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Kosovo's independence weathers its first week

Serbia said it was hunting down rioters who torched the US Embassy in Belgrade Thursday as 120,000 protested the province's newly declared statehood.

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"Obviously, Russia will not take part in any kind of military operations in Kosovo, in the Balkans, or outside its borders in general. Russia has enough political and moral authority to defend international law, and that's what it's doing," said Mr. Rogozin. "But when the issue touches its own national interests, its borders, and attempts to repeat the Kosovo scenario on Russian territory, it will defend not only international law, but also its own sovereignty."

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One retired former US Army and UN commander in Bosnia and Kosovo, Maj. Gen. William Nash (Ret.) says that despite the rhetoric, high-level contacts between Russia, the US, and the European Union will hopefully address some Serb concerns. But on the ground in Kosovo, he says, the situation is tricky.

"What I am concerned about is [that] inside Kosovo they have what I call a cycle of stupidity – provocation and retaliation – and without strong reaction by the security forces, the NATO soldiers and UN police, things could spiral out of control," says General Nash, now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "It's one thing to throw rocks, it's another thing to throw hand grenades, and I'm worried that the provocation will be met by retaliation on an upward spiral."

Protests in Kosovo itself on the Mitrovica bridge have continued daily for the past week. Meanwhile, the northern Serbs are aiming to undermine the Kosovo institutions that the UN mission has tried to build since 1999. The 10 percent of Serbs that make up the Kosovo Police Service (KPS), for example, are currently taking orders only from the UN, and have said they will resign if forced to take orders from the Pristina-based KPS – the only local institution that provides security.

Observers do point out that Serbian military capability today is far from its early 1990s apex, when the then-Yugoslav National Army was the fourth-largest in Europe and its persecution of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo led to a 78-day NATO bombing campaign. Serbia's defense minister has also repeatedly said Serbia would not use force to keep Kosovo. And Kosovo has around 16,000 NATO peacekeeping troops based within its borders, with others on the way.

But four well-placed military and security sources in the region contacted by the Monitor say that NATO forces are reacting to events rather than proactively making plans.

Nash disagrees with that assessment, but advises that the troops "need to be able to interrupt this cycle of provocation and retaliation and to have the resources to dominate the scene for the crowds that gather."