Ban Ki Moon is mounting a charm offensive on a three-day trip to Moscow after Russia threatened to block him from serving a second term as United Nations Secretary-General because of his stance on Kosovo.
Western diplomats fear that the UN chief may hand Russia significant concessions on the newly independent Kosovo, which Russia refuses to recognise. The Kremlin is pressing Mr Ban to ignore, or at least prolong, a proposed 120-day transition period to Kosovan independence from Serbia that expires on June 16.
Mr Ban may also be pressured into naming a facilitator to attempt to renew talks between the Serbs and Kosovans, diplomats say. There is speculation that Mr Ban will name Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the departing French head of UN peacekeeping, to such a post.
The result would be that, despite its declaration of independence on February 17, and recognition by dozens of other nations, Kosovo could find itself in another “temporary period” with an uncertain status.
Mr Ban, a conciliatory former South Korean Foreign Minister, is caught in a tussle between the leading powers over Kosovo. He cannot avoid the issue because the UN, which has administered the breakaway Serb province since a Nato air campaign against Belgrade in 1999, has to stand down and transfer its policing duties to a 2,000-strong EU mission.
According to diplomats and UN sources, the Kremlin began threatening the pro-Western Mr Ban last summer when it felt that he was favouring Kosovan independence. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia has veto power and could block Mr Ban’s appointment for a second five-year term starting in 2012.
Dmitri Medvedev, the President-elect, used the visit to attack what he called attempts to ignore UN resolutions on issues such as Kosovo, an implicit criticism of Mr Ban’s neutrality.
Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister, underlined the Kremlin’s determination to hold Mr Ban to a hard line at a joint press conference in Moscow. He said they had agreed that “it is important to act based on Resolution 1244, and that it is necessary to strictly follow the mandate of the UN mission in Kosovo”. He added: “I think there is mutual understanding that our combined efforts to defend this approach have potential. Recent history proves that unilateral actions that bypass the UN only create new and serious problems.”
The message was reinforced by the Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin. However, diplomats and UN officials said that there was no evidence that Russia had withdrawn its co-operation with Mr Ban.
The Secretary-General has appeared almost apologetic since arriving in Moscow on Wednesday, acknowledging the hosts’ annoyance at the length of time it has taken for his first visit. Describing the Foreign Minister as “my dear colleague”, he said that he was “always grateful for the strong support and co-operation” of Russia in the work of the UN. He added: “I also hope that Russia can do more. This is what I have expressed to the Russian leadership.”
Mr Ban is having an unusually broad range of meetings in Moscow, holding talks with Russian businessmen, members of parliament and Patriarch Alexiy II of the Orthodox Church.
As a token, he will today name a Russian as the UN high-level co-ordinator for the return of Kuwaiti nationals and property seized by Iraq in the 1990 invasion. The appointment may backfire because the Russian official, Gennady Tarasov, was once a Soviet diplomat at the UN who was expelled by the United States in 1986 as a suspected KGB spy.
Mr Ban has already caused splits among his own mission in Kosovo by siding with a UN official who is considered pro-Serb. Gerrard Gallucci, the American running the United Nations Mission in Kosovo in the Serb enclave of north Mitrovica, wrote a cable to UN headquarters criticising his immediate superiors for asking UN police and Nato troops to retake a courthouse seized by Serb protesters, leading to a gunfight.
Joachim Rücker, the UN representative in Kosovo, and his deputy, Lawrence Rossin, argued that Mr Gallucci should be dismissed for insubordination, sources say, but Mr Ban refused their request.
Ban Ki Moon has visited four of the five permanent members of the Security Council — the US, Britain, France and Russia — but not China. He has made ten official visits to the US, three to France and one each to Britain and Russia