Collision Course

Eight years ago this week, NATO launched an aerial attack against then-Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, on the pretext of halting the "conflict" raging in the Serbian province of Kosovo between the Albanian separatists and the Yugoslav military and police. The attack followed an ultimatum presented to Belgrade at Rambouillet, in the form of a peace proposal that would have put Kosovo under NATO occupation and given the Albanian separatists the right to secede within three years.

For 78 days, NATO bombers rained destruction on Serbia and Montenegro, hitting Kosovo the hardest. Parallel to the bombing, NATO unleashed a propaganda campaign of unprecedented proportions, feeding the Western public outrageous fabrications on a daily basis. Psychological warfare walked hand in hand with physical destruction of Serbia’s infrastructure, consciously calculated to terrorize the people into submitting to NATO demands.

Authors of the war in the Clinton administration had predicted the government of Slobodan Milosevic would fold after a couple of days. Instead, Serbia resisted for over two months, as bombing grew in intensity and the desperate Alliance started issuing empty threats of ground assault. In the end, it was Moscow’s promise to Belgrade that Russian troops would join NATO in Kosovo as part of a UN mission that persuaded Milosevic to sign an armistice in June 1999.

Most of the UN Security Council resolution 1244, which legitimized NATO presence in the province as part of a UN peacekeeping mission, was never implemented; instead, the Alliance treated it as the ex post facto legitimization of the invasion, which by itself represented a criminal act.

‘Finishing the Job’

Although much has happened over the past eight years – the September 11, 2001 attacks supposedly "changed everything," but not really – the policy of Western powers in Kosovo has remained constant. The shocking display of hatred and violence in March of 2004, when Albanians engaged in a three-day, Kristallnacht-style pogrom against Serbs, was twisted by Albanian supporters into an argument for accelerated appeasement. Although the Bush administration had been content to leave the Clinton policy on Kosovo in place during its first mandate, in May 2005 it adopted the Balkans program championed by the recently defeated Democrats. One of its main points was independence for Kosovo.

As things became more grim in Iraq and Afghanistan, the determination and zeal of American diplomats to "win" in Kosovo became greater. In late 2005, the UN (under influence of Washington and London) launched "status talks" under the leadership of Martti Ahtisaari. The former president of Finland had been NATO’s errand-boy in 1999, and had worked with the rabidly pro-Albanian International Crisis Group since; his choice as the head negotiator should have been a clear indicator the process was a farce.

On February 2 this year, Ahtisaari presented his proposal for the status of Kosovo, which amounted to an independent Albanian state under semi-colonial EU patronage. As with Rambouillet, it was designed to be grudgingly accepted by the Albanians, and rejected out of hand by Serbia; this is precisely what happened. On March 11, Ahtisaari declared the "talks" over, claiming they were pointless.

Moscow and Belgrade

While the American and British policy in Kosovo has remained constant, changes have taken place in both Moscow and Belgrade since 1999. In Russia, the pro-American regime of Boris Yeltsin has been replaced by an assertive government led by Vladimir Putin. While Yeltsin had ruled Russia primarily with American assistance, Putin enjoys genuine popular support and has chosen to confront American belligerence.

Meanwhile, copious amounts of money, CIA training, propaganda and threats had resulted in the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic’s government in October 2000, and the successor governments had for several years fulfilled every demand from Washington and Brussels, and then some. Over the years, however, incessant abuse by the Empire had produced an opposite reaction in Serbia, and in 2006 the leading Imperial daily furiously assailed the leaders they once called "democratic" and "reformers" as "intransigent" nationalists – all because Belgrade would not accept to treat the 1999 rape as consensual.

As Empire’s frustrations mounted, the veneer of lies and obfuscations that had been wrapped around the Kosovo policy fell off, exposing a dangerously belligerent idea that had very little to do with the Albanians of Kosovo, or even the Serbs, but everything to do with the Cold War rivalry between the West and Russia.

A ‘New Battle’

Richard Holbrooke, Clinton’s hatchet-man in Bosnia who tried to do the same thing in Kosovo (and failed), resurfaced from political obscurity last year and became one of the most vocal advocates of independent Kosovo. His eyes are reportedly set on becoming the next Secretary of State, if the Democrats win the 2008 presidential election.

On March 12, Holbrooke published his regular monthly column in the Washington Post, claiming that if Kosovo were not given independence, there could be a new war in the Balkans. But rather than the Albanians who would start it, the responsibility would be on Moscow, which "sent the wrong signals" to Belgrade and obstructed Washington and London’s "peace" efforts.

Tim Judah, a pro-Albanian British commentator, described Holbrooke’s op-ed as "the first shot" in the new "battle of Kosovo," pitting the U.S. and (most of) the EU against Russia. According to Judah, the remaining dissidents within the EU – Spain, Slovakia, and Romania are mentioned – are being "brought into line" and their opposition to the proposed solution will be irrelevant. However, Imperial policymakers still cannot decide "whether the Russians mean what they say, or whether they are ratcheting up the tension as part of an eventual bargaining process by which they will extract concessions from the U.S. elsewhere."

Confrontation on the East River

It appears, however, that Moscow is actually serious. AFP reported that Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin stormed out of a Security Council session on Monday, accusing the current Kosovo viceroy Joachim Rucker of "giving a sermon" and "preaching independence" instead of a report on implementing his UN mandate. Meanwhile, an influential Russian lawmaker told Itar-Tass on Monday that "Russia has enough reasons for using… its right of veto" in the Security Council.

Nor is Moscow unaware of Holbrooke’s attack. On Sunday, Belgrade’s Vecernje Novosti daily quoted the Russian ambassador, Alexander Alexeev:

"Holbrooke’s words were in fact an incitement of violence and a malicious dig at Russia. Moscow doesn’t control anything in Kosovo, and is absolutely not responsible for the wrong way things have gone there since 1999. It has never promised anything to anyone, or given guarantees, or sent ‘personal messages.’ Nor does it have anything to do with half a million guns the Albanians have kept under the very noses of UNMIK and NATO’s military mission…"

On the other hand, AKI reports that the US envoy in the Security Council, Alejandro Wolf, "praised Rucker’s report as ‘objective and balanced’ and reiterated their support for Ahtisaari’s plan." And Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement on March 16 that virtually echoes one of the independence advocates’ talking points: "After almost eight years of United Nations interim administration, Kosovo and its people need clarity on their future."

If it weren’t so dangerous, the situation would be almost comical. Moscow is protesting the farcical "talks" and blatantly one-sided "compromises" that clearly violate the UN charter and the current UN resolution in place, while the UN – dominated by the Washington/Brussels axis – is alternating between "that’s just not true, everything is wonderful" and "la-la-la, we’re not listening."

True Colors

The 2003 invasion of Iraq, as illegal and illegitimate as the assault on Yugoslavia four years prior, may have caused the unraveling of the American imperial project. It seems, however, that it will be Kosovo – the "success" so beloved by liberal interventionists – where the Empire’s power will truly be tested.

NATO itself claims the bombing campaign was fought for "the establishment of a political agreement for Kosovo in conformity with international law and the Charter of the United Nations." Yet the invasion itself violated both, and the proposed "solution" does the same. For pointing this out, Russia is accused of "fomenting violence" – while its actual perpetrators, the separatist Albanians, are given a free pass.

Looked at from whichever angle, the policy of Washington, London and Brussels in Kosovo just doesn’t make any sense. Once one discards the official rhetoric about Albanian suffering, Serb repression, Milosevic’s legacy, self-determination and other such propagandistic drivel, it appears the only thing that remains is a thirst for power, and some unrequited aggression left over from the Cold War.

Perhaps the self-proclaimed "analysts" that parrot the official proclamations of the State Department, Foreign Office and whichever pompous bureaucracy in Brussels is their equivalent, should instead pay attention to the words of Nelson Strobridge Talbott III, former Deputy Secretary of State, who wrote the following in the introduction to the book by his former communications director, John Norris:

"It was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform – not the plight of Kosovo Albanians – that best explains NATO’s war." (pp. xxii-xxiii)

The end of the Cold War offered the American policymakers the temptation of asserting the U.S. as the ultimate power in the world, and expanding its influence all over the former Soviet bloc. It is the temptation they have been both unwilling and unable to resist. Yugoslavia – or, rather, what ended up being Serbia – was one of the few countries reluctant to submit to, let alone enthusiastically accept, this turn of events. The other one is Putin’s Russia.

The newly created Empire has thus set itself on a collision course with Russia over a patch of land in the southeast of Europe where many empires have clashed before. The arrogance, intransigence and belligerence of the American Empire have now produced a realistic threat that Bismarck’s prediction of a European war caused by "some damned foolish thing in the Balkans" could be fulfilled once again.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.