The FINANCIAL -- According to RIA Novosti, the UN deadline for an agreement on the future status of Kosovo is to run out on December 10, with the Albanian-dominated province preparing to declare independence and Russia warning of a "chain reaction."
The Contact Group troika - Russia, the United States and the European Union - submitted to the UN Security Council a report on December 7 saying that the parties had failed to reach an agreement after "120 days of intensive negotiations."
At the latest talks in Austria in late November, Pristina continued to insist on full independence, while Belgrade was only willing to offer the province wide autonomy.
The Reuters news agency quoted Kosovo government spokesman Skender Hyseni as saying on Monday that Kosovo was starting consultations with Western partners to prepare a declaration of independence, which he said would be announced "much earlier than May."
Pristina earlier said it would declare sovereignty unilaterally if no compromise was found by the deadline. Its stance has been backed by Washington and some European countries, with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calling independence for Kosovo "logical."
However, Russia, Serbia's traditional ally, maintains that independence for Kosovo could lead to a domino effect, causing other separatist regions to unilaterally announce full nationhood.
"Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence and its illegitimate recognition will certainly have consequences, as a chain reaction will hit the Balkans and other regions," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on December 10.
He said those who cherish such plans must realize their responsibility for such moves, which he said would be in contravention of international laws.
The Kosovo crisis comes at a low point in the West's relations with Russia, with NATO foreign ministers speaking openly on December 7 of difficulties with Moscow.
"This partnership has entered a challenging phase," ministers said in a communique after a meeting in Brussels, also saying that, "We value and want to continue our constructive and frank dialogue with Russia, including on issues on which we disagree."
Russia, however, has laid the blame for the international community's to come up with a solution to the thorny issue of Kosovo's status on the U.S.
"Unfortunately, the fixed position of certain Western capitals, above all Washington...on independence for Kosovo and the lack of an alternative to independence, is the main obstacle on the path to a continuation of a negotiated settlement," Sergei Lavrov said on December 7.
NATO also announced on December 7 that it would maintain its KFOR Kosovo peace force at present levels, and would supply new troops as necessary to counter any violence in the province, as Serbia spoke of "war".
The announcement came after Aleksandar Simic, an adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, had said Serbia had the right to use military force to defend its interests in Kosovo.
"The State has no recourse other than war when someone does not respect the UN Security Council," he told Serbian state television.
Kosovo has been a UN protectorate since 1999, when NATO's bombing of the former Yugoslavia ended a bloody war between Serb forces and ethnic Albanians in the region.