UNITED NATIONS—The declaration of independence by Kosovo, a breakaway Serbian province that has been under UN control since 1999, caused an uproar here in a Feb. 18 emergency meeting of the Security Council, and around the world.

The Security Council was sharply divided. The U.S., Britain, France and several others spoke in favor of Kosovo’s declaration, which came the day before, and said that their respective states recognized its independence. All of the socialist and progressive oriented states on the council, including China, Vietnam and South Africa, as well as Russia, condemned the move as a grave violation of international law. The quick recognition given by the U.S. and others was condemned as an attack on Serbia’s sovereignty.

Russia demanded that the head of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) declare the act taken by Kosovo’s Albanian leadership “null and void.” The UNMIK was set up in 1999 under Security Council Resolution 1244. Despite its name, it is not entirely a UN body. A large portion of the mission’s work, including issues of democracy and the economy, is done by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union. While the UNMIK was to manage infrastructure, both political and actual, the Provisional Institution for Self-Government was to actually govern.

Vitaly Churkin, who represents Russia, said that the separation was “a blatant break of the norms and principles of international law” and that the situation resulting from “the illegal steps of the province’s leadership poses a threat to peace and security in the Balkans.”

Kosovo, a province of Serbia, which itself is a former province of Yugoslavia is primarily made up of two ethnic groups: Albanians and a minority Serbian grouping. Fears of ethnic cleansing of the oppressed Serbian population have been raised. About 250,000 Serbs were expelled from Kosovo after the 1999 interim government was set up, and in 2004 anti-Serb extremists burned 35 churches and 800 houses in a three-day period.

Referring to the situation of ethnic Serbs in the province, which has been administered not by Serbia but by the UN and a special Kosovar Provisional Institution of Self-Government, Serbian President Boris Tadic told the Council that a “reward is being bestowed on those who have taken part in the segregation of Serbs and to those who deny them freedom of movement, who force them to live in darkness and in constant fear for their lives.”

Tadic said that Serbia will not accept an independent Kosovo and will take measures to prevent it from existing, but will not resort to force. “Only human lives,” he said, “are destroyed by force.”

The UNMIK has drawn fire over the years, especially from Kosovar Serbians who argue that the mission has failed to protect their rights. Aside from the 250,000 displaced persons and the destroyed infrastructure, they point to the fact that UNMIK has blocked Serbian troops from entering the Kosovo province, though Resolution 1244 clearly grants that right.

Those arguing against Kosovo’s move said they strongly opposed any unilateral action, saying that talks between Belgrade and Pristina, if given enough time, would have been able to produce a result acceptable to both. The talks had been monitored by a so-called troika of the U.S., the European Union and the United Nations.

“Instead of doing any good for the settlement of ethnic conflicts, the achievement of a multi-ethnic society and the maintenance of peace, stability and development in the former Yugoslavia,” Wang Guangya, China’s UN ambassador, said, “the unilateral action taken by Kosovo may rekindle conflicts and turbulences in the region.”

The divide between those who favor independence and those who favor a return to negotiations look similar. Like most Eastern European upheavals, the interests of Western European and U.S. imperialism have come into play. Many see these interests at play behind the move to independence as well as the widespread Western acceptance. Many have said that this is part of a process of carving up the former Yugoslavia into smaller client states of western imperialism that culminated in the 1990s bombing of Serbia by NATO forces.

“The process started long ago; it is in progress,” Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko said in a televised interview. “Montenegro broke away, other republics broke away. It was only Kosovo that remained. This is the continuation of that split.”

“We should not have allowed this then – today we would not have the independence issue,’ he continued. “Isn’t it too late that we have started to be sorry?,” asked Lukashenko in a televised interview. During the 1990s “we should not have allowed the carve-up of the Balkans and it was then when we needed to defend Yugoslavia.”

Belarus, along with Russia, China, South Africa and many other nations have called for a return to negotiations as the only way forward.