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Kosovo talks hope remains - Russian Foreign Ministry

 Although hope remains that talks could be resumed on Kosovo, currently pressing Serbia for independence, it is fading, the Russian envoy to the status negotiations said on Monday.

"A chance to resume such talks remains, but... it moves closer to zero each day," Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko said in the lower house of parliament during a debate on the Kosovo issue.

He did not rule out if Kosovo unilaterally declared independence, the territory could split.

Botsan-Kharchenko said Russia's Foreign Ministry has drafted a package of measures to be taken in the event of Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence.

"These measures are completely in line with the position we have assumed on the issue of Kosovo's independence," he said during a debate of the State Duma international affairs committee.

While most EU states support the signing of a Stabilization and Association Agreement on trade and cooperation with Belgrade, a deal that could quell mounting anti-Western sentiment in Serbia and boost incumbent leader Boris Tadic's chances of re-election, the Netherlands and Belgium are insisting that Belgrade first track down key war crimes suspects.

The EU foreign ministers held talks on the issue Monday.

Serbs will choose between Tadic and nationalist challenger Tomislav Nikolic at a February 3 election runoff. In Sunday's first voting round, Radical Party leader Nikolic, seen as an anti-Western far-right figure, gained a five-point advantage, sparking concerns in the EU. Although the president's powers are limited in Serbia, the office has important symbolic significance.

The nationalist candidate's drive for the presidency has been boosted by the ongoing dispute over Kosovo, to which Serbia refuses to grant independence. Belgrade's position has received strong support from long-time ally Moscow, which said Kosovo would never be a fully legitimate state, and that Russia cannot support an "immoral" declaration of independence.

The Albanian-dominated province has been a UN protectorate since the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia ended a conflict between Albanian and Serb forces in 1999.

RIA Novosti

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