Kosovo independence hours away

Ethnic Albanians are celebrating in the streets as Kosovo prepares to formally declare its independence later. A new flag and national crest is expected to be revealed at a special sitting on parliament. Serbia and Russia are opposed to the move and are p

The European Union has announced it will replace the current UN mission in Kosovo with a 2,000-strong police and justice team of its own. A large NATO troop presence will also remain.

The EU force will also include several non-EU states such as the United States and Croatia.

Serbia has hit out at the EU move, saying it amounts to an illegal occupation.

Hundreds of Serbs have staged a rally in central Belgrade, protesting against the province's expected declaration. Protesters chanted 'Kosovo is the heart of Serbia' outside the Slovenian embassy, which holds the rotating EU presidency.

Protesters passed a petition to the Slovenian embassy – saying that “free and democratic Serbia will not stand by and witness the rape of Serbia and the rape of Kosovo in a so-called democratic Europe.”

Police cordoned off the embassy and riot police guarded the capital's only mosque. No incidents were reported.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians are celebrating the big occasion, while the minority Serbs are fearing discrimination and getting ready for the worst.

Russian reaction

The chairman of Russia's State Duma International Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, says Russia will raise the issue at the United Nations Security Council, and is ready to use its veto.

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow confirms that any change in the international presence in Kosovo needs a new decision from the Security Council. And that would be possible only with the approval of Belgrade and Pristina.

Moscow wants a special UN session in New York to be held on Sunday to discuss the matter.

Russia's Foreign Ministry Russia will change its policy towards Georgia's breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia if Kosovo makes a unilateral declaration of independence.

Mikhail Kamynin, a spokesperson for Russia's Foreign Ministry, says UN Security Council members are increasingly concerned about the precedent the Kosovan independence could set.

“The discussion on the Kosovo issue that Russia and Serbia initiated in the Security Council demonstrated that we were right and that vast majority of Security Council members shared our views. The discussion also demonstrated that to most of the Security Council members, this issue goes beyond the limits of just that one region. That is why some members said they were concerned with the negative effects that a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo may have on other parts of the world,” Kamynin said.

Appeal for UN meeting

Serbian Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremic, urged an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Thursday to continue the search for a peaceful solution on Kosovo.

“Ethnically-motivated seceding from internationally recognised states is not acceptable under international law. If this is allowed to happen this time around, we are going to see a lot of problems around the world happening along the same lines. If this takes place, Serbia is not going to tolerate this, Serbia is not going to accept it. For us this will be null and void,” said Vuk Jeremic in an interview to RT.

Still, those backing Pristina like the United States have not waived their position.

“We believe that the [UN envoy Martti] Ahtisaari plan, leading to supervised independence, is the appropriate way to proceed to ensure the well-being and future of both Kosovars and Serbs and to see both Kosovo and Serbia on the path to Euro-Atlantic institutions,” noted Alejandro D. Wolff, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Expert opinion

Experts differ in their views about the settlement of the conflict. Some are convinced dividing the country is not the way territorial dispute should be resolved in the 21st century.

“Today in the 21st century independence is by no means the only solution for territories with complicated ethnic conflicts. There are many other ways like setting up a confederation among others. All these options provide an opportunity to compromise, to avoid violating rights of parties. I think this will be the way to go,” believes Aleksey Karasev from the Moscow-based Institute for Balkan Studies.

RT Military Analyst Evgeny Khrushchev says if Serbia's breakaway province declares independence on Sunday, it will open a Pandora's box of separatist movements.

“It will have a real 'domino effect'. All that rhetoric emanating from Washington and Brussels is unbelievable: nobody will ever buy their argument that this is totally unique. Every nation believes they are unique in their own way, and treating Kosovo as 'the most unique' place in the world is an insult to all other nations, states and even tribes. I think this will be another Afghanistan, another strategic blunder. What the Americans did promoting freedom fighters who turned into Taliban and Al Qaeda is now going to happen in Europe”.

Others say independence is inevitable and fair.

Harvard University Professor Marvin Culb says Serbia is paying the price of its own aggressive actions during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

“Serbia lost the war – the Balkan war in the 1990s. Serbia was the aggressor and it lost. Losers pay a price. What happened is that the price is in the form of independence of people – who desire independence and sensing from the outside – this is something that is going to happen,” said Marvin Culb.