Moscow should keep protesting but assume that Kosovo is lost to Serbia.

Defeated in the battle for Kosovo, Moscow and Belgrade had better concentrate on prevention of primitivism. Attacks on foreign embassies and acts of plain vandalism in Belgrade coupled with Dmitry Rogozin’s statements in Brussels weaken their positions in the issue.

Unfortunately, we once again provided the international community with an excuse to speak of the Russians’ and Serbians’ aggressiveness. Moreover, it happened when the situation actually favored Moscow and Belgrade. Disinclination of some European countries (and many others, by the way) to recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state proved that unilateral actions of Pristina upset even Washington’s allies. Instead of finding themselves in international isolation as the US Administration had predicted, Russia and Serbia found the international community somewhat sympathetic.

The way Moscow and Belgrade proceeded to make use of the situation, however, shows that neither has a strategy with regard to Kosovo. Moreover, some of their actions may actually rally the West and eventually enable it to neutralize opponents (i.e. Russia and Serbia themselves).

Organizing the rally last Thursday, the government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica couldn’t help understanding that it might degenerate into attacks on embassies and banal looting. It did. What really counts, however, is that the government never condemned the vandals. Sure, attacks on embassies might be chalked off to “anger caused by the loss of the ancestral lands”, but what about this inexplicable animosity towards private property of ordinary taxpayers?

Also importantly, never since the moment Kosovo declared independence has the government of Serbia made a statement to the effect that the Kosovo Albanians are part of the Serbian people. Elevated to the corridors of power in 2000, the Democrats kept promoting Serbians’ interests only. It never occurred to them that it was alienating all the rest, i.e. 90% population of the runway province… As a matter of fact, neither does it appear to have ever occurred to the Kremlin. Still, it is not exactly Russia’s problem. Official Moscow does have some strong arguments in the matter (necessity of a legal solution based on a compromise between Belgrade and Pristina, danger of separatism, unacceptability of dealing with matters of this magnitude despite the UN Security Council). It even has strings to pull in order to prevent Kosovo’s direct involvement in international affairs as a sovereign state. All these trump cards notwithstanding, Russia slips into primitive rhetorics.

Consider Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin, for example. Several days ago Rogozin openly accused the Alliance of attempts to keep Serbian leaders off the territory of Kosovo and admitted that the information was unconfirmed. Rogozin then assumed that the whole process in Kosovo was sponsored by the local mafia. His elaborations on brute force in the meantime turned out to be particularly scandalous because some listeners failed to understand if he was saying that Russia intended to use it. By and large, the United States accused Russia of cynicism and demanded a denouncement of Rogozin’s words. Sergei Yastrzhembsky went public then, and so did the Foreign Ministry – with explanations. Last but not the least, Rogozin himself decided to explain himself. It turned out that Moscow lacked the intentions to do anything dramatic, but Rogozin’s words are going to haunt Moscow all the same.

Granted that Moscow cannot persuade the UN mission in Kosovo to annul the independence declaration or the United States and its allies to waive recognition of Kosovo, what it can and certainly should do is explain to Rogozin his powers and duties and condemn acts of violence in the Balkans after February 17, 2008.

As for its future strategy in the Balkans, Russia should center it around the premise that Kosovo is lost to Serbia. Errors in evaluation of the chances that territorial integrity would be retained resulted in inadequate moves on Moscow’s part in the past. It should do better than that, this time.