Kosovo's Troubled Independence

On Sunday, the Serbian province of Kosovo declared independence. The consequences of that move will reach far beyond that tiny, mountainous region. The U.S. will regret that decision because Islam will increase its influence across southern Europe, the Russian bear — already aroused will use it as another front in a reviving Cold War. At considerable risk the West will continue to pay a high price.

The celebration in Kosovo’s streets now clouds geopolitical realities. Balkan Muslims will exploit Kosovo’s independence to expand the Islamic crescent that begins in Bosnia passes through the Balkans and into Turkey. This move encourages other disenfranchised groups to redraw their national borders. Russia, which opposed the move, is itching to renew confrontation with the West and this decision provides that opportunity. 

Since 1999, the United Nations has administered Kosovo after 60 days of airstrikes against Yugoslavia (and the loss of Russian support) which prompted then-president Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his forces. Milosevic’s Serbia was accused of waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing, just as it had against Bosnian Muslims. Today, Kosovo is protected by 16,000 NATO-led peacekeepers including about 1,000 Americans and is heavily dependent on Western aid.

"From today onwards, Kosovo is proud, independent and free," Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, a former fighter with Kosovo’s Liberation Army, told his parliament. Thaci’s move was encouraged by the U.S. but bitterly contested by Russia.

On Sunday, American flags were plentiful on the streets of Pristina, Kosovo’s capitol, in recognition of the U.S.’s leading role in the move to independence. President Bush expressed support for Kosovo’s internationally supervised independence. “On Kosovo, our position is that its status must be resolved in order for the Balkans to be stable," Bush said." For supporting Kosovar freedom the West gets to support another likely failed state with peacekeepers and aid for untold decades. And this move will more likely destabilize the Balkans and damage our war with Islamic radicals. 

It is quite likely that Kosovo’s independence will accelerate the region’s transformation into a base for Islamic terrorism. Muslim charities pour millions of dollars into the region to plant Osama bin-Laden radicalism in local mosques. Islamic extremists in the region will see Kosovo’s independence as a green light to expand into other areas.

Historically, Greater Albania denotes the territories claimed as the traditional homeland of the ethnic Albanians: Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and the Epirus region of Greece. These regions are rapidly becoming Islamic havens.

Since the war, Kosovo has become monoreligious with Christians fleeing and Muslims making up more than 90 percent of the population. Kosovo Muslims with outside encouragement are becoming radicalized and fierer in their explicitly political faith.

Albania has been transformed into a Muslim nation — now 70 percent — with the help of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates which have invested in spreading Islam by building many hundreds of mosques and Islamic schools. "The mosques are full of young people who know nothing about Islam," said Sali Tivari, secretary general of the Muslim community. One estimate indicates that Albania will be 85 percent Muslim by 2015.

The threat of instability due to Islamic extremist seeking a Greater Albania is serious. Europe already has Islamic problems but this new region could well become a safe haven for al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists to operate against European governments and economies.

The Bush administration is eager to support Muslim Kosovo perhaps because it naively views the area as a means to bridge the gulf with the Islamic world and to show how democracy can work in an Islamic country. 

Moscow is determined to prevent Kosovo from obtaining international legitimacy and used a closed-door emergency session of the UN’s Security Council to make its case. “We expect the UN mission in Kosovo … to take immediate action to fulfill their mandates… including voiding the decisions of the Pristina local government,” the Russian foreign ministry said.

Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, is concerned that Kosovo’s independence could spark secessionist movements across the former Soviet Union. Already, separatist leaders in Georgia said they would seek recognition of their independence, citing Kosovo as a precedent.

Kosovo’s independence comes at an especially bad time for Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, who is rebuilding Russia’s sphere of influence. Putin advised against Kosovo’s independence and he can’t afford to be perceived as weak because that would jeopardize his leverage when it comes to blunting NATO’s expansion to countries like Ukraine and his efforts to recapture Central Asia’s allegiance. He will ratchet up diplomatic, economic and military pressure to force the West not to recognize Kosovo.

Putin wants to avoid the humiliation his predecessor Boris Yeltsin was dished in the Balkans. In 1999, the US manipulated Russia to persuade the Serbs to leave Kosovo. At the time, President Yeltsin was guaranteed a Russian role in Kosovo for help persuading the Serbs to leave. The Serbs abandoned Kosovo but Yeltsin was left empty handed and his troops returned humiliated. 

Putin won’t wait like Yeltsin to be humilitated before sticking it to the West. On the diplomatic front he will make Moscow less cooperative on issues like Iran’s nuclear program. Then he will create a crisis.

His crisis will help him avoid looking weak like Yeltsin. Stratfor, an intelligence think tank, indicates that Putin has two crisis levers: economic and the “light military” option.

Putin could pull the plug on natural gas to Europe as he did to the Ukraine in 2005, bringing it to its knees. Moscow can make Europe cry uncle over Kosovo long before the petro-rich Russians feel the pain. 

The “light military” option is an interesting face-saver as well. Stratfor suggests that Putin might send troops to Kosovo, Russian fighters to Serbia and Russia’s aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov to the Adriatic Sea. Will the U.S. and the EU cave in to Putin’s saber-rattling? Or will the fact that we recognized the new Kosovo government cause Putin to take more heavy-handed steps?

Whether Kosovo’s independence eventually expands Europe’s Islamic crescent or Russia uses it to spark a new Cold War, what’s clear is that the West has bought a long-term lease in the Balkans. And the U.S. is now the guarantor of Kosovo independence defending Muslims — including some who wish to kill us and destroy our way of life — with American lives.

The mess in the Balkans has tied down American troops and billions in aid for thirteen years. The next president needs to do a better job of coaxing the Europeans to do their own fighting and keep our powder dry for fights that better fit our strategic interests.