Leading Article: We'll play hardball if Russia wants to

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The Independent Culture
THE CONTINUING stand-off between Russia and Nato at Pristina airport is deeply embarrassing to Nato - just as the Russians intended. But it need not be anything worse.

It is worth treading softly through this immediate political minefield in order to avoid unnecessary explosions. It is not in the West's interest to give ammunition to the nationalists in Russia itself by taking a hard line when a softly-softly line will do.

On the key issue of the division of Kosovo, however, there must be no hint of compromise. If Kosovo finds itself divided into a Nato (Albanian) sector and a Russian (Serb) sector, the knock-on effects will be catastrophic. Bad enough the de facto division of Bosnia. But any division into a Russian and Western protectorate would be far worse.

The Kremlin's blackmail possibilities are limited; all-out confrontation with the West would be economic suicide. If the relationship between Nato and Moscow can remain courteous or warm, so much the better. But if Moscow wants to play hardball, then hardball let it be. Anything else would be disastrous for the Balkans in the longer term.