In fact, Rice and Lavrov agreed on very little during the former's two-day visit to Moscow this week. She still wants to see democracy (aka, a different government) in Russia, and less Kremlin control over the energy corridor between Central Asia and Europe. The Kremlin still wants the U.S. to butt out of not only its internal affairs, but to drop its missile shield plan for Poland and the Czech Republic. "Russia and the United States do not see eye-to-eye," Rice understated at one point in the press conference, an instant of truthfulness in an afternoon of smiley faced denial.
While the Kremlin's anger over the missile shield is well-documented, the showdown over Kosovo is promising to be almost as heated. Russia - which has historic and cultural ties to Serbia - has promised to veto a Western-backed plan to give the predominantly Albanian province effective independence from Belgrade. With Kosovar Albanian and Serbian radicals alike hinting at violence if they don't get their way, the standoff could get ugly.
Having visited Serbia several times, but never Kosovo, I'm fairly agnostic about whether breaking up the current Serbian is a good idea. In the long term, perhaps the Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians are perhaps better off if they live separately and each govern themselves. Until now anyway, they certainly haven't done a very good job of coexisting.
But as the Kremlin might point out, you could say the same about other breakaway regions such as Moldova's Transdniestr, or Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. Or Kosovo itself, which has a Serb-majority enclave in the north. (One could easily add Chechnya and Iraq to the list of regions where current international borders don't make much sense.)
The question is why - after eight years of relative stability in the Balkans - is there a sudden headlong rush to solve the Kosovo issue? As even William Montgomery, the U.S. ambassador who headed the efforts to oust Slobodan Milosevic seven years ago, and no Russophile, has warned in a column he penned for the B-92 website, the ramnifications will reach far beyond Belgrade and Pristina. I quote:
...in terms of US-Russian relations, the timing of the Kosovo question could not be worse. Russian President Putin is actively looking for ways to show his unhappiness with U.S. policies and Kosovo provides a golden opportunity. It seems more and more likely that Kosovo will not be resolved in the near future by a UN Security Council Resolution and that this in turn will lead to significant instability in the region. One can be sure, for example, that many in the West will blame Russia for the recent election as Serbian Speaker of Parliament, Toma Nikolic, acting head of the Serbian Radical Party. Richard Holbrooke, publicly, but many American officials privately, have made it very clear that Russia will be held accountable for any violence that occurs due to failure to pass a Security Council Resolution on Kosovo.
The point is that both Russia and the United States should be looking for ways to improve their relationship in the interest of both parties, but that events like Kosovo keep getting in the way. And without any advance planning or intention, the relationship continues to deteriorate. In the great scheme of world events, Kosovo is far less important either to Russia or to the United States than is the bilateral relationship between the two countries. But at the present time, neither seems willing or able to take the sort of steps (and compromises), which would reflect that reality.
Montgomery's point, supported by the International Crisis Group isn't that Kosovo should never receive the extra autonomy its people are demanding. He's asking why Washington and Moscow are hurtling towards a confrontation that both sides claim they don't want.
If nothing else, the obstinacy of Putin, Bush, Rice and Lavrov is good for book sales. Perhaps I'll offer them a cut to keep all this up until the U.S. launch this September.