Vladimir Putin has told fellow G8 leaders he would veto a United Nations resolution paving the way for the independence of Kosovo, dashing hopes that the deadlock between Russia and the west could be broken, senior European government officials said on Friday.
They said the Russian president had also rejected a French proposal that would have given Pristina and Belgrade six months to negotiate an alternative status for the the breakaway Serbian province, failing which it would have become independent.
“We have not made progress. In fact we saw a hardening of the Russian position there,” one European official said. Another said Mr Putin had refused to accept the “ineluctability of independence”, which was a central plank of the French proposal.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said G8 leaders were still “of different opinions” on the issue despite “constructive talks”.
The proposal, made on Thursday by Nicolas Sarkozy, the new French president, aimed to avert an international crisis should Russia veto a UN resolution on Kosovo and the province carry out its threat to declare independence unilaterally.
Speaking on Friday, Mr Sarkozy said such a scenario would divide the west over whether to recognise the region, jeopardise the legality of the Nato presence on the ground, and possibly unleash new ethnic violence in Kosovo.
French and German delegates to the G8 had initially hoped Mr Putin would warm to the Sarkozy proposal when he agreed to discuss it last night. But they said talks by the G8 sherpas, or senior aides, overnight aimed at translating the idea into a text, quickly got bogged down.
Diplomats said the negotiators would meet again next week to continue work on a possible compromise.
Mr Sarkozy sounded disappointed and impatient at the lack of an agreement on Friday. “A Russian veto [at the UN security council] would tip Kosovo into an inextricable situation, with the EU split and doubts hanging over the legitimacy of its independence. Now that would be just great, wouldn’t it?”
Though he said he was firmly committed to Kosovo’s independence, he asked “isn’t it better then to wait a few weeks or months to find a consensus solution if the principle of independence is recognised and guaranteed?”
With no agreement on the French proposal, Kosovo Albanian leaders expressed impatience with the international community which has urged them to wait for the UN Security Council to make Kosovo independent.
Kosovo’s prime minister urged western countries “not to betray the trust of Kosovo’s Albanians” by further delays to the UN plan that would allow the UN-administered province to formally break away from Serbia.
“We have trusted you to bring clarity to Kosovo. We have committed to the UN path and we have been very patient," Kosovo’s prime minister, Agim Ceku, told the Associate Press on Friday. "We cannot wait forever," he said. "Give us clarity, give us freedom and let us go."
US diplomats, while maintaining that the matter ought to be resolved as soon as possible, urged the Kosovo Albanian leadership to allow more time for the “intense diplomacy” that it hoped might still persuade Russia to allow independence through a UN Security Council resolution.
Serbia’s foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, said in Moscow that the new government was grateful for Russian support for his country's territorial integrity.
The European Union, several of whose members also have misgivings about creating a new state out of another’s territory, has indicated it will not put pressure on Belgrade to soften its position on Kosovo in order to sign a pre-accession agreement.
Talks for the agreement are to resume next week because Belgrade has become more co-operative with UN war crimes prosecutors hunting for the remaining suspects from the 1990s Yugoslav break-up. Olli Rehn, the EU enlargement commissioner, said the two issues were separate.