Although the 2016 presidential election is still in the primaries phase, contenders have already brought up America’s failed foreign wars. Hillary Clinton is taking flak over Libya, and Donald Trump has irked the GOP by bringing up Iraq. But what of Kosovo?
The US-led NATO operation that began on March 24, 1999 was launched under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine asserted by President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. For 78 days, NATO targeted what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – which later split into Serbia and Montenegro – over alleged atrocities against ethnic Albanians in the southern province of Kosovo. Yugoslavia was accused of “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” as bombs rained on bridges, trains, hospitals, homes, the power grid and even refugee convoys.
NATO’s actions directly violated the UN Charter (articles 53 and 103), its own charter, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and the 1980 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. The war was a crime against peace, pure and simple.
Though overwhelmed, Yugoslavia did not surrender; the June 1999 armistice only allowed NATO to occupy Kosovo under UN peacekeeping authority, granted by Resolution 1244 – which the Alliance has been violating ever since.
US Secretary of State at the time, Madeleine Albright, was considered the most outspoken champion of the “Kosovo War.” She is now a vocal supporter of candidate Clinton, condemning women who don’t vote for her to a “special place in Hell.”
Clinton visited the renegade province in October 2012, as the outgoing Secretary of State. She stood with the ‘Kosovan’ government leaders – once considered terrorists, before receiving US backing – and proclaimed unequivocal US support for Kosovo’s independence, proclaimed four years prior.
“For me, my family and my fellow Americans this is more than a foreign policy issue, it is personal,” Clinton said. Given the Kosovo Albanians had renamed a major street in their capital ‘Bill Clinton Avenue’ and erected a massive gilded monument to Hillary’s husband, her comments were hardly a surprise.
She is unlikely to be condemned for those remarks by her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. While arguing that Congress should have a say in authorizing the intervention, Sanders entirely bought into the mainstream narrative about the conflict, seeing it as a case of the evil Serbian “dictator” Slobodan Milosevic oppressing the unarmed ethnic Albanians. He saw “supporting the NATO airstrikes on Serbia as justified on humanitarian grounds.”
One Sanders aide, Jeremy Brecher, resigned in May 1999 arguing against the intervention as it unfolded, since the “goal of US policy is not to save the Kosovars from ongoing destruction.”
Trouble is there was no “destruction.” Contrary to NATO claims of 100,000 or more Albanians purportedly massacred by the Serbs, postwar investigators found fewer than 5,000 deaths – 1,500 of which happened after NATO occupied the province and the Albanian pogroms began.
Western media, eager to preserve the narrative of noble NATO defeating the evil Serbs, dismissed the terror as “revenge killings.” NATO troops thus looked on as their Albanian protégés terrorized, torched, bombed and pillaged across the province for years, forcing some 250,000 Serbs, Jews, Roma, and other groups into exile.
After George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, his administration adopted the Clinton-era agenda for the Balkans, including backing an independent Albanian state in Kosovo. None of the Republicans, save 2012 contender Ron Paul, have criticized the Kosovo War since.
Billionaire businessman Donald Trump actually has been critical – though back in 1999, long before he became the Republican front-runner and the bane of the GOP establishment. In October that year, Trump was a guest on Larry King’s CNN show, criticizing the Clintons’ handling of the Kosovo War after a fashion.
“But look at what we’ve done to that land and to those people and the deaths that we’ve caused,” Trump told King. “They bombed the hell out of a country, out of a whole area, everyone is fleeing in every different way, and nobody knows what’s happening, and the deaths are going on by the thousands.”
The problem with Trump, then as now, is that he is maddeningly vague. So, these remarks could be interpreted as referring to the terror going on at that very moment – the persecution of non-Albanians under NATO’s approving eye – or the exodus of Albanians earlier that year, during the NATO bombing. Only Trump would know which, and he hasn’t offered a clarification.
Though he has the most delegates and leads in the national polls for the Republican nomination, the GOP establishment is furious with Trump because he dared call George W. Bush a liar and describe the invasion of Iraq as a “big fat mistake.” According to the British historian Kate Hudson, however, the 2003 invasion was just a continuation of the “pattern of aggression,” following the precedent set with Kosovo.
Kosovo is often cited by liberal interventionists as NATO’s success story and now a reason for attacking Syria. However, the ongoing lawlessness in the country shows nothing could be further from the truth.
In 1999, NATO bombed Yugoslavia for 78 days, culminating in the withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from the Serbian province of Kosovo. Tens of thousands were killed or maimed by the airstrikes, and Kosovo was carved out as a NATO statelet under the control of UNMIK (the United Nations Mission in Kosovo) in alliance with its local quislings the Kosovo Liberation Army (the KLA).
Last month’s parliamentary debate on British airstrikes in Syria witnessed several MPs citing the operation as a great success. Labour MP Ivan Lewis was “proud of the difficult choices that we made” in Kosovo and elsewhere, which he claimed “saved hundreds of thousands of lives”.
Kosovo was particularly held up by those supporting British military action in Syria as an example of how airstrikes alone, without support from ground forces, can be victorious. Mocking those who argued that “coalition action which rests almost wholly on bombing… will have little effect”, Margaret Beckett responded “well, tell that to the Kosovans, and do not forget that if there had not been any bombing in Kosovo perhaps 1 million Albanian Muslim refugees would be seeking refuge in Europe.”
Conservative MP Richard Benyon concurred, adding: “I asked one my constituents––someone who knows a bit about this, General Sir Mike Jackson––whether he could remember any conflict where air power alone made a difference. He thought and said one word: Kosovo.”
The argument is entirely fallacious. One obvious difference between the NATO bombing of Kosovo in 1999 and the British bombing of Syria today is the contrast in their stated aims. NATO was ostensibly bombing Yugoslavia to achieve a limited goal – the secession of Kosovo. In Syria today, however, the ostensible aim of airstrikes against ISIS is the destruction of ISIS. In other words, while the first aimed to force a concession from the force it was targeting; the other apparently aims at the total elimination of its target. While enough punishment might persuade someone to concede a demand, it will not persuade anyone to agree to their own eradication. There is, thus, no parallel in the logic behind the two campaigns, and anyone trying to draw one is being entirely disingenuous.
Secondly, when the actual historical record is examined it becomes clear that, even on its own terms, NATO did not actually achieve its demands. The Rambouillet ‘agreement’ was NATO’s eleventh hour diktat to Yugoslavia on the eve of bombing, designed to be rejected in order to justify the bombing raids. The key bone of contention for Yugoslavia in this document was that it demanded NATO troops be granted full access to air fields, roads, ports and railroads across the country – that is to say, an effective NATO occupation of the entire federal republic.
Obviously, as Sara Flounders and John Catalinotto of the International Action Centre have written, “no self-respecting government could accept such an ultimatum”. Instead, the Yugoslav government offered to withdraw their troops from Kosovo. This was rejected by NATO, who began bombing within days. After nearly three months of heroic resistance from the Yugoslav people, the bombing ended with Yugoslav troops withdrawing from Kosovo – without any NATO occupation of the rest of the country. That is to say, the war was brought to a close on the terms originally offered by the Yugoslavs, and not on the terms demanded by NATO at the outset: hardly the overwhelming victory claimed by the likes of British General Mike Jackson.
What really gives the lie to the ‘Kosovo success’ narrative, however, is simply the condition of NATO’s statelet today. An in-depth piece by Vedat Xhymshiti in Foreign Policy Journal last month notes that “Kosovo is the poorest and most isolated country in Europe, with millionaire politicians steeped in crime. A third of the workforce is unemployed, and corruption is widespread. Youth unemployment (those aged 25 and under) stands at 2 in 3, and nearly half of the 1.8 million citizens of Kosovo are considered to be in poverty. From December 2014 until February 2015, about 5% of the population was forced to leave the country in an effort to find a better life, studies and more dignified jobs, on their uncertain path towards wealthier countries in the EU.”
The British MPs’ argument that NATO’s takeover of Kosovo was achieved by airstrikes alone, without ground forces, is a lie. NATO’s allies in 1999 were the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army), a violent sectarian group who openly sought the establishment of an ethnically supremacist state – much like the forces supported by NATO in Libya, Syria and Ukraine. Once NATO had destroyed the Yugoslav administration in Kosovo, effective power on the ground passed to the KLA, who set about implementing their vision of an ethnically pure Kosovo via a series of pogroms, massacres and persecutions of the province’s Serb, Jewish and Roma populations. They gained effective control of Kosovan politics, and used this power to guarantee themselves impunity both for their historic and ongoing war crimes, and for their massive expansion of organized criminality.
In December 2010, a Council of Europe report named Kosovan Prime Minister and former KLA leader Hashim Thaci “the head of a “mafia-like” Albanian group responsible for smuggling weapons, drugs and human organs through eastern Europe”, according the Guardian newspaper’s summary. Following NATO’s intervention, Thaci’s Drenica group within the KLA, according to the report, seized control of “most of the illicit criminal enterprises” in which Kosovans were involved in Albania. The report noted that “agencies dedicated to combating drug smuggling in at least five countries have named Hashim Thaçi and other members of his Drenica group as having exerted violent control over the trade in heroin and other narcotics.” The human rights investigator who authored the report, Dick Marty, commented that: “Thaçi and these other Drenica group members are consistently named as ‘key players’ in intelligence reports on Kosovo’s mafia-like structures of organised crime.”
In addition to their leading role in Europe’s heroin smuggling trade, Thaci and his group were also named as having been responsible for a professional organ smuggling operation involving the kidnapping and murder of Serb civilians in order to harvest and sell their kidneys. Currently serving as both Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Thaci’s NATO protection guarantees he has never been brought to justice for any of these crimes.
Indeed, NATO-sponsored impunity has been a consistent theme amongst the new Kosovan elite. A report by Amnesty International published in August 2013 noted that “the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) singularly failed to investigate the abduction and murders of Kosovo Serbs in the aftermath of the 1998-1999 conflict” adding that “UNMIK’s failure to investigate what constituted a widespread, as well as a systematic, attack on a civilian population and, potentially, crimes against humanity, has contributed to the climate of impunity prevailing in Kosovo.” Marty’s report, too, noted the “faltering political will on the part of the international community to effectively prosecute the former leaders of the KLA”, and Carla del Ponte, former chief war crimes prosecutor at the Hague, stated that she was barred from prosecuting KLA leaders.
UNMIK’s responsibilities for police and justice came to an end in December 2008, following Kosovo’s controversial declaration of independence. It was replaced by the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), which, according to Amnesty International, inherited 1,187 war crimes cases that UNMIK had failed to investigate. All the signs are that the overt impunity that has prevailed up until now will be replaced by lip service to the rule of law, accompanied by the prosecution of a few low level operatives, whilst maintaining the protection for those at the top. Following the Council of Europe’s damning report, EULEX spent three years investigating the claims, eventually publishing a verdict that was a textbook case of damage-limitation whitewash. EULEX concluded that the crimes were indeed real, and were linked to leading KLA members, but refused to corroborate the names of any specific individuals involved, despite copious evidence. Thaci’s protection, it seems, is absolute.
Nevertheless, in August of this year, the Kosovan parliament finally and grudgingly approved (after initially rejecting) the establishment of a special war crimes court to prosecute KLA leaders for crimes committed between 1998 and 2000. In moves highly reminiscent of scenes outside both the Libyan and Ukrainian parliaments when tentative and tokenistic legal moves were made to end the impunity of the sectarian death squads, the parliament has come under repeated attack ever since. Riots and six separate teargas attacks by the opposition have brought the normal functioning of the Kosovan parliament to a standstill. Failed state status surely beckons.
Meanwhile, the credibility of EULEX, whose officials will be overseeing the establishment of the new court, was further thrown into doubt in November 2014 when Andrea Capussela, former head of UNMIK’s economic unit, released the results of an in-depth analysis of the most significant cases in which EULEX had been involved. Seven of these she claimed had only been brought after intense international pressure, whilst in a further eight, no investigation was carried out at all, despite “credible and well-documented evidence strongly suggesting that serious crimes had been committed.”
She noted that “Eulex’s conduct in these 15 cases – the eight ignored ones and the seven opened under pressure – suggests that the mission tended not to prosecute high-level crime, and, when it had to, it sought not to indict or convict prominent figures”. During its six years of operating, she noted, only four convictions had been secured – three of them against only secondary figures, whilst “higher-ranking figures linked to the same crimes were either not investigated or indicted”. A senior Kosovan investigator noted that “There are people killing people and getting away with it because of Unmik and Eulex,” adding that “The political elite and Eulex have fused. They are indivisible. The laws are just for poor people,” Indeed, Eulex seems to be operating increasingly like a mafia themselves, last year, putting “pressure”, according to Amnesty International, on “journalist, Vehbi Kajtazi, who had reported alleged corruption in EULEX”.
In a final twist to NATO’s ‘success story’, Kosovo has now become the largest per-capita provider of fighters for regime change in Syria. The official figure is 300 but more reliable estimates suggests the true figure is more than 1000 (from a population of 2 million), including one of the top ten ISIS commanders, Lavdrim Muhaxheri. As state education, along with most other social provision, has collapsed since 1999, Saudi-sponsored Madrasas have filled the gap, providing an extreme Wahhabi sectarian education now feeding its first generation of impoverished graduates into NATO’s new Syrian battlefields. No surprise, then, that Kosovan government’s efforts to prevent this have been “superficial and ineffective”, according to David Philips in the Huffington Post.
The ‘lesson’ of Kosovo, then, is not that “airpower works” or any other such nonsense. The real lesson is what it reveals about NATO’s formula for the destruction of independent regional powers – relying on a combination of aerial bombardment alongside the empowerment of local sectarian death squads, who come to dominate the political scene in the aftermath, obliterating the rule of law and guaranteeing a dysfunctional state incapable of providing either dignity or security to its citizens. This was the same formula that was used on Libya in 2011 and currently being attempted in Syria today. Of course, for NATO, all of this is indeed a success: Yugoslavia dismembered; its resources plundered at the expense of its desperate and impoverished people; and Kosovo turned into a provider of shock troops for regime change in Syria, and transit hub for heroin and organ trafficking. If this is what NATO calls a success, we must all pray for failure.
Dan Glazebrook is a freelance political writer who has written for RT, Counterpunch, Z magazine, the Morning Star, the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Independent and Middle East Eye, amongst others. His first book “Divide and Ruin: The West’s Imperial Strategy in an Age of Crisis” was published by Liberation Media in October 2013. It featured a collection of articles written from 2009 onwards examining the links between economic collapse, the rise of the BRICS, war on Libya and Syria and ‘austerity’. He is currently researching a book on US-British use of sectarian death squads against independent states and movements from Northern Ireland and Central America in the 1970s and 80s to the Middle East and Africa today.
The introduction of visa-free travel for citizens of Ukraine, Georgia and Kosovo, is another part of NATO’s enlargement to the East, DWN wrote. Washington is trying to further encircle Russia and is, therefore, incorporating the countries into its orbit.
Having failed to resolve the immigration crisis, the EU is taking another controversial step, DWN reported.
On Friday, Brussels recommended abolishing visa restrictions for citizens of Ukraine, Georgia and Kosovo as stated by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.
According to him, this gesture would signify the recognition of the countries’ efforts in implementing democratic reforms. In fact, this decision is a part of NATO’s strategy of expansion to the East and its attempts to encircle Russia, the newspaper reported.
Washington is willing to turn Ukraine into its outpost on the Russian border. This, however, will happen at the expense of the EU, as Kiev is being kept afloat only by European taxpayers, the article said.
The country has long been bankrupt and is totally dependent on the foreign financial support. Moreover, the money is not being spent for the needs of the population, but rather flows into the pockets of corrupt Ukrainian politicians.
Such a situation will inevitably lead to a crisis which could transform the country into another “supplier” of refugees to Europe, the article said.
The abolition of visa restrictions for Georgia and Kosovo pursues the same geopolitical purpose as in the case of Ukraine, the newspaper wrote. Kosovo has one of NATO’s major air bases against Russia, while Georgia is located on the Russian flank and is of strategic importance for Moscow.
NATO’s recent invitation to Montenegro to start the accession talks on joining the military alliance should also be considered in this context. This way, NATO is trying to enclose Russia from Southern Europe and contribute to its further isolation.
On October 31, a new United Nations General Assembly First Committee resolution on depleted uranium (DU) weapons passed overwhelmingly. There were 143 states in favor, four against, and 26 abstentions. The measure calls for UN member states to provide assistance to countries contaminated by the weapons. The resolution also notes the need for health and environmental research on depleted uranium weapons in conflict situations.
This fifth UN resolution on the subject was fiercely opposed by four depleted uranium-shooting countries — Britain, the United States, France and Israel — who cast the only votes in opposition. The 26 states that abstained reportedly sought to avoid souring lucrative trade relationships with the four major shooters.
Uranium-238 — so-called “depleted” uranium — is waste material left in huge quantities by the nuclear weapons complex. It’s used in large caliber armor-piercing munitions and in armor plate on tanks. Toxic, radioactive dust and debris is dispersed when DU shells burn through targets, and its metallic fumes and dust poison water, soil and the food chain. DU has been linked to deadly health effects like Gulf War Syndrome among U.S. and allied troops, and birth abnormalities among populations in bombed areas. DU waste has caused radioactive contamination of large parts of Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and perhaps Afghanistan.
The measure explains that DU weapons are made of a “chemically and radiologically toxic heavy metal” [uranium-238], that after use “penetrator fragments, and jackets or casings can be found lying on the surface or buried at varying depth, leading to the potential contamination of air, soil, water and vegetation from depleted uranium residue.”
The main thrust of the latest UN resolution, “Encourages Member States in a position to do so to provide assistance to States affected by the use of arms and ammunition containing depleted uranium, in particular in identifying and managing contaminated sites and material.” The request is a veiled reference to the fact that investigators have been stymied in their study of uranium contamination in Iraq, because the Pentagon refuses to disclose maps of all the places it attacked with DU.
In the diplomatic confines of UN resolutions, individual countries are not named. Yet the world knows that up to 700 tons of DU munitions were blasted into Iraq and Kuwait by U.S. forces in 1991, and that U.S. warplanes fired another three tons into Bosnia in 1994 and 1995; ten tons into Kosovo in 1999, and approximately 170 tons into Iraq again in 2003.
The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW.org), based in Manchester, England and representing over 160 civil society organizations worldwide, played a major part in seeing all five resolutions through the UN process and is working for a convention that would see the munitions outlawed. In October, ICBUW reported that the US military will again use DU weapons in Iraq in its assaults against ISIS “if it needs to”. The admission came in spite of Iraq’s summer 2014 recent call for a global ban on the weapons and assistance in clearing up the contamination left from bombardments in 1991 and 2003.
The new resolution relies heavily on the UN Environment Program (UNEP) which conducted radiation surveys of NATO bombing targets in the Balkans and Kosovo. It was a UNEP study in 2001 that forced the Pentagon to admit that its DU is spiked with plutonium. (Associated Press, Capital Times, Feb. 3, 2001: “But now the Pentagon says shells used in the 1999 Kosovo conflict were tainted with traces of plutonium, neptunium and americium — byproducts of nuclear reactors that are much more radioactive than depleted uranium.”)
The resolution’s significant fourth paragraph notes in part: “… major scientific uncertainties persisted regarding the long-term environmental impacts of depleted uranium, particularly with respect to long-term groundwater contamination. Because of these scientific uncertainties, UNEP called for a precautionary approach to the use of depleted uranium, and recommended that action be taken to clean up and decontaminate the polluted sites. It also called for awareness-raising among local populations and future monitoring.”
The “precautionary principle” holds that risky activities or substances should be shunned and discouraged unless they can be proved safe. Of course, instead of adopting precaution, the Pentagon denies that DU can be linked to health problems.
John LaForge works for Nukewatch and lives on the Plowshares Land Trust near Luck, Wisc.
Who Will Show the Moral Courage to End the US’s Middle East Wars?
American military interventions tend to follow a familiar pattern. The path to intervention begins when Washington decides to support one side in an ongoing conflict. Regardless of its true nature, the side Washington chooses is elevated to sainthood while the side Washington decides to attack is demonized.
Soon, the usual suspects, Neocons and Liberal Interventionists who are only nominally Republicans or Democrats, trot out the old mantra, “It’s the 1930s and we can’t we can’t let another Hitler rise again.” In 1991 it was Saddam Hussein. In 1995, the villains were Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić. In 1999, the principle villain was Slobodan Milošević. All were guilty of heinous crimes and deserved the worlds’ contempt, but none were radically different from most of their contemporaries governing peoples at the same time in the Balkans and the Middle East.
To the uninformed American public remote from the regions where their armed forces will operate, it did not matter. With the added boost from America’s enthusiastic media, the usual suspects stampeded the nation into military action.
Today, things are a little different. After 13 years of ‘mission accomplished’ in Afghanistan and Iraq, and, after watching 123 Islamist Militias overrun Libya in the aftermath of the United States-led NATO bombing campaign, Americans are more circumspect. True, ISIS, the Sunni Islamists in pickup trucks ransacking towns across the wastelands of the Middle East, is barbarous and savage, but the support for all-out war to destroy ISIS involving tens of thousands of American Soldiers and Marines is tenuous. The solution: an “airpower only” answer to Washington’s need to “do something.”
Today, it’s a re-run of the Kosovo Air Campaign across Mesopotamia. It’s worth pausing to recall the events of the air campaign that lasted from 28 February 1998 until 11 June 1999.
In Kosovo American and NATO pilots found few if any good targets on the ground. Once Yugoslav (Serbian) tanks, artillery and troops dispersed across mountainous and forested terrain inside a region smaller than Wales, American Airpower had enormous trouble finding and attacking Serb forces. Old, but robust Serb air defenses skillfully integrated with commercial radars made effective air strikes launched from below 11,000 to 15,000 feet extremely dangerous, if not impossible.
Confronted with this situation, General Wes Clark expanded the air war beyond Kosovo into Serbia where the aircraft could easily identify and strike infrastructure. Initially, the resulting strikes in Serbia looked impressive on television and acted as a tonic for NATO’s beleaguered leaders. The destruction of electrical power plants and bridges over the Danube ruined Serbia’s economy, but it did little to influence events on the ground in Kosovo.
America’s European allies grew impatient. Why, Europeans asked, had NATO’s military Leaders not anticipated Serb military action to expel Kosovo’s Muslim Albanian population? Why not refocus the air campaign on Serb forces in Kosovo? To make matters worse, small numbers of Serb and Albanian civilians died in air strikes meant for Serb troops or infrastructure. Predictably, public support for the air campaign in the United States and Europe weakened.
Undeterred, General Clark pressed for the commitment of U.S. and European ground forces. Clark believed the air campaign was the equivalent of “Rolling Thunder;” the 1965 air campaign that led to the commitment of U.S. Ground Forces to Vietnam. It was not to be.
After weeks of negotiations, Ambassador Strobe Talbot succeeded in persuading Moscow to abandon Belgrade. Moscow deserted Belgrade because Moscow needed American and European support to cope with Russia’s shattered economy and a relentless Muslim rebellion in Chechnya.
Without Russian material support in terms of food and fuel, Milošević had no choice but to capitulate. Without food and fuel, hundreds of thousands of Serbs would die in the fierce Balkan winter. Serbian forces withdrew in good order from Kosovo. Pushing the Serbs out of Kosovo cost roughly $4.5 billion. Air strikes inflicted $9 billion of damage on little Serbia. Damage to the economies of the States in the Danube River Valley, to Italy and Greece ran into the billions of dollars too.
President Clinton was understandably relieved. He’d escaped from the Balkan disaster just in time.
Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, the Middle East is not tiny Kosovo. There is no easy retreat from the strident declarations made at the outset of his generals’ hasty, ill-conceived policy of intervention from the air. Once again, there are few, if any, lucrative target sets for American Airpower. Worse, the Middle East is in the grip of societal collapse and radicalization.
From the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, the old Cold War military alliances are crumbling and many of the Sunni Arab ruling elites that supported them fear their own populations. Millions of Sunni Muslim Arabs admire ISIS. They do so because they are struggling with dysfunctional governments mired in corruption and they fear the encroaching power and influence of Shiite Iran in Damascus, Baghdad, and the Persian Gulf Emirates.
More significantly, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is leading Turkey’s population of 77 million on an Ottoman Revival intertwined with the re-invigoration of Turkey’s centuries’ old Islamic identity. Since taking office, Erdogan has rejected every American diplomatic and military initiative in the region. Frustrated with the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood to secure power in Egypt, Erdogan has no interest in obstructing ISIS’s attacks on his regional opponents, apostate Shiites, Christians, Jews and, most of all, Kurds.
Erdogan and his Sunni Islamist supporters in the region are furious with Washington’s support for the Kurdish independence and Iran’s client Shiite State Baghdad. American air strikes are rescuing Ankara’s enemies from destruction at the hands of ISIS. Whatever else ISIS may be, in Erdogan’s mind, they are fellow Sunni Islamists and many of its fighters are Turks from the Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as Anatolia. Under these circumstances no one in Washington should be surprised that the Turkish Army, the largest in NATO, obedient to Erdogan’s orders recently attacked Kurds, but not ISIS fighters.
More time, new tactics, more money, more troops and better strategic “partners” will not change these regional realities. The logical choice for President Obama is to tell the American people the truth: America’s military interventions in the Middle East and Southwest Asia are festering sores, bottomless pits for American blood and treasure. Americans can secure their own borders, enforce the rule of law and build economic prosperity at home, but Americans in uniform cannot and will not “fix” the Middle East.
Of course, suspending military operations that are both ineffective and counterproductive takes both understanding and moral courage. In Washington DC, moral courage is always in short supply. British Prime Minister, Sir Benjamin Disraeli made the same point over a hundred years ago: “You will find as you grow older,” Disraeli said to a new member of the House of Commons, “that courage is the rarest of all qualities to be found in public life.”
There have been at least two countries in Europe in recent history that undertook ‘anti-terrorist’ military operations against ‘separatists’, but got two very different reactions from the Western elite.
The government of European country A launches what it calls an ‘anti-terrorist’ military operation against ‘separatists’ in one part of the country. We see pictures on Western television of people’s homes being shelled and lots of people fleeing. The US and UK and other NATO powers fiercely condemn the actions of the government of country A and accuse it of carrying out ‘genocide’ and ’ethnic cleansing’ and say that there is an urgent ‘humanitarian crisis.’ Western politicians and establishment journalists tell us that ‘something must be done.’ And something is done: NATO launches a ‘humanitarian’ military intervention to stop the government of country A. Country A is bombed for 78 days and nights. The country’s leader (who is labeled ‘The New Hitler’) is indicted for war crimes – and is later arrested and sent in an RAF plane to stand trial for war crimes at The Hague, where he dies, un-convicted, in his prison cell.
The government of European country B launches what it calls an ‘anti-terrorist’ military operation against ‘separatists’ in one part of the country. Western television doesn’t show pictures or at least not many) of people’s homes being shelled and people fleeing, although other television stations do. But here the US, UK and other NATO powers do not condemn the government, or accuse it of committing ‘genocide’ or ‘ethnic cleansing.’ Western politicians and establishment journalists do not tell us that ‘something must be done’ to stop the government of country B killing people. On the contrary, the same powers who supported action against country A, support the military offensive of the government in country B. The leader of country B is not indicted for war crimes, nor is he labeled ‘The New Hitler’ despite the support the government has got from far-right, extreme nationalist groups, but in fact, receives generous amounts of aid.
Anyone defending the policies of the government in country A, or in any way challenging the dominant narrative in the West is labeled a “genocide denier” or an “apologist for mass murder.” But no such opprobrium awaits those defending the military offensive of the government in country B. It’s those who oppose its policies who are smeared.
What makes the double standards even worse, is that by any objective assessment, the behavior of the government in country B, has been far worse than that of country A and that more human suffering has been caused by their aggressive actions.
In case you haven’t guessed it yet – country A is Yugoslavia, country B is Ukraine.
Yugoslavia, a different case
In 1998/9 Yugoslavian authorities were faced with a campaign of violence against Yugoslav state officials by the pro-separatist and Western-backed Kosovan Liberation Army (KLA). The Yugoslav government responded by trying to defeat the KLA militarily, but their claims to be fighting against ’terrorism’ were haughtily dismissed by Western leaders. As the British Defence Secretary George Robertson and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook acknowledged in the period from 1998 to January 1999, the KLA had been responsible for more deaths in Kosovo than the Yugoslav authorities had been.
In the lead-up to the NATO action and during it, lurid claims were made about the numbers of people who had been killed or ‘disappeared’ by the Yugoslav forces. “Hysterical NATO and KLA estimates of the missing and presumably slaughtered Kosovan Albanians at times ran upwards of one hundred thousand, reaching 500, 000 in one State Department release. German officials leaked ‘intelligence’ about an alleged Serb plan called Operation Horseshoe to depopulate the province of its ethnic Albanians, and to resettle it with Serbs, which turned out to be an intelligence fabrication,” Edward Herman and David Peterson noted in their book The Politics of Genocide.
“We must act to save thousands of innocent men, women and children from humanitarian catastrophe – from death, barbarism and ethnic cleansing from a brutal dictatorship,” a solemn-faced Prime Minister Tony Blair told the British Parliament – just four years before an equally sombre Tony Blair told the British Parliament that we must act over the ‘threat’ posed by Saddam Hussein’s WMDs.
Taking their cue from Tony Blair and Co., the media played their part in hyping up what was going on in Kosovo. Herman and Peterson found that newspapers used the word ‘genocide’ to describe Yugoslav actions in Kosovo 323 times compared to just 13 times for the invasion/occupation of Iraq despite the death toll in the latter surpassing that of Kosovo by 250 times.
In the same way we were expected to forget about the claims from Western politicians and their media marionettes about Iraq possessing WMDs in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion, we are now expected to forget about the outlandish claims made about Kosovo in 1999.
But as the award winning investigative journalist and broadcaster John Pilger wrote in his article Reminders of Kosovo in 2004, “Lies as great as those told by Bush and Blair were deployed by Clinton and Blair in grooming of public opinion for an illegal, unprovoked attack on a European country.”
The overall death toll of the Kosovo conflict is thought to be between 3,000 and 4,000, but that figure includes Yugoslav army casualties, and Serbs and Roma and Kosovan Albanians killed by the KLA. In 2013, the International Committee of the Red Cross listed the names of 1,754 people from all communities in Kosovo who were reported missing by their families.
The number of people killed by Yugoslav military at the time NATO launched its ‘humanitarian’ bombing campaign, which itself killed between 400-600 people, is thought to be around 500, a tragic death toll but hardly “genocide.”
“Like Iraq’s fabled weapons of mass destruction, the figures used by the US and British governments and echoed by journalists were inventions- along with Serbian ‘rape camps’ and Clinton and Blair’s claims that NATO never deliberately bombed civilians,” says Pilger.
No matter what happens in Ukraine…
In Ukraine by contrast, the number of people killed by government forces and those supporting them has been deliberately played down, despite UN figures highlighting the terrible human cost of the Ukrainian government’s ‘anti-terrorist’ operation.
Last week, the UN’s Human Rights Office said that the death toll in the conflict in eastern Ukraine had doubled in the previous fortnight. Saying that they were “very conservative estimates,” the UN stated that 2,086 people (from all sides) had been killed and 5,000 injured. Regarding refugees, the UN says that around 1,000 people have been leaving the combat zone every day and that over 100,000 people have fled the region. Yet despite these very high figures, there have been no calls from leading Western politicians for ‘urgent action’ to stop the Ukrainian government’s military offensive. Articles from faux-left ‘humanitarian interventionists’ saying that ‘something must be done’ to end what is a clearly a genuine humanitarian crisis, have been noticeable by their absence.
There is, it seems, no “responsibility to protect” civilians being killed by government forces in the east of Ukraine, as there was in Kosovo, even though the situation in Ukraine, from a humanitarian angle, is worse than that in Kosovo in March 1999.
To add insult to injury, efforts have been made to prevent a Russian humanitarian aid convoy from entering Ukraine.
The convoy we are told is ‘controversial’ and could be part of a sinister plot by Russia to invade. This from the same people who supported a NATO bombing campaign on a sovereign state for “humanitarian” reasons fifteen years ago!
For these Western ‘humanitarians’ who cheer on the actions of the Ukrainian government, the citizens of eastern Ukraine are “non-people”: not only are they unworthy of our support or compassion, or indeed aid convoys, they are also blamed for their own predicament.
There are, of course, other conflicts which also highlight Western double standards towards ‘humanitarian intervention’. Israeli forces have killed over 2,000 Palestinians in their latest ruthless ‘anti-terrorist’ operation in Gaza, which is far more people than Yugoslav forces had killed in Kosovo by the time of the 1999 NATO ‘intervention’. But there are no calls at this time for a NATO bombing campaign against Israel.
In fact, neocons and faux-left Zionists who have defended and supported Israel’s “anti-terrorist” Operation Protective Edge, and Operation Cast Lead before it, were among the most enthusiastic supporters of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Israel it seems is allowed to kill large numbers of people, including women and children, in its “anti-terrorist” campaigns, but Yugoslavia had no such “right” to fight an “anti-terrorist” campaign on its own soil.
In 2011, NATO went to war against Libya to prevent a “hypothetical” massacre in Benghazi, and to stop Gaddafi ‘killing his own people’; in 2014 Ukrainian government forces are killing their own people in large numbers, and there have been actual massacres like the appalling Odessa arson attack carried out by pro-government ‘radicals’, but the West hasn’t launched bombing raids on Kiev in response.
The very different approaches from the Western elite to ‘anti-terrorist’ operations in Kosovo and Ukraine (and indeed elsewhere) shows us that what matters most is not the numbers killed, or the amount of human suffering involved, but whether or not the government in question helps or hinders Western economic and military hegemonic aspirations.
In the eyes of the rapacious Western elites, the great ‘crime’ of the Yugoslav government in 1999 was that it was still operating, ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, an unreconstructed socialist economy, with very high levels of social ownership – as I highlighted here.
Yugoslavia under Milosevic was a country which maintained its financial and military independence. It had no wishes to join the EU or NATO, or surrender its sovereignty to anyone. For that refusal to play by the rules of the globalists and to show deference to the powerful Western financial elites, the country (and its leader) had to be destroyed. In the words of George Kenney, former Yugoslavia desk officer at the US State Department: “In post-cold war Europe no place remained for a large, independent-minded socialist state that resisted globalization.”
By contrast, the government of Ukraine, has been put in power by the West precisely in order to further its economic and military hegemonic aspirations. Poroshenko, unlike the much- demonized Milosevic, is an oligarch acting in the interests of Wall Street, the big banks and the Western military-industrial complex. He’s there to tie up Ukraine to IMF austerity programs, to hand over his country to Western capital and to lock Ukraine into ‘Euro-Atlantic’ structures- in other words to transform it into an EU/IMF/NATO colony- right on Russia’s doorstep.
This explains why an ‘anti-terrorist’ campaign waged by the Yugoslav government against ‘separatists’ in 1999 is ‘rewarded’ with fierce condemnation, a 78-day bombing campaign, and the indictment of its leader for war crimes, while a government waging an ‘anti-terrorist’ campaign against ‘separatists’ in Ukraine in 2014, is given carte blanche to carry on killing. In the end, it’s not about how many innocent people you kill, or how reprehensible your actions are, but about whose interests you serve.
Congressional Hawks have been peddling the idea of a “Russian Aggression Prevention Act” since the beginning of May, but it has only been during the recent media-inspired hysteria that it began to gain traction. If passed into law, it would amount to a sweeping NATO offensive across all of Russia’s former soviet western periphery and would be the first official act of the ‘New Cold War’. Much has been written about the overall thematic consequences for US-Russian relations by Paul Craig Roberts and Patrick Buchanan illustrating how the US plans to use the legislation to subvert the Russian government from within via its support for ‘NGOs’ (and the prioritized ‘refugee’ status for journalists, ‘dissidents’, and various activists that is included in the document). What has not been explored, however, are some of the finer, yet no less important, aspects of the Act’s implementation. Whether it be NATO expansion into the Balkans or the destabilization of the Caucasus, bill S. 2277 more accurately could be described as the American Aggression Enablement Act (AAEA), as it represents a surge of US offensive military capability against Russian interests in its western flank.
Part I: The NATO Tumor Grows
The AAEA represents the cancerous growth of NATO throughout all of its targeted territories. Some of its most important details are that the EU and NATO are working hand-in-hand, NATO aims to swallow the Balkans, and the Missile Defense Shield (MDS) is to proceed at full speed ahead, with all of the resultant consequences thereof.
Good Cop, Bad Cop:
Although not explicitly stated in the AAEA itself, if one steps back and examines the overall context of the document, it is obvious that the EU and NATO have been working in lockstep to advance each other’s goals. In fact, an overall pattern can be ascertained:
(1) The EU makes some form of outreach to the targeted state(s) (e.g. The Eastern Partnership)
(2) Economic links between the EU and the target are nominally institutionalized (e.g. an EU Association Agreement)
(3) Shadow NATO (via major non-NATO ally status) moves in to defend the economic integration process
The EU presents the friendly, ‘humanitarian’ face to disarm the targeted state’s population while Shadow NATO inconspicuously attempts to absorb the country. This is the tried-and-tested technique of ‘good cop, bad cop’.
The Balkans or Bust:
The US is aggressively promoting its Armed Forces and NATO’s expansion into the Balkans as part of the AAEA. It stipulates that Obama must increase military cooperation with Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia, besides Azerbaijan and prescribed major non-NATO allies Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. Although it is unlikely that Serbia will be integrated into the fold (it is a strong Russian ally and vividly remembers the bloody bombings of 1999), the move still represents a major expansion of US military influence in Europe. One must keep in mind that the formerly forgotten-about Balkans are now at the forefront of this ‘New Cold War’, with the US and some European actors trying to sabotage Russia’s South Stream gas project which, ironically, certain EU members had agreed to in the first place. Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Macedonia are all entities abutting Serbia, which is planned to be one of the hubs of South Stream, so their inclusion into the enhanced NATO security framework suggested by the AAEA can be seen as surrounding Serbia prior to destabilizing it once more. In the context of bitter energy geopolitics, the US’ seemingly unexpected push into the Balkans makes absolute sense.
Missile Defense and NATO’s Northern Expansion:
Included in the AAEA is the directive to accelerate the rollout of the Missile Defense Shield (MDS). This was already envisioned to have land, sea, and space components per the phased adaptive approach framework. What makes the AAEA different, however, is that it wants to ‘poke Russia in the eyes’ and go forward with something that Moscow has already stated would certainly be a red line. Russia holds this stance because it believes that a MDS would neutralize its nuclear second-strike capability, thereby giving the US a monopoly on carrying out a nuclear first strike and shattering the mutual assured destruction concept that kept the peace between the two nuclear titans for decades.
Russia’s response thus far has been to deploy Iskander missiles to the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad. One of the dual purposes of the US’ MDS is to goad Russia into taking more such defensive actions that could then be propagandized as ‘offensive’, thereby exaggerating ‘the Russian threat’ and contributing to fear mongering among the Swedish and Finnish citizenry. The end result is to push these countries deeper into the NATO apparatus. Finland has already said that it could hold a referendum on joining as early as April 2015 after the next round of parliamentary elections, with its Defense Minister already actively lobbying for this to happen. Sweden, on the other hand, already engages in such close cooperation with NATO that it’s already a shadow member in its own right, and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is one of the most prominent Russophobic policy makers on the continent. Because of a joint agreement on military security, Finland can only join NATO together with Sweden, meaning that if any move is made, it would likely be a ‘double whammy’ to get the two states in at once. It goes without saying that if Russia would not allow NATO to be deployed in Georgia or Ukraine, it most definitely would not allow it to be deployed along the Russo-Finnish border, further increasing the chances of yet another crisis in NATO-Russian relations sometime down the line.
To be continued… Part II
An inquiry by the EU has found “compelling indications” that ten Serb captives had their body organs harvested for illegal trafficking during the 1998-99 Kosovo war. However, it wasn’t widespread and there will be no trial, the lead investigator said.
The chief prosecutor Clint Williamson, who led the investigation, said there was no evidence of widespread organ harvesting, but that the crime had occurred a number of times.
“There are compelling indications that this practice did occur on a very limited scale and that a small number of individuals were killed for the purpose of extracting and trafficking their organs,” he told journalists. However, he added that there would not be enough evidence at the moment to prosecute the alleged crimes.
The revelation was part of a presentation on a 2 1/2 year investigation into atrocities that also largely confirmed human right reports that there was a campaign of persecution against Serb, Roma and other minorities by some people in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
The investigation was prompted by a 2011 report by Council of Europe member Dick Marty that accused senior KLA commanders of involvement in the smuggling of Serb prisoners into northern Albania and the removal of their organs for sale.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, himself a former KLA leader who was named in Marty’s report, has dismissed the accusations as an attempt to tarnish the Kosovo Albanian fight for independence.
“The government of the Republic of Kosovo appreciates the completion of the ambassador Williamson’s work, which is an important step to determine potential individual responsibility and gives an end to the claims of the unfounded charges,” Tachi said.
However, Williamson bitterly complained that the investigation had been made far more difficult because of “a climate of intimidation that seeks to undermine any investigations of individuals associated with the former Kosovo Liberation Army.”
Williamson did say the Special Investigative Task Force would in future be “in a position to file an indictment against certain senior officials of the former Kosovo Liberation Army” for a series of crimes, including killings, disappearances, camp detentions and sexual violence.
Without naming any individuals, Williamson said that “there are compelling indications that this practice did occur.“ He went to lengths to make clear the alleged harvesting was not a wholesale practice, rejecting claims of hundreds of victims. Some 400 people, mostly Kosovo Serbs, disappeared near the end of the war, AP reports.
Just over 2,000 Serbs are believed to have been killed during and immediately after the war.
Serbia has vowed never to recognize the independence of its former province, which many Serbians consider their nation’s heartland, after it declared independence in 2008. It is also not recognized by dozens of country’s worldwide, including Russia.
In Belgrade, Serbia’s war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic told The Associated Press that Tuesday’s announcement “crowns a big effort on our part and shows that we were right when we said that war crimes had been committed and that organ trafficking took place.”
President Obama’s speech in Brussels this week was a shocking mélange of ignorance and arrogance masquerading as foreign policy.
Attempting to justify placing the US on war footing with Russia over the recent referendum in Crimea, the president stated:
Kosovo only left Serbia after a referendum was organized not outside the boundaries of international law, but in careful cooperation with the United Nations and with Kosovo’s neighbors. None of that even came close to happening in Crimea.
Of course anyone who followed the Kosovo fiasco knows that never happened. There was no such thing. Made up. The Kosovo parliament declared independence unilaterally backed up by US/NATO military power to ensure the change of borders.
The US press? Silent on this monumental display of ignorance by the US commander in chief.
Speaking of changing borders, Obama said:
…in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force, that international law matters, that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future.
But that is just what the United States did 15 years ago this week via the 78 day bombing of Serbia to change the borders and extract Kosovo as an independent (though profoundly dysfunctional) state. The US bombing of Serbia was of course outside international law, as was US invasion and occupation of Iraq, attack and invasion of Afghanistan, invasion of Libya, bombing of Pakistan, Yemen, etc.
The president celebrated…
…the belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose, the belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding.
But in the modern world he champions — as opposed to his bad old system of using force to establish legitimacy — that consent of the governed is determined at the ballot box, rather than in burned-out buildings occupied by gangs of molotov cocktail throwing “activists.”
Indeed, as David Hendrickson recently wrote in the National Interest :
Americans have previously acknowledged a right of revolution in a circumstance where there has been no previous instance of an election and no possibility of one. But in a regime that has a constitution and that has prescribed rules for the transfer of power? Revolution in those circumstances has been generally seen as deeply illegitimate, and for the simple reason that once you depart from that rule you are in no man’s land.
So where Obama may see…
…the young people of Ukraine, who were determined to take back their future from a government rotted by corruption…
…the modern world he touts — free of the oppression where “order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign” — can only be brought about by his own terms through the rule of law and respect of the sovereignty of all the people through a free and fair vote. Otherwise, logic is clear, we are precisely back in those bad old days where might makes right.
How can two contradictory concepts both be true at the same time?
The president claims to…
…believe in democracy, with elections that are free and fair, and independent judiciaries and opposition parties, civil society and uncensored information so that individuals can make their own choices.
All the while he champions a regime that came to power in Ukraine in the opposite manner from that which he recognizes as legitimate. Recognizing this fact depends not on whether one agrees with the political persuasion of the ancien or nouveau régime in Kiev.
The president displays another astonishing disconnect with historical reality when he claims that “even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system.”
It is not apocryphal that the United States precisely violated international law in its attack on Iraq, as it ignored the United Nations Security Council and instead made its own ad hoc “coalition of the willing” which through sheer will of the US was supposedly granted some manner of legitimacy. As if from some magic fairy dust.
Or could it have been through the very notion condemned in Obama’s speech “that bigger nations can bully smaller ones to get their way – that recycled maxim that might makes right.”
What is perhaps most troubling is the president (and his advisors) have demostrated that the policies that may well determine whether we all will perish in a World War III are being made by people without even a passing familiarity with recent history. Those who would rather Tweet “selfies” like self-obsessed adolescents rather than open a history book.
Or, sadly perhaps, it is cynicism in the extreme: perhaps they do know better but count on the ignorance of the rest of us. Is that a safe bet?
Exactly 15 years ago, on March 24, NATO began its 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia. The alliance bypassed the UN under a “humanitarian” pretext, launching aggression that claimed hundreds of civilian lives and caused a much larger catastrophe than it averted.
Years on, Serbia still bears deep scars of the NATO bombings which, as the alliance put it, were aimed at “preventing instability spreading” in Kosovo.
Codenamed ‘Operation Allied Force,’ it was the largest attack ever undertaken by the alliance. It was also the first time that NATO used military force without the approval of the UN Security Council and against a sovereign nation that did not pose a real threat to any member of the alliance.
NATO demonstrated in 1999 that it can do whatever it wants under the guise of “humanitarian intervention,” “war on terror,” or “preventive war” — something that everyone has witnessed in subsequent years in different parts of the globe.
Nineteen NATO member states participated to some degree in the military campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), which lasted for 11 weeks until June 10, 1999.
In the course of the campaign, NATO launched 2,300 missiles at 990 targets and dropped 14,000 bombs, including depleted uranium bombs and cluster munitions (unexploded cluster bombs continued to pose a threat to people long after the campaign was over.) Over 2,000 civilians were killed, including 88 children, and thousands more were injured. Over 200,000 ethnic Serbs were forced to leave their homeland in Kosovo.
In what the alliance described as “collateral damage,” its airstrikes destroyed more than 300 schools, libraries, and over 20 hospitals. At least 40,000 homes were either completely eliminated or damaged and about 90 historic and architectural monuments were ruined. That is not to mention the long-term harm caused to the region’s ecology and, therefore, people’s health.
News correspondents Anissa Naouai and Jelena Milincic, the authors of RT’s documentary ‘Zashto?’ — which means “Why?” in English –traveled through former Yugoslavia to Belgrade, Kosovo, and Montenegro and spoke to people who endured the atrocities and horrors of the war and lost their friends and relatives. … http://rt.com/news/yugoslavia-kosovo-…
Crimea’s secession from Ukraine was just like Kosovo’s secession from Serbia, and any arguments otherwise are just attempts to bend the West-advocated rules that were applied to the Kosovo case, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
The statements came as Putin was addressing the Russian parliament to convince lawmakers to ratify a treaty, which would make Crimea part of the Russian Federation.
In the speech he challenged Washington’s position, which says that Kosovo was a unique case and could not justify any other move towards independence in the world.
“Our western partners created the Kosovo precedent with their own hands. In a situation absolutely the same as the one in Crimea they recognized Kosovo’s secession from Serbia legitimate while arguing that no permission from a country’s central authority for a unilateral declaration of independence is necessary,” Putin reminded, adding that the UN International Court of Justice agreed to those arguments.
“That’s what they wrote, what they trumpeted all over the world, coerced everyone into it – and now they are complaining. Why is that?” he asked.
Putin dismissed the argument that Kosovo was unique due to the large number of victims during the Balkan wars and the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
“It’s beyond double standards,” Putin said. “It’s a kind of baffling, primitive and blatant cynicism. One can’t just twist things to fit his interests, to call something white on one day and black on the next one.”
The president dismissed the allegations that Russia is violating international law with its actions in Ukraine.
“Well’ it’s good that they at least recalled that there is international law. Thank you very much. Better late than never,” Putin said adding that in fact nothing of this kind happened.
‘In Ukraine the West crossed the red line’
In fact, it was Russia that defended international law and its institutions, while western countries have been diminishing them. The situation in Crimea is just a reflection of this broader process, which has been happening for decades now.
“In the practical application of policies, our western partners – the United States first and foremost – prefer to be guided not by international law, but by the right of strength. They believe in their exceptionalism, that they are allowed to decide on the fate of the world, that they are always right,” Putin charged.
This disregard to rule of law was evident in Yugoslavia in 1999, when NATO bombed the country without a UN Security Council mandate, the Russian president said. There was Afghanistan, Iraq and the perversion of the UNSC resolution on Libya, when instead of imposing a no-fly zone NATO bombed the country into submission.
There were also orchestrated “colored revolutions” in Europe and the Arab World, which cynically used the feelings of people tired with corruption and poverty. The latest Ukrainian events are just the latest of such actions, and Russia’s willingness to seek dialogue and compromise was stonewalled again, Putin said.
“They were cheating us once more, took decisions behind our back, presented us with a fait accompli,” he said, adding that the patter is identical to that which accompanied NATO’s expansion to the east, the deployment of an anti-ballistic missile system, visa restrictions and numerous other issues.
“They are constantly trying to corner us in retaliation for our having an independent position, for defending it, for calling things by their names and not being hypocritical,” Putin accused. “Everything has its limits, and in Ukraine our western partners crossed the red line. They acted brutally, irresponsibly and unprofessionally.”
Putin said the West must stop being hysterical, restrain from the Cold War rhetoric and admit the obvious: “Russia is an independent and active participant of international relations. Just like any nation it has national interests that must be taken into consideration and respected.”
As for the Ukrainian red line, the coup-imposed authorities in Kiev voiced their desire to join NATO, and such a move would pose an imminent threat to Russia, Putin said.
“We stand against having a military organization meddling in our backyard, next to our homeland or in the territories that are historically ours. I just cannot imagine visiting NATO sailors in Sevastopol,” he stressed. “Most of them are fine lads, by the way. But rather let them visit us in Sevastopol than the other way around.”
At the end of his speech, Putin announced the submission to parliament of a draft federal law which would incorporate Crimea and the City of Sevastopol into Russian territory, as well as a request to ratify an international treaty with the government of Crimea to make this happen. He said he was sure of the legislature’s support for both documents.
Of course, it is illegal and, of course, it will be rigged, that referendum in Crimea today. And, of course, it is a ploy and comes only in the wake of Russia’s (read Putin’s) unprovoked aggression, used as a pretext to build a new Greater Russia.
That is, if you browse the mainstream Western media the last week and on this Sunday morning.
Referendum means referring an issue back to the people. It is – or should be – an important instrument in democracies. And it’s a much better instrument than war and other violence to settle complex conflicts.
Generally, citizens-decided conflict-resolution is likely to last longer and help healing wounds of the past than any type of solution imposed by outside actors.
In Switzerland citizens go and vote on all kinds of issues on many a Sunday throughout the year. Sweden has used it to decide about nuclear energy, Denmark about EU membership and – in 1920 – to solve the conflicts in Schleswig-Holstein and define the future border between Germany and Denmark. Referendums, binding as well as non-binding, are an accepted instrument in many countries.
Why did the West not use referendums?
The West likes to pride itself of its type of democracy whenever and wherever it can. But it doesn’t use the referendum instrument that often.
About 25 years ago it decided that it was good conflict-resolution to divide Yugoslavia into six republics; foolishly it used the old administrative borders and elevated them to international borders (the purpose behind that: you could then define the Yugoslav People’s Army’s presence in Croatia and Slovenia as ”international aggression by Serbia”) instead of asking people to which republic they preferred to belong.
In a few days it is 15 years ago NATO bombed Kosovo and Serbia to ”liberate” Kosovo and make it an independent – predictably failed – state. Fifteen years later, one wonders what better situation a negotiated solution ending with a referendum could have produced. No referendum there either.
Or take the Dayton Accords from 1995 for Bosnia-Hercegovina. No one in the democratic West bothered to ask the 4.3 million people living there (around 33% Serbs, 45% Muslims/Bosniaks and 17% Croats) whether they would like to live under those Accords.
Further, Dayton was signed in the US, the Bosnian constitution written by US lawyers and the agreement signed by three presidents none of whom were representing anybody in Bosnia at the time of signing. Not exactly a democratic peace. And it should be clear today that it is not going to work in the future either.
Or take the issue of nuclear weapons. No nuclear weapon state has ever asked its citizens whether they want their country to possess nuclear weapons which, logically, also make them potential targets of somebody else’s nukes. All opinion surveys in the nuclear powers tell us that there is no majority anywhere for the nuclear weapon status.
And how few of the new Eastern members of NATO and the EU have had a referendum on membership?
So, even in democracies the belief that ”we know what is best for you” often stands in the way of more intelligent, democratic conflict-resolution; i.e. better and more sustainable solutions to complex conflicts.
This is dangerous: How did it come to this?
Crimea is an extremely sensitive conflict spot and has been for centuries. In my view, there is more than a 50% risk that the situation we see today in Ukraine may lead to something like Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Conflicts and violence – even the threat of it – as well as sanctions have their own dynamics and there is always a risk that they spin out of control – if people don’t stop and think but continue tit-for-tat escalation.
Why has it come to this? There are many reasons but let me mention these:
► The US and the EU have meddled in Ukraine’s internal affairs in a way that they would never accept Russian neo-cons, finance institutions and NGOs would in their own countries and are, thus, significantly co-responsible for the mess.
► The US and the EU lack politicians and they lack advisers who understand the larger scheme of things. They invest in spin doctors and PR companies instead of in knowledge-based expertise. It should have been obvious to a historically minded Western security and foreign policy elite that Ukraine is not a place to fish in extremely troubled waters and not expect a harsh reaction.
► Putin sees a golden opportunity to play tough in the light of the history of the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact saying in effect: This far and no longer! To be or act surprised at that speaks volumes of ignorance, propaganda, or both.
The triumphalist US/NATO/EU expansion policies since 1989 would boomerang at some point – and that point is Ukraine, Ukraine meaning ”border” (like Krijina in Croatia).
Wiser politicians of the past: Common security
Whether we like it or not, the US and the EU have handed Russia and Putin a point or two on a silver plate.
Wiser politicians like Willy Brandt, Olof Palme, Urho Kekkonen, or Nelson Mandela knew that we need peace first and then a policy to secure it (not the other way around) and that that again means moderation, prudence and search for common interests rather than provocatively promoting yourself.
The reduction in intellectualism and moderation of foreign and security policy elites worries me at least as much as Russia’s response to US/NATO/EU the-winner-takes-it-all policies.
Hopefully the referendum may defuse tension
And, so, let’s rather hope that the referendum in Crimea could be a means to diffuse the tension. The rest of Ukraine has its own deeply worrying conflict — and violence-prone factors looming.
But they don’t have to blow up like Pakrac, Western Slavonia in Yugoslavia where the first shot was fired in what became a terrible war. And remember that war was preceded by a similar fishing in troubled waters as we have seen in Ukraine.
Are political decision-makers and media able to learn from contemporary history this time or will Yugoslavia be repeated?
Perhaps a Christian West should remind itself – and take serious – of the Gospel of Matthew 1-5:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
The mutual blaming in Moscow, Brussels and Washington of ”the other” should be seen as little but psychological projections of their own dark sides (beams) of which they must be subconsciously aware.
We will get nowhere but to hell with tit-for-tat, judgmentalism and self-righteousness. Both Russia and the West should, instead, take steps in the direction of democratic peace-making: refer issues back to people themselves but – and that is important beyond words – stop influencing or buying them on the way to the ballot box.
Jan Oberg is a peace researcher, art photographer, and Director of Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF).