(Reuters) - Russia is skeptical about a plan by United Nations envoy Martti Ahtisaari that would give Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo virtual independence, a diplomat told Reuters on Friday.
After a meeting in Vienna with the six-member Contact Group of major powers, the diplomat said Russia had urged a delay in any U.N. decision on Kosovo until Serbia had formed a new government following an inconclusive general election on Jan 21.
"It was a very tough meeting. The Russians are very skeptical about the plan," said the senior diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, reports Trend.
"I have never seen the Quint (United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy) more united."
Ahtisaari's official spokesman Remi Dourlot told reporters after the meeting the envoy would travel to Belgrade and Pristina as planned on February 2 to present his proposal to officials.
The Contact Group has set policy on Kosovo since the U.N. took control of the 90-percent ethnic Albanian province in 1999.
Ahtisaari drafted his plan after more than a year of shuttle diplomacy and fruitless Serb-Albanian talks. Diplomatic sources said the Vienna meeting was intended to be the last step before he presented his blueprint to officials next Friday.
Ahtisaari is instructed to hold further talks with Serbs and Albanians in coming weeks, but diplomats have told Reuters this would be merely fine-tuning details of the plan.
Eight years after NATO drove out Serb forces accused of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo while fighting Albanian separatists, Kosovo's Albanians demand nothing less than full independence.
Belgrade is offering only far-reaching autonomy for a territory it sees as the sacred cradle of the Serb nation.
Diplomatic sources told Reuters this week the plan would set Kosovo on the road to independence with international supervision, giving it the right to apply for membership of international organizations, possibly including the U.N., the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
They said it would provide for a right to dual citizenship, and urge Pristina to establish good relations with Serbia, but contain no reference to Serbian sovereignty.
Russia's insistence on waiting for a new government in Belgrade could mean a delay of weeks or months. Last weekend's general election in Serbia failed to produce a clear majority and parties were preparing for lengthy coalition talks.
The ultranationalist Radical Party won 28 percent of the vote but could find no partner that would give it a majority.
The pro-Western Democratic Party came second and is looking for a deal with the party of moderate nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and a smaller liberal party.
Kostunica used increasingly hardline rhetoric during his campaign and has said a common stance on Kosovo is the key to a coalition deal. It is not clear how easy it will be for him to agree with the Democrats on how to handle the potential loss of the province.
Parties have until late May to agree on a coalition, or a new election would have to be called.
After a meeting in Brussels, NATO, which keeps 16,000-plus peacekeepers in the province, also advised against a delay.
"There was a strong sense around the table on the need for a (U.N.) resolution as soon as possible," NATO spokesman James Appathurai told reporters. "Long delays risk a lack of clarity, risk fostering instability," he added.
The alliance is on alert for ethnic tensions caused by the report and wants to ensure it is not caught napping by any new violence in Kosovo, as it was in March 2004 during two days of rioting by ethnic Albanian mobs.