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DIFFERENT OPINIONS

The opinions expressed by the authors of the articles in this section are for discussion purposes only and may not coincide with the position of the Russian Government and the Embassy

21.11.2011

The Balkans and the modern world - Russia takes a principled stance on the situation following the disintegration of Yugoslavia

Hindsight makes it obvious that the Balkans have been a region which occupied a special place in the life of Russia. I will mention that Montenegrin princesses who moved in the highest circles of Saint Petersburg were the ones to introduce Grigori Rasputin to the Tsar family. As is well known, his role in the pre-revolutionary Russia was utterly negative. Indeed, this unfortunate episode cannot strike out the useful ties of Russians with fraternal Orthodox Christian peoples of the Balkans.

Multipolarity and unipolarity

When it comes to the influence of the Yugoslav peoples on the history of the 20th century, I believe that the contribution of the Yugoslavian guerillas to the defeat of the Nazis in the WWII has been underestimated. Yugoslavia’s role in the establishment of the non-alignment movement is not mentioned enough either. This countries made a third force that did a lot to prevent the two Superpowers from crossing the line of the nuclear confrontation. It is no secret that Russia, in its turn, seriously influenced the destiny of Balkan peoples and states as well. Such interdependency was rooted in history, religion, joint struggle against the Ottoman yoke, struggle for self-determination and independence of the Balkan countries.

However, I would like to dwell not on the events of yesterday, but on the present-day situation, and specifically, on the role of the Balkans in the establishment of a new world order.

The end of the Cold War launched the transition from a bipolar to a multipolar world. This transition turned out anything but smooth. On the way of objective processes shaping up a multipolar world there appeared a subjective desire of the USA to establish a unipolar world order. Two of the attempts to bring about unipolarity ended up in the use of military force. In the first case, in 1999, Yugoslavia who defied the demand to pull out special forces from Kosovo, at that time universally recognized part of the country, was chosen a target for bombardment. In the second case, with the view of establishing a unipolar world, the US carried out a military operation in Iraq in 2003.
Both military operations were undertaken in defiance of the UN Security Council, not sanctioned by it. Thus, the US introduced an element of war into the international environment after the end of the Cold War taking advantage of their newly acquired position of the most economically and militarily powerful nation.

Operations against Yugoslavia and Iraq have at least two things in common. Firstly, the force was used under a false pretence. In Iraq, the operation was carried out under a framed-up pretext of an alleged secret nuclear weapons production and expansion of contacts with the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. It was already at the initial stage of Iraq occupation which lasted for eight and a half years that Washington had to openly admit that the motives of their intervention failed to meet the Iraqi reality: no proof of nuclear arms production and connection of the country’s regime to Al Qaeda was found.

In the case of Belgrade, it was accused of genocide against the Albanians living in the Yugoslavian regions of Kosovo and Metohija. On learning about Washingon’s decision to bomb Serbia and Montenegro I, then Head of Russia’s Government, interrupted my official visit to the US. Being on board a plane, which had never made its way to America, I called Albert Gore, Vice-President of the United States, on radio. Motivating their decision to start the bombing he tried to convince me that, as he put it, “millions of refugees had to flee from Kosovo”. The US needed such hyperbole to justify their actions. As is well-known, the population of Kosovo amounts to less than 2 million people including Serbs. So let the mention of “millions of refugees” remain on the conscience of the US Vice-President.

Both of these operations, against Yugoslavia and Iraq, were not only initiated but virtually implemented by the United States on their own, despite the fact that a number of their allies disagreed on the need to use military force. Two years after the Americans bombed Yugoslavia, at the time the leader of the Fatherland – All Russia State Duma bloc, I accompanied President Putin on his trip to Germany. In the course of the visit, President met with Helmut Kohl, ex-Federal Chancellor of Germany. I was present at this meeting and heard Kohl say that had he been Chancellor at that time he would have never allowed the bombings and missile attacks on Yugoslavia. He called these actions the “biggest historic mistake”.

I received an indirect evidence of the fact that not all NATO member-countries supported the USA at that moment when I was telephoned by Jacques Chirac, President of France. He offered that I fly to Belgrade and make Slobodan Milošević give a signal, as Chirac put it, “of any concessions that would make it possible to stop the shelling.” Saying this, he referred to his conversation with President Bill Clinton. I came to Belgrade together with the Russian Foreign Minister, Minister of Defense, heads of the Foreign Intelligence Service and Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff. After a lengthy conversation, Slobodan Milošević agreed to a number of measures including the consent to return of refugees, he also stated his wiliness to start negotiations with Pristina on the future of Kosovo. We brought this to notice of Chancellor Schröder who was at that time President of the European Union. However, he cited the US President saying that Milošević’s decisions were not enough to stop the bombing.
Thus, our worst expectations were confirmed that the purpose of bombing Yugoslavia was to demonstrate that the Americans would resort to force to draw resisting countries into the sphere of their unipolar hegemony. Accordingly, this Balkan country became the first objective of American hostilities aimed at reversing the emergence of a multipolar world substituting it for a unipolar order.

The shadow of Libya

After Barak Obama came to power, the situation started to change. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognized the existence of the multipolar world. American neoconservatives guided by the Cold War motto to create a unipolar world dominated by the United States lost their influence on Obama’s Administration. The foreign policy of incumbent American President has been based on the willingness to make allies with European countries and neutralize countries who do not share America’s views upon various developments in the world.

I wish I could limit myself just to this one statement. However, some alarming things have started happening. I mean the actions of NATO in Libya. When military units loyal to Muammar Gaddafi forged ahead to Benghazi, centre of the opposition forces, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1973 on a no-fly zone over Libya. There was proclaimed the objective of this resolution: to protect civilian population. Fearful of a large-scale bloodshed, Russia and China did not veto this resolution thinking that it is about creating conditions to prevent Gaddafi from using his aviation in the breaking civil war. But the mandate that the North Atlantic Alliance got under this resolution was completely violated. NATO aviation struck at Gaddafi’s ground forces, his palaces and command posts. Some non-military facilitates also got hit. The number of civilian casualties was going up. Practically, an operation to eliminate the Libyan regime went under way.

I do not want to be viewed as an advocate of Gaddafi, a ruler who throughout his long years in power dealt ruthlessly with those who dared to contradict him and introduced a dictatorship in his country. At one moment, he used to support terrorism, of which became a victim an American passenger liner blown up over Lockerbie. In a word, the Libyan leader, to put it mildly, was in the bad graces even after he stopped backing up terrorism and embarked on the path of rapprochement with the West. However, all of this does not mean you may disregard the mandate of the UN Security Council and openly take sides in the civil war running rampant all over a UN member-state.

The NATO operation in Libya makes a dangerous precedent especially for those regions and countries where tensions are high and whose policies are not to satisfy NATO’s liking. If we view the Balkans from this perspective then, as I see it, the potential hazard of ethnic and religious conflicts today can be detected mainly in Kosovo and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Kosovo, armed clashes have already happened between NATO’s KFOR and Serbs inhabiting Metohija, a Northern part of the region. It is noteworthy that the alliance forces took the side of Pristina, who wishes to fence off Kosovo Serbs from Serbia and establish customs houses on a border which now does not even exist. This September, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, met with Anders Fog Rasmussen, Secretary General of NATO. In the course of their conversation our minister touched upon the situation in Kosovo. It is characteristic that his counterpart strongly objected to those who think that Libya can become a “model for the future”. There is no smoke without fire, indeed.

Today’s contradiction is between the right of peoples to self-determination and the principle of territorial integrity of states. This contradiction played a significant part in the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. In case of the USSR, despite all difficulties, we managed to avoid bloodshed when union republics were leaving the Soviet Union. The breakup of Yugoslavia went through a series of wars. But not in all cases. The exit of Montenegro followed by the establishment of an independent state, was carried out in a political, non-military, way and was a success. Above all, this is to the merit of the two nations, involved.

But there still remains an explosive situation in the Balkans, generated by the disintegration of Yugoslavia. It would seem that with the adoption of the Dayton Agreement 15 years ago, we managed to establish a state structure in Bosnia and Herzegovina made up of Republika Srpska, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, populated predominantly by Muslims and Croats, and the independent Brčko District. However, according to numerous analysts, this state system is only bursting at the seams. The Croats strive for autonomy. Republika Srpska keeps struggling for restoration of its rights which the High Representative keeps taking away from her. The High Representative was appointed to watch the implementation of the peace accords but he has apparently assumed the role of supreme governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2006, Republika Srpska refused to submit to orders essentially aimed at abolishing its autonomous status declared by the Dayton Agreement.

I fear that NATO operation in Libya may cast a shadow upon the Balkans. After all, this scenario is not so unrealistic and there is a need to find solutions to how it can be prevented.

Powder Keg

Russia takes a firm stance on the “sore spots” that still make themselves felt after the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Russia does not recognize the independence of Kosovo and Metohija, considering them to be an integral part of Serbia. But speaking in personal capacity (I retired from the Russian government long time ago), I would like to ask the following: if the West welcomes the secession of Kosovo from Serbia, because the Albanians inhabiting the territory demanded independence, then why not apply the same yardstick to the compact Serb population from Metohija, a northern part of Kosovo, where by the way, Christian shrines are, which Belgrade does not renounce and cannot possibly do so? In other words, why turn back on an apparently real opportunity to avoid explosive situation by partitioning Kosovo?

Russia opposes to turning Bosnia and Herzegovina into a unitary state as she does not believe that it conforms to the Dayton Agreement aimed precisely at establishing a model of sovereign relations of the three nationalities living in this country which is its main value. As to the Dayton Agreement, apparently, there is a need to strengthen the sovereign rights of Bosnian Croats and Muslims within the framework of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Other ways would lead to bloodshed.

That said, I would also add one more trait of Russia’s policy towards the Balkans. Those who think that Russia is against accession of the Balkan states to the European Union, deliberately or not, distort her stance. Moscow perfectly understands the Balkan countries’ motives for joining the EU. At the same time Russia does not want our economic, cultural and political ties with the Balkan states weaken due to their being part of the EU.

At the same time it is hard to imagine that Russia would give up her negative stance on NATO expansion, especially when this military organization ever more often manifests its presence outside Europe, and does so predominantly by using armed force against countries that pose no threats to the European security. Talks about NATO turning into a political organization less and less correspond to reality.

The Balkans used to be a region where “powder keg” charge built up. They have already passed this stage of turbulent geopolitical shifts. The Balkans are a meeting point of three civilizations: West European, East European and Asian Islamic. It is resolution of the pressing problems of the ethnic groups living in this special region that will ensure stability and security of the emerging multipolar world.

Evgeniy M. Primakov is an Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This article was based on his speech at the International Conference in Montenegro on 17 October, 2011.




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