What do Mauritania, Swaziland, Somalia, Djibouti and Vanuatu have in common? Not a lot, but they are they are the only countries that have recognised Kosovo as a sovereign state this year.

Two and a half years have passed since Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia, and the initial flood of recognitions has slowed to a trickle. Kosovo is in limbo supported by the United States and the EU heavyweights, but with it’s path to UN membership firmly barred by Russia and China on the Security Council, and with a clear majority of countries having decided, for now, not to offer it recognition.

This is the background to an important ruling this Thursday, July 22 by the International Court of Justice in the Hague.  In response to a request by Serbia, it will announce an advisory opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s declaration of independence.

I will be in Kosovo, reporting on the reaction to the ICJ’s ruling.  I suppose there are three possible outcomes: that the court rules in favour of Serbia, it rules in favour of Kosovo, or, (most likely) it comes up with a more nuanced opinion, that Kosovo and Serbia will interpret in different ways.

On the face of it, the rhetoric coming out of both Belgrade and Pristina is uncompromising. Serbia says that after the ICJ has given its opinion, it will ask the UN General Assembly to pass a resolution demanding new talks on Kosovo’s status. The government in Pristina says its sovereignty is not negotiable, and that Serbia is refusing to confront reality.

And yet, both sides have strong incentives to reach an agreement.

Serbia wants to get into the EU, and may worry that a protracted struggle over Kosovo will annoy Britain, France and Germany.  Kosovo wants to be a normal country, that can apply for UN membership, that can participate in international sport, that has an internationally recognised passport, and so on.

There is a possible compromise. As I wrote on this blog back in April, Serbia’s President Boris Tadic is now open about his willingness to discuss Kosovo’s partition. Serbia would keep a sliver of territory in northern Kosovo, that is now mainly populated by Serbs. It would probably also ask for special status for some of the key Orthodox religious sites in southern and central Kosovo. The rest of Kosovo would go its own way.  

Is this something the authorities in Pristina are prepared to talk about? Perhaps -especially if Serbia offers in return a small piece of its own territory in the Presevo valley, to the east of Kosovo, where the population is majority Albanian.

Things should become clearer, after the ICJ’s ruling.