Buckle your seat belts. I'm awaiting a Russian response to the West's recognition of Kosovo's independence that will feel extreme to Westerners. The U.S. media, which has done a pretty miserable job of covering Russia since the terrible Walter Duranty, is again asleep or uninterested in how important Kosovo is to Moscow.
Some of the options open to Vladimir Putin include sending troops and or fighter planes into ally Serbia; shutting off or threatening to shut off gas to Western Europe, or harassing the Baltic States with some kind of border dispute or brief military incursion. If they sound like preposterous moves to our ears, it's because Kosovo is not a big deal to the West.
But preventing an independent Kosovo and preserving the territorial integrity of what remains of Serbia is primary to Czar Putin's program of restoring Russian prestige as well as preserving his own political image.
The NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999 is one reason Putin was elected. The West essentially double-crossed Boris Yeltsin and Russia on Kosovo. Yeltsin actually warned of world war over the dispute. Putin, therefore, cannot allow independence now without a showdown or retribution. Besides, regimes like Putin's are all about preserving authority through payback.
But I suspect Western resolve is weakened by a high degree of ambivalence towards Kosovo and the prospect of another Muslim state in Europe. Here's a viewpoint from the influential weblog "Gates of Vienna" that summarizes the view of many in the West who oppose an independent Kosovo:
"An independent Kosovo is one of the most grotesquely wrong-headed policies ever pursued by the United States...
It's not just that Kosovo is Islamic. The province is a sinkhole of corruption, crime, and religious fanaticism all rolled together, and will be unable to function as a viable independent country for the foreseeable future. It's the Gaza Strip of the Balkans.
In the nine years since the UN took over, Wahhabists funded by the Saudis have penetrated the area thoroughly, building mosques, recruiting violent radicals, and forming a "government" that is a deadly combination of Islam and mafia-style criminal gangs. The Kosovars have set themselves up as the kings of the European heroin trade, and an independent Kosovo will provide an unprecedented opportunity to compromise the new state's banking system and make the government indistinguishable from a criminal enterprise.
An independent Kosovo in this form serves interests of no Western country. Drugs, gun-running, the prostitution of pre-teen girls, money-laundering, protection rackets, intimidation, and deadly turf wars, with all the proceeds going towards the funding of jihad and the further penetration of radical Islam into Europe.
Thank you, President Bush, for this present to southeastern Europe. It's a gift that will keep on giving for decades to come."
I'm not sure how I feel about an independent Kosovo, but I think the first "gift" from this new nation will be some kind of tussle with Russia.