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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Issues Stern Warning on Kosovo

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that granting independence to Kosovo would have "the most negative consequences" for the Balkans and Europe, national media reported -- some of the strongest language yet on an issue that has deepened Moscow's disagreements with the West.

The remarks were Russia's latest criticism of a United Nations' plan that entails supervised statehood for the troubled Balkan province. Lavrov and other officials in Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, have expressed concern that the plan would give Kosovo independence, and said a deal must be negotiated and be acceptable to both sides.

Lavrov reiterated a warning issued in September that Russia could use its veto power in the UN Security Council if it disagreed with a proposal by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari, RIA-Novosti reported. The proposal must be approved by the Security Council to take effect.

"There exists a fairly insistent idea among our Western partners to propose a resolution swiftly that would approve Ahtisaari's plan," RIA-Novosti quoted Lavrov as saying.

Lavrov said Russia would only consider such a resolution if the Serbian and Kosovo leaderships agreed on the plan or an amended version.

"As regards Kosovo, we are convinced that granting this territory independence will have the most negative consequences for the region and for Europe as a whole," the news agency quoted Lavrov as saying. "Our Western partners are convinced of the opposite."

Lavrov apparently did not say what potential consequences he had in mind. Putin has warned the West that granting Kosovo independence would serve as precedent for other nations with similar cases, including pro-Russian breakaway provinces in Georgia and Moldova, whose sovereignty claims are dismissed by the United States and Europe.

Also Friday, Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions reiterated that they would press for independence if Serbia's Kosovo were granted sovereignty.

"We can offer facts proving that we have more grounds for independence than Kosovo, historically, legally and factually," Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said. "If Kosovo is recognized ... it will set a precedent. Whether this precedent will be applied to Abkhazia, South Ossetia and others ... is a political question," he said.

South Ossetian Foreign Minister Murat Dzhioyev, speaking alongside Shamba, added: "If Kosovo gets independence, that must be applied to other countries, too."

Kosovo has been a UN protectorate since 1999, when NATO airstrikes that were adamantly criticized by Moscow stopped Serbia's crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanian rebels. Belgrade insists the province must remain a part of Serbia, whereas its majority ethnic Albanians seek independence.

Serbia's new parliament Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected Ahtisaari's plan, which entails internationally supervised self-rule for Kosovo, including a flag, anthem, army, constitution and the right to join international organizations.

(AP, Reuters)