much more to talk about, that the distance between Belgrade and Pristina is huge, it hasn't closed since the very beginning and there's no prospect of a compromise from either side. 

In that sense I fear that we are looking at a situation in which there will be a major rift between Moscow and Washington, Moscow and the EU over Kosovo even as there are a host of other important issues on the front burner ranging from Iran to the Middle East peace process to conventional and nuclear arms control.  My guess is what we'll see is an effort to contain the Kosovo issue from spilling over and affecting U.S.-Russia relations on those other important fronts.

MCMAHON:  My final question for starting off has to do with the players in the region itself, the Kosovo Albanians had recent elections, and Hashim Thaci's party has emerged as the leading vote getter, he's expected to be the prime minister going forward, the Serbs as you mentioned are facing elections -- are we talking about two nationalist sides coalescing just as this issue hits the fan?

KUPCHAN:  I don't think that the political landscape in either Kosovo or in Serbia is changing in a way that is consequential.  That's not necessarily good news, it's that from the very beginning, there was no support whatsoever for independence anywhere in Serbia.  As far as I know there's only been one prominent Serb politician, an ex-foreign minister, who has even dared countenance the idea of Kosovo's independence.  And in Pristina, there's no one who was willing to accept anything short of independence and that hasn't really changed. 

I think that in some ways it's good news that we are seeing a secession of former rebel leaders in Kosovo from Thaci to Agim Ceku to Haradinaj.  They were all members of the KLA and that has given them a moral authority to reign in paramilitaries and others that could potentially cause violence. 

But just to kind of give you a quick summary of what to watch for early next year, I see sort of three concentric circles of concern.  Ground zero is Kosovo itself where I would be very surprised if we do not see at least moderate levels of violence breaking out in two different scenarios:  one, the relatively isolated Serb enclaves in the south potentially being harassed by Albanians in the wake of independence because they want them to clear out.  My sense is that many Serbs living in these relatively isolated enclaves will probably leave willingly.  Those that don't may face pressure to leave under corrosive conditions.  Similarly in the north which is predominantly Serb, there remain some enclaves of Albanians.  My guess is there could be attacks, riots, trouble across that frontier. 

And then there's the big question of might we witness what one could call a double secession.  That is, that Kosovo declares independence and that Northern Kosovo which remains de facto tied to Serbia.  Serbia continues to run Northern Kosovo; will they then declare their independence from a newly independent Kosovo and say that they're staying with Serbia?  If that happens, then I think one could imagine the considerable violence in Mitrovica and across the inter-communal boundary line. 

The second concentric circle would be the neighborhood.  And there, the two main concerns are Republic of Serbska, will a dependent -- an independent Kosovo fuel claims for Republic of Serbska to rejoin or to join Serbia?  And I think the answer to that is yes.  I do think that it will fuel such movement although I doubt that it will actually take place especially if the EU gets in advance, perhaps put some more peacekeepers troops on the ground. 

And then Macedonia where people are fearful that Western Macedonia which is primarily populated by ethnic Albanians could move toward some sort of separation from the rest of Macedonia.  I think that's a very remote prospect.  And I would go so far as to say that an independent Kosovo is actually good for Macedonia because it will to some extent decrease the likelihood that a return of the KLA or some new KLA does what they did before, which is to go across the mountains of Southern Kosovo and begin organizing in Macedonia.

And then the third concentric circle would be what message does this send to Chechyns, to Abhkas, to South Assetians, to people in Moldova; in other words to other places in Europe where ethnic secessionist movements are percolating.  No question that this will be a troubling moment in the sense that there will be ethnic partition; it will take place without the approval of the U.N. Security Council.  It flies in the face of what we consider our principled commitment to multi-ethnicity.  And in that sense I think it's a dangerous move -- it's one that I nonetheless support for pragmatic reasons; I think it's the best way to settle territorial disputes in the Balkans.  But there's no question that from the perspective of precedent and demonstration effects, it is a dangerous move in a Europe that remains confronted by the prospect of other ethnic secessionist movements.

MCMAHON:  Okay, so with those three concentric circles outlining the situation, I'd like to open it up to questions.  Operator, could you please give the first question?

OPERATOR:  Okay, at this time we'll open the floor for questions.  If you'd like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the one key on your touchtone phone now.

Questions will be taken in the order in which they are received.  And if at any time you would like to remove yourself from the questioning queue, press star two.  Once again if you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the one key.

MCMAHON:  Well, while we're waiting, Charlie, you know, in terms of Europe's hour, you know, much talked about in the '90s, I mean, how has Europe EU changed or how has it reacted to the situation compared to, you know, say the conflicts of the early 1990s for which it was much maligned?

KUPCHAN:  Well, I think it's a critical question because the supervisory body that will take over responsibility for Kosovo -- and let's stress that when Kosovo declares independence if it should do so, it will not become fully sovereign.  It will remain under the trusteeship of the international community even as it builds new political institutions and attempts to extend those institutions throughout the territory of what would then be a sovereign Kosovo.  The EU will be taking over from UNMIK from the United Nations primarily responsibility as the presence of the international community. 

And it does raise critical questions about whether the EU is up to the task.  Will they be ready to send in on the military and the civilian side sufficient numbers of people to make sure that this process goes smoothly?  And the answer to that question is complicated by the fact that we are unlikely to see unanimity within the union.  And that leaves the union in a complicated political and legal situation because technically speaking this is a foreign and security policy issue and therefore it requires unanimity.  And the same in fact could be said for NATO.  NATO makes its decision my unanimity if in fact there are some members of NATO with troops currently on the ground in Kosovo who do not accept and do not recognize Kosovo's independence, they will probably have to take their troops out of Kosovo. 

So what I expect to see happen is the reliance on what the EU calls reinforced cooperation which is a way of -- a nice way of calling what George Bush called "coalitions of the willing."  And that is that those countries with the interest and the capability in doing so will take the lead. 

But it is in some ways -- it remains to be seen at a time in which the EU is actually quite fragile because of immigration issues, because of renationalization, because of protectionism, because of enlargement -- will it be up to the task?  And I wouldn't want to minimize the nature of the task.  It is a tall order.  We could see a new round of fighting in the Balkans and we know the last time that happened it took the United States to step in because the EU was not up to the task.

MCMAHON:  Okay.  I'd like to give any of our listeners a chance to ask questions.

Operator, do we have any questions?

OPERATOR:  Yes, sir we do. 

And our first question comes from James Kitfield from the National Journal.  Please go ahead.

QUESTIONER:  Hey, Charles.  I'm curious about the U.S. position in this and this issue of timing because it seems to me that this administration has got its hands full.  We're looking at, you know, Pakistan crisis; we're still trying to cope with Turkey and the Kurds; we've got issues in Afghanistan; we've got issues in Iraq; we've got problems in Lebanon; we've got a newly -- re-launched Middle East process and lo and behold here comes the 1990s back on our plate. 

Is there some concern within the European community that, you know, America's very distracted right now and it may not be capable of playing the leadership role it played in the '90s?

KUPCHAN:  I think that there is concern about that and particularly there's concern about warm bodies on the military front.  The, you know, if you were to sort of take one step back in your question and say, how did we get here, why is this on our plate now, the answer is because it was initially an effort to reduce the footprint, the American footprint in the Balkans so that we could focus on Afghanistan and Iraq. 

And when this push toward Kosovo independence started, there was really, I think, very little expectation that Putin was going to stand in the way.  And keep in mind that this was before Putin had really decided to stand up to the West, flush with oil revenue and cause trouble.  And so now an effort to reduce the American footprint in the Balkans is now doing just the opposite because it has created a situation in which there's a standoff with Russia in which Belgrade has dug in its heels because it has Moscow support and in which we are witnessing not just not the withdrawal of U.S. from Kosovo but the U.S. has just sent more troops into the North.  The Germans are sending more troops in -- I think they should.  They should get ready for potential trouble. 

But you're right to say, James, that the timing is very awkward and one would simply hope that in heading down this road which is admittedly, the Bush administration is ready to expend the political capital and the military resources to ensure that things don't start unraveling again in the context of Serb-Kosovo relations.

QUESTIONER:  And just if I could do a quick follow-up, why haven't we thought this idea of automatically recognized a unilateral independence declaration?  I mean, clearly the situation has changed from when we first made that suggestion.  I mean, is there no possibility that we in the EU will get together and say, you know, this is really bad timing and try to get to Kosovars to back down?

KUPCHAN:  I would be very, very surprised if that happens.  My sense is that the train has left the station and that we are in the end game.  And that most of the diplomacy that's taking place today has nothing to do with Belgrade and Pristina.  It has everything to do with trying to get a unanimous position within Europe and across the Atlantic.  So I don't really see any backing down on this. 

And the main argument is really a pragmatic one.  And that is that if we kicked the can further down the road, violence is more likely, not less likely.  And that's simply because, you know, Kosovo is de facto no longer part of Serbia.  And if you go to Kosovo today and wander around, it is a very ugly and a very tense place.  And by kicking the can down the road I think you risk an outbreak of spontaneous violence in a way that you don't if you kind of amputate Kosovo, deal with the immediate implications, but at least get closure and then move on hopefully down the road after what most people expect to be moderate levels of violence rather than another huge conflagration.

MCMAHON:  Thanks for those good questions.

Another question, please?

OPERATOR:  Okay, thank you for your question. 

And our next question comes from Nicholas Kulish from The New York Times. 

Please go ahead.

QUESTIONER:  Yeah, hi.  You referred to the Germans sending more troops in, but that's a total of 500 who are rotating out again before January if I'm not mistaken.  I mean, do you really think that that's sufficient?  Have we sent the message with that or do you think that on Friday the NATO foreign ministers have to commit to something more?

KUPCHAN:  I would say that the troop numbers could always go up in the sense that we need to send a signal that we are ready to damp down any violence which might occur.  I think that, you know, if I were to say, where do we need more people, it would be primarily on the police front and less on the NATO front -- riot police, getting people on the ground around Serb enclaves, putting more people in Mitrovica, making sure that they have riot gear.  And then also making sure that the rules of engagement for those NATO forces that are there are sufficiently flexible that, if need be, they can interceded in a rapid way and use force if necessary. 

And we've had some problems in the past, particularly during the 2004 rioting with NATO rules of engagement and questions about whether NATO can use live fire and use coercion to prevent the violence. 

So I would say that, you know, if you can get more warm bodies out of NATO, more policemen from the EU or other international sources to head to the region -- and I would say let's put some more in Republic of Serbska while we're at it as a preventive measure, all the better.  But I don't think that we really are talking about a requirement of massive numbers of new troops unless, of course, the fighting that does break out is much more large in scope than expected.

MCMAHON:  Thanks for the question.

Next question, please.

OPERATOR:  Okay.  Thank you for your question.

Our next question comes from Jason Notey (sp) from the Boston Metro.  Please go ahead.

QUESTIONER:  Hello there.  With regard to increased EU involvement in Kosovo and in regard to a possible -- the possibility that Russia may view increased EU or NATO involvement in Kosovo as some sort of threat, what is the position -- what -- actually what is the chance that Russia will see this as a opportunity to kind of assert itself by sending economic or material support to the Serb side?

KUPCHAN:  Well, you know, I have to say that I'm somewhat surprised by the Russian position in the sense that of all the issues where there is trouble with Russia right now, Kosovo is the one where Russian interests are most remote.  In other words, you know, if you talk about CFE or you talk about Iran, you talk about arms control, you talk about NATO expansion, you talk about the United States messing around in Ukraine or Georgia and those counties joining NATO, you can make an argument that tangible Russian interests are on the line. 

In this case, it's pretty remote in that, you know, you could say well, there's the Slav connection, there is the historic link between Moscow and Belgrade, but it's pretty thin at this point.  And in that sense, this really is about Putin catering to Russian nationalism and Putin flexing his muscles. 

And it's partly because of that that I don't think Russia is going to do much to follow through, in terms of -- you know, some people have said we'll probably see some Russian troops heading to Serbia, or that there will be, you know, a great allocation of resources.  I don't expect that to happen, again, because the interests simply aren't there.  Putin is being tough but he's also very shrewd, and I think he'll use the Kosovo issue diplomatically to considerable effect. 

But, in general, Putin's bark has been worse than his bite.  And, therefore, I would be very surprised if he were to take provocative action that could, for example, involve the deployment of troops. 

QUESTIONER:  Than you.

MCMAHON:  Thank you for the question. 

Next question, please. 

OPERATOR:  Okay, and our next question comes from Olivia Starr, from the American Prospect.  Please go ahead. 

QUESTIONER:  Hi, I'd like to follow up on a previous question about the U.S. role in Kosovo.  I'm thinking more of a long-term role.  I know the Ahtisaari plan didn't give much consideration to the U.S. in terms of a political role, but I know we have a very large U.S. Army base there.  And what kind of role -- what kind of role would the U.S. be playing in the future? 

KUPCHAN:  Well, as I said earlier, part of the rationale for this push towards independence was to create a situation in which the U.S. could get out.  And if you go back to the early days of the Bush administration, the president himself, and Rumsfeld, and others were actually talking about the departure of U.S. troops from the Balkans. 

I think that that's over for now, and that the United States realizes that, like it or not, it's going to have to keep a reasonable number of troops in the region for the foreseeable future, as well as to provide logistical support for the European troops that remain, and, at this point, carry the lion's share of the burden. 

And I also think that it's worth pointing out that U.S. troops carry a moral authority and a weight in Kosovo that the European troops do not.  And that's one of the reasons that we've recently seen a contingent of U.S. troops deploy to what's called "Nothing Hill," it's a base in the Serb area of northern Kosovo, because that's seen as sending a signal to Albanians and to Kosovar Serbs alike -- and to Serbs in Serbia, the paramilitaries, for example, that have been operating -- that U.S. is prepared to do what is necessary to keep the lid on. 

MCMAHON:  Thank you for the question. 

Next question, please. 

OPERATOR:  Okay, and our next question comes from Bill Cole (sp), from the Associated Press.  Please go ahead. 

QUESTIONER:  Hi Charles. 


QUESTIONER:  I just was curious, you know, when I talk to Serbs, you know, most of them have never been to Kosovo.  Very few of them have the most -- the most remote desire to go to Kosovo.  And sometimes there's a sense that what's needed simply is just to get -- find a way for the Serbs to save face.  And I wonder what you might consider, you know, a proper or appropriate incentive for that to happen, and if it's too late for that to happen? 

KUPCHAN:  Well, the one issue that has always been sort of on the table, but never really, is the partition of Kosovo.  And I think it's safe to say that if the international community edged carefully in the direction of partition, that the independence of Kosovo would be -- not necessarily welcomed, but they might be able to live with it.  And by partition, I mean that you take the areas that are predominantly Serb populated, north of the Ibar River, and keep it as part of Serbia. 

I'm someone who, from the beginning, has always felt that that option should be on the table.  The international community in Pristina have precluded it from the beginning, and then every once in a while somebody mentions, "Hey, what about partition?, and they're slapped down.  The logic being that if you partition Kosovo, then what about the Albanians who live in the Presevo alley, which is an area just to the east of Kosovo?  Aren't they then going to say, "Well, we're going to secede from Serbia and join Kosovo"?  But, you know, in my mind it still should not be precluded precisely because it strikes me as the only hope of doing what you just said, and that is potentially finding a way to make this happen in a consensual fashion, rather than being imposed from the outside. 

And the other comment I'd make about this is that it may well be that northern Kosovo ends up back in Serbia.  And that is because it is still attached -- Serb security forces are there, the health system, the education system, the telecommunications system is all run by Serbia.  And so if Kosovo declares independence, and it's got this big chunk of territory -- over which it does not have control, over which it really has no emotive control either because the population doesn't want to be there -- then Kosovo begins life in a very, very dangerous and inauspicious environment. 

And it seems to me that the EU and the U.S. and NATO are really biting off a lot if they're saying, "We are prepared to expend the resources necessary to keep northern Kosovo inside an independent state."  So that's all by way of saying that, you know, I wouldn't shut the door on partition, but from what I can gather, the international community has done so and may find itself having to address this issue because it's forced upon them, rather than because they got ahead of the curve. 

MCMAHON:  Thanks for that question, Bill. 

Next question, please. 

OPERATOR:  Okay.  And our next question comes from Lambrosh Pappenponehue (sp) from the EP Greek Daily.  Please go ahead. 

QUESTIONER:  Yes, sir.  This is Lambrosh Pappenponehue (sp).  Mr. Kupchan, keeping in mind whatever you thought that about the Balkans in general, which is very -- (inaudible) -- I was wondering, what will be the impact on Greece of the events in Kosovo? 

KUPCHAN:  You know, I don't -- I don't have a great deal of insight into that.  The only reflections that I have are that you -- you know, because of the orthodox connection, Greece and Romania tend to be quite skittish about the prospect of independence of Kosovo and, therefore, Greece may find itself on the fringes of the consensus within the European Union. 

The other issue that strikes me as being of direct interest to Greece is the prospect of greater Albania. 

QUESTIONER:  That's what I was ready to ask.

KUPCHAN:  Oh, okay.  And --

QUESTIONER:  What do you think about that? 

KUPCHAN:  I have to say that I'm someone who is quite skeptical that there will be a push to establish a greater Albania. 

QUESTIONER:  But -- (inaudible) -- question, how you can stop any people, any nation, including the Kosovars, who has the right to -- (inaudible) -- if some day will say, "Well, we would like to be united with Albania."  So can Albania stop such a movement? 

KUPCHAN:  Well, you know, if things head in that direction, then, you know, they may.  I simply find very little political support for that outcome in Kosovo proper, or in Albania proper.  Nor do I hear much support in western Macedonia for the fashioning of greater Albania. 

And, as I said earlier, I think in some ways --

(Cross talk.)

QUESTIONER:  -- (inaudible) -- listen very carefully whatever you said about the western -- you know, western part of -- (inaudible) -- Macedonia.  Yes, I'm very concerned.  But go ahead. 

KUPCHAN:  I was just going to say that, you know, what happens in Macedonia is much more a product of how the Ohrid Agreement is implemented -- whether Albanians are integrated into the civil service, the police, the social mainstream, or whether they remain second-class citizens.  And in that sense, it seems to me if we want to get Macedonia right, let's focus on Macedonia.  Let's deal with the issues on the ground there. 

And to the extent that an independent Kosovo affects Macedonia, as I said earlier, I think it is a beneficial move because it will take the wind out of the sails of the extremist elements within Kosovo, who were those that stirred up trouble in Macedonia during the period in which fighting almost broke out between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians several years ago. 

QUESTIONER:  Mr. Kupchan, since you mentioned the Ohrid Agreement.  As you know very well, there were created 11 autonomous kingdoms from the Lake of Ohrid?) all the way to the Lake of -- (inaudible) -- close to Bulgaria.  And, as you said -- (inaudible) -- that somehow you're afraid, this was the part of the country overpopulated by the Albanians will be a problem for the so-called Macedonians.  I'm asking very direct, do you afraid any split of the so-called Macedonia from this Albania -- Albanian? 

KUPCHAN:  No, I don't -- I don't see that in the cards.  I am much more worried about the municipal set-up in Kosovo.  I think the Ahtisaari plan makes a lot of sense, but what's actually happening there is a cantonization, of sort, along ethnic lines, so that you have Serb majority municipalities. 

It's a good thing in the sense that it makes Serbs feel like they have control over their lives, but it will leave Albanian communities living within Serb majority municipalities.  And, you know, I really do worry about fighting breaking out along the inter-communal boundary lines throughout different parts of Kosovo in the aftermath of a declaration of independence. 

QUESTIONER:  Mr. Kupchan, how do you see --

MCMAHON:  Thank you, actually.  I want to move on to another question, because we have a lot of people lined up here, okay? 

QUESTIONER:  -- I'd like to know your opinion about Bulgaria.  Bulgaria is very --

MCMAHON:  I'm sorry.  We want to go to another question, please.  We have a lot of people lined up here.  Thank you, (Bill ?). 

OPERATOR:  Thank you for your question, sir. 

Next question comes from Rad Maravik (sp), from the Tangu News Agency (sp).  Please go ahead. 

QUESTIONER:  Hello.  Charles.  You talked about this to some extent last week.  


QUESTIONER:  I was wondering, it's totally unclear, and I was -- will be unable to get an answer here in U.N. either.  What happens to UNMIK?  It's obvious that this mission has to be canceled by Security Council, and it's obvious that this is not going to happen.  You know, like this is one of the open questions in this process.  Do you have any idea -- I do you believe that anybody thought about this, when they came up with this EU mission ideas. 

KUPCHAN:  Yeah.  You know, I think that we are going to be witnessing a lot of what I would call diplomatic improvisation in the coming months.  And that's because, as you just stated, you know, Resolution 1244 is going to stay on the books.  Resolution 1244 provides for final status negotiations, but not for an independent Kosovo, and it provides for a U.N. (chapeau ?) that oversees the situation on the ground. 

What I think will happen, as I mentioned before, is that you will get these diplomatic coalitions of the willing.  And that will consistent primarily of the United States, plus I would say at least 20 EU member states, maybe more, coming together to make decisions about a hand-off from UNMIK to an EU supervisory body. 

Now, you know, how you -- what's the legal basis for that gets quite complicated, because there is unlikely to be any formal vote within the -- within the Security Council.  So in that sense, I think we'll just have to -- we'll have to wait and see the nature of the improvised mechanisms and the legal arguments that are made to make this hand-off take place in an effective way. 

QUESTIONER:  Do you believe that we can basically see the situation where we have, both EU missions and UNMIK at the same time on the ground? 

KUPCHAN:  I think that there will be a period in which there will be parallel institutions, so that you have a handover of responsibility, a handover of knowledge.  And, indeed, I'm quite sure that some of the personnel would probably stay in place, but you simply, at one date, have to have a formal transfer of power from U.N. authority to EU authority. 

And my guess is that the same kind of hand-off will take place with NATO.  And, as I said, the big question is will those countries that oppose independence of Kosovo simply withdraw their troops, or could they go further and actually try to block a decision within the NAC, the North Atlantic Council?  If that were to happen, then we would be in a very serious diplomatic crisis.  I think that's very unlikely, for example, let's say that Greece, or another country that refuses to recognize Kosovo, would actually seek to block NATO's continued deployment in the -- in the North Atlantic Council in Brussels. 

MCMAHON:  Thanks for the question.  

(Cross talk) 

QUESTIONER:  I have a short follow-up on the security issue.  Can I --? 

MCMAHON:  But make it short, please -- yes. 

QUESTIONER:  Yeah, yeah, no problem.  Well, as we saw in, like, March of 2004 and throughout -- (inaudible) -- deployment of NATO, that NATO was basically told to react to problems.  Do you agree that now that we face the crisis -- (inaudible) -- Serbian enclaves, and on Ibar River basically, you think that NATO is capable of preventing violence? 

KUPCHAN:  Well, you know, the one thing I would say is that there is, in this case, at least lead time.  You know, unlike let's say when Slovenia or Croatia seceded and the international community was caught flat-footed.  Here we see things happening.  It may be a train wreck of sorts, as Bob said at the beginning, but at least we know what the next steps are -- December 10, Security Council meeting which appears to be set for December 19; election in Serbia some time in January, so maybe we should wait for a declaration until after that election, making it more likely that Tadic wins rather than the radical party. 

And so, you know, given that we have two, three, four months perhaps, ahead of us, I think part of what needs to happen is, you know, get NATO ready.  Get it out from the bases into the communities.  Get more warm bodies around the orthodox monasteries -- in Pec and in (Detchany ?), and other places, so that when we actually move toward some sort of movement to secession, there are troops on the streets around the enclaves to make sure that violence does not break out. 

MCMAHON:  Thank you for the question. 

Next question, please. 

OPERATOR:  Okay, thank you for your question. 

Next question comes from David Sands, from the Washington Times.  Please go ahead. 

QUESTIONER:  Yeah, thanks.  I was -- I'm curious if you could just give me your sense of the short-term reaction in Serbia after the declaration.  What do you think will happen the day after?  And do they have any tool or ways to gum-up the works for this diplomatic improvisation that we're about to see? 

KUPCHAN:  There's no question that it will not be greeted with a lot of cheering and there will not be parades in the streets.  There will be protests.  There could be riots.  And part of the reason that I think there isn't an impasse -- there is an impasse, is that it would be politically suicidal for any major Serb politician to come out and say, you know, "Goodbye Kosovo.  Who needs it?  It's like a hole in the head."  You know, Kosovo is to the Serbs, in some ways, as Jerusalem is to the Israelis or Palestinians. 

And so it's going to be very, very unsettling.  And the question is, because the issue is forced upon the Serbian leadership, is it possible that the more pro-EU members of the Serbian elite will survive this?  So for example, Tadic is more pro-integration than Kostunica, the prime minister.  So I think it would be -- it would be in the interests of the EU and United States to see him survive. 

It's not clear that he could do so in the wake of an independent Kosovo, but at least by digging in his heels, opposing it, he puts himself in a position in which he can continue to govern.  I would say that my big worry on the violence front is not that Serb forces are going to head south, but that we will see paramilitaries who come from Serbia that may cross the boundary line into northern Kosovo and they will stir up trouble.  We've seen, in 2004 and in other earlier periods since the 1999 war, that Kosovo has the potential to catch fire, that a riot here, an attack on a Serb or an Albanian house there, can quickly set things aflame. 

And so my concern would be that you get these paramilitaries going down there with the explicit purpose of attacking a few Albanian homes, kicking out some people from Mitrovitsa, and that then catches first and leads to a larger outbreak of violence.  

MCMAHON:  Thank you for your question. 

Another question please. 

OPERATOR:  Okay, the next question comes from Margaret Besheer, from the Voice of America.  Please go ahead. 

QUESTIONER:  Hi there.  Thank you.  When it does go to the Security Council on December 19th, where do you see it -- you know, when they take it up, where do you see it going?  What do you see them doing with this issue? 

KUPCHAN:  Well, it kind of think that they'll kind of pass it around and look at it, and hold it upside down, and then leave the room, in the sense that from past efforts to discuss this in the Security Council, it simply goes nowhere.  And the Russians, as far as we can tell, have no intention whatsoever to back down. 

And I think the thinking of the U.S. and the EU will be, it's much better to take this outside the frame of the Security Council and to build a trans-Atlantic consensus, than to go for a vote within the Security Council which is then vetoed by Russia.  So in that sense, we're looking at something that might look a little bit like a replay of the Kosovo war itself, in which there was no U.N. authority for the war because it would have been a Russian veto, but the war was seen as a legitimate because it enjoyed the support of the trans-Atlantic community. 

I think we're looking at a very similar situation today where the hope will be that with Washington, and Brussels, and most European capitals on-board, a independent Kosovo will enjoy legitimacy even if it does not enjoy a U.N. -- a seat in the U.N. or legal sovereignty in terms of recognition by the total international community. 

MCMAHON:  So Charlie, you don't see this as an issue that's kind of poisoning the well in the Security Council, in terms of, you know, they don't reach agreement, and they do an end run around the Security Council, and Kosovo enjoys a -- some de facto legitimacy but the Russians are still stewing about it.  You don't think this, sort of, spoils things in other areas? 

KUPCHAN:  No, I do.  I mean, I do think it will -- it will poison the water, if you will, but that water is almost undrinkable as it is.  I mean, the relationship with Russia seems to be getting more and more difficult, with a new round of elections coming up next year for the president, with United Russia now in control of the Duma, it's possible that the Russian position is going to get worse, not better. 

And as I think we discussed at the outset, it seems to me that the key challenge facing the U.S. and the EU will be to try to compartmentalize these issues, so that by forcing the independence of Kosovo upon the Russians, they do not exclude or preclude the possibility of continuing Russian cooperation on some other very, very key issues -- I would put Iran at the top of that list. 

MCMAHON:  Thank you. 

Any more questions, operator? 

OPERATOR:  Yes, sir.  We have three more questions. 

MCMAHON:  Great.  Please go ahead. 

OPERATOR:  Okay, our next question comes from Olivia Ward, from the Toronto Star.  Please go ahead. 

QUESTIONER:  One thing that hasn't been mentioned so far, but I think it really is an absolutely crucial point in all this, is money.  From what I've seen on the ground, in both Serbia and Kosovo, people are bitterly disappointed that after democracy came to Serbia, nothing happened in the way of a real investment, kind of Marshall Plan thing, that they were hoping for.  And Kosovo, which thought they had won the war, found that they may have won something but they're still mostly jobless, and often in the dark.  So do you see any willingness to try and mitigate the problem economically? 

KUPCHAN:  It's a very important point, and it has to be a major part of any package to Serbia and to Kosovo moving forward.  And just cycling back a minute, to the question about a compromise with Belgrade, you know, to the degree that there is leverage other than on the partition issue, it stems from forgiving debt from new aid packages; from expediting negotiations with the EU about entry; from talking about Serbia in the Partnership for Peace, and eventually a NATO member.  These are -- these are things that can be offered to Serbia to try to sweeten what is a bitter pill under the best of circumstances. 

And in Kosovo, you're very right to point out that it's close to being a failing state, in that, you know, the institutions of governance are extraordinarily wobbly and don't extend throughout the territory.  You never know, at any given point of the evening, whether you're going to have electricity or running water -- it comes and goes.  And it's hard to, you know, get off the ground as a new state under those circumstances. 

So I think we're talking about new levels of EU assistance coming with a EU supervision of the territory.  The one piece of good news -- assuming that the diplomatic improvisation is sufficient to satisfy the international financial institutions, is that they will now have a green light to come into Kosovo.  Because of Kosovo's political status, they are not getting the assistance of the major international lenders. 

When they move towards independence and are recognized by the EU and the United States, hopefully you will begin to see a major influx of the money needed to build a functioning economic infrastructure. 

MCMAHON:  Thanks for that question. 

Next question please. 

OPERATOR:  Okay, and our next question comes from Bill Cole (sp), from the Associated Press.  Please go ahead. 

QUESTIONER:  Charlie, hi.  You mentioned paramilitaries.  One group that surfaced fairly recently was an Albanian group, and they appeared quite menacing in black fatigues, ski masks, you know, emblems of the Albanian National Army, which of course, as you know, is outlawed.  And I wonder, you know, your insight on that.  How worried should the international community be about this group and groups like it? 

KUPCHAN:  I would say that the international community should place equal concern on both communities.  That is to say, that somebody stirring up trouble is equally likely to come from Serb side as from the Albanian side, in the sense that, you know, Kosovo remains a very shadowy place.  There remain enormous criminal networks, and there remain, as you pointed out, various groups that do fit into the category of paramilitary. 

You know the KLA has been de jure decommissioned, but, de facto, there are still groups that are operating, and there's something called the KPC.  I think that stands for the Police -- I can't remember what it is, but basically --

QUESTIONER:  Kosovo Protection Corps, yeah. 

KUPCHAN:  -- Protection Corps, that that is the, it's the decommissioned KLA.  They're supposed to be doing reconstruction, almost like the Army Corps of Engineers.  But the reality is there's a lot of those guys still have guns.  A lot of those guys would be none too reluctant to get those guns and go shoot up some enclaves so that the people will leave and move to Northern Kosovo, or move to Serbia, wherever they may go. 

And so, no question that these groups have to be -- have to be watched carefully.  The one silver lining, that I think I mentioned earlier, is that by having former guerillas running Kosovo, which is what you have -- in fact, you know, Haradinaj, one of the former leaders, is now being tried for war crimes, but by having these guys in positions of leadership, they have a lot of street credibility.  They are able to control some of these shadowy paramilitary groups in ways that someone who didn't have the bona vides of a -- as a guerilla fighter would be able to do. 

So to that extent, this particular leadership group in Kosovo is pretty well suited to keep the raps on these groups. 

MCMAHON:  Thank you. 

Operator, do you have another question? 

OPERATOR:  No, sir, that wraps up all the questions. 

MCMAHON:  Okay, well that brings us right on an hour. 

So thanks everyone for joining us today.  And thanks the Charles Kupchan for putting Kosovo into perspective for us. 

KUPCHAN:  Thank you.  Thanks for all your participation.  Bye-bye. 

MCMAHON:  Bye-bye. 









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