U.S.-Russia Ties Tense over Kosovo Independence

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NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr observes tense Russian-American relations in Kosovo's declaration of independence this week.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

In Kosovo today, Serbs marched and burned border checkpoints to protest Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia. That move has been years in the making. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns called it the final (unintelligible) of Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia's breakup has stretched out over 17 years, and tensions there now still echo those of the early 1990s. As we hear from NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

DANIEL SCHORR: You might call the last few decades the era of breakaway states. The latest to breakaway is Kosovo, a province of Serbia. Serbia declared it's own independence from the Yugoslav Federation in 1991. When Kosovo - most of its two million people ethnic Albanians - demanded its freedom from Serbia, Serbia launched an ethnic cleansing campaign that ended only after it was bomb by NATO forces.

And, finally, Kosovo declared its independence. Its sovereignty is recognized by the United States and its principal European allies, but ardently opposed by countries worried about their own separatist movements like Spain, Romania and Cyprus. And then, there is Russia, which has been obliged to accept the loss of its empire after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Chechnya, a province of Russia itself, fought two bloody and losing wars to breakaway from mother Russia.

Now, Russia - never fully reconcile to seeing its backyard become NATO's front yard - support separatist movements in two enclaves of Georgia. Relations between Georgia and Russia, its former master, are strained. So, today when Russia threatens to veto any United Nations effort to recognize a Kosovo Republic, this must be understood against the background of continuing rivalry between Russia and the United States for mastery in Europe.

Russia has made common cause with Serbia to resist Western encroachment on the region of Europe that the Kremlin calls its near abroad. The standoff between the two big powers, symbolized by the slogans of Serbian demonstrators, down with America and Russia help.

The independence declaration is a tricky thing for Kosovo to do, considering that this little country is short of resources, short of electric power, and short of most attributes of a sovereign state. It will need to keep the almost 16,000 NATO troops that have been on peacekeeping assignment since the end of the Civil War. To maintain his foothold in the Balkans, it will need a heavy infusion of foreign aide.

The United States is committed to supporting Kosovo against Serbian efforts to regain control and, perhaps more to the point, against Russian efforts to exert its control over Eastern Europe.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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