Kremlin using Kosovo independence as a chilly warning to West

RUSSIA may not come to outright blows with the West over Kosovo, but with the province set to declare its independence from Serbia on Sunday, an independence the Kremlin strongly opposes, there is sure to be a deepening of the Cold War-style chill settling over Europe.

The province, with its largely ethnic Albanian population, has been a UN protectorate since 1999, following Yugoslavia's military crackdown, which resulted in the NATO bombing of Serbia.

Moscow says it has developed a secret plan for responding to Kosovo's independence, including using western recognition of the province's independence as setting a dangerous precedent and – in a direct attack on the UK government – legitimising Scottish independence claims.

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Recognition of Kosovo, it is claimed by the Kremlin, will open a Pandora's box of those peoples seeking independence, including Turkish Cypriots and the Basques, in addition to Scotland.

For the SNP Government and those seeking Scottish independence, UK recognition of Kosovo's independence, a province with two million people, is set to be used to legitimise further their desire for independence.

This detaching of Kosovo from Serbia will likely aggravate disputes over a host of sensitive security issues, ranging from missile defence to Nato membership for the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine.

Kosovo is sacred to Serbs, who call it the cradle of their statehood and religion.

But it stands as a symbol of Russia's weakness in the post-Soviet era. Despite its fury over the 1999 Nato bombing of Serbia, Moscow recognised a peace deal that put the mostly ethnic Albanian province under the control of the UN and the western alliance.

President Vladimir Putin has built his popularity on restoring Russian pride, pushing to recapture its global clout and showing increasing assertiveness toward the West. That means acquiescence is off the table and speculation that Russia would strike a compromise with the West was shattered last August when Moscow torpedoed a plan for supervised independence by threatening a UN Security Council veto.

More seriously, Moscow has implied that it could hit back by recognising the independence claims of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – two Russian-supported provinces in Georgia, whose pro-western government plays a key role in the struggle for influence, pitting Russia against the US and European Union.

The move might mean a war with Georgia, a meltdown of relations with the West and a boost for separatists inside Russia.

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The constitutional fate of Kosovo will have a clear impact, not just on the Balkans but on ongoing relations between the Kremlin and the West.

And the threat of independence for Scotland is being drawn into this, with the Kremlin using Scotland as a key tool in its armoury against Kosovo's independence, while independence for the province is set to be used by those in Scotland seeking to further its independence.