Russia will veto any U.N. Security Council resolution on Kosovo that is unacceptable to Serbia, a senior Russian official said Thursday.
The statement by Boris Gryzlov, the speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, was the strongest sign yet that Russia is set on rejecting the final version of a U.S.-European Union U.N. draft resolution that it contends is a hidden route to the Serbian province's independence.
"In the case that the resolution is put to a vote, Russia will use its veto right," Gryzlov said. He added that Kosovo's independence "would represent a fuse that would ignite several conflicts in different parts of the world."
Gryzlov was in Montenegro as part of a tour of the region seeking support for Russia's position.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meanwhile, indicated that the U.S. was ready to recognize Kosovo even without U.N. backing.
"We are committed to an independent Kosovo and we will get there one way or another," Rice told reporters en route to Lisbon, Portugal, where she is to attend the Quartet meeting for Middle East peace.
The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Zalmay Khalilzad, said the security council would discuss the draft in closed consultations on Thursday.
The final draft calls for four months of intensive negotiations between Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, which is clamoring for independence, and Serbia which wants the province to remain its part.
Russia, a close Serb ally, said the text still contained a hidden path toward Kosovo's independence if talks fail.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will meet his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in Berlin to discuss Kosovo, the German Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
Lavrov will arrive Friday for "a short visit which we hope will be very intense," Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger told reporters. The two will also discuss tense British-Russian relations in the diplomatic row over the death by poisoning of the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko.
While Kosovo officially remains a province of Serbia, it has been under U.N. and NATO administration since a 78-day NATO-led air war that halted a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999.
In April, U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari recommended that Kosovo be granted internationally supervised independence _ a proposal strongly supported by the province's ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the 2 million population, as well as the U.S. and EU. It was opposed by Serbia and Russia.
Flirtation with Turkey turned out to be disastrous for Russia, but as long as Russia is in the game, the stakes should be high