Russia's acting foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has warned the West that granting independence to the tiny Albanian-populated territory of Kosovo could lead to a wave of separatism across Asia and Europe.
"I don't see how unilateral recognition of independence for Kosovo can stabilise the situation in Europe," Lavrov, whose job is on hold until a new Russian cabinet is appointed later this month, told the independent Interfax news agency.
"More than likely this will start a chain reaction in different parts and continents of the world."
Lavrov spoke on Wednesday as emissaries from Russia, the European Union and the US were sitting down in London for talks to finalise the status of Kosovo, which was seized by NATO from Serbia in a 1999 war.
Western countries strongly support independence for Kosovo, which is seen as a victim of Serbian ethnic cleansing that was saved from extinction by NATO intervention. Surveys of the province's overwhelmingly Albanian population of 2-million show that over 90 per cent want statehood.
But Russia, which backs its old ally Serbia, has threatened to veto any UN Security Council resolution, on the grounds that it is against international law to break up a sovereign state against its will.
Russia has urged the West to adopt a solution that would keep Kosovo within Serbia, perhaps with a high degree of autonomy, and work to bring about reconciliation between Serbs and Albanians.