Enter the Veto

As the fact-finding mission of the UN Security Council arrives in Belgrade this morning, the war of words over the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo continues. Last week, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns warned of a "new conflict" if the province – dominated by ethnic Albanians – is not granted independence under the Ahtisaari plan.

Quite possibly, Burns meant an Albanian campaign of violence against Serbs, NATO troops and UN staff, much like the pogrom of 2004. But it is becoming clear that Washington’s insistence on independent Kosovo is creating a much more serious conflict – with Russia.

This Tuesday, Burns’s counterpart in Moscow, Vladimir Titov, said Russia would veto the Ahtisaari plan as unacceptable. Washington has downplayed Titov’s threat; State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the U.S. was "working to try and accommodate the concerns" of Moscow and Belgrade, but repeated that "it’s time to try to craft a solution that will over time be durable."

Even now, the Empire persists in belief that Russia’s opposition to the partition of Serbia is a tactical ploy, a bluff by a weak country that cannot influence the march of "democracy" in the Balkans. This belief will be sorely tested in the coming days.

Not the Same Russia

Monday’s death of Boris Yeltsin, who ruled Russia for half of its post-Soviet history, occasioned an outpour of nostalgia in the West but a much more sober reaction in Russia itself. But while Yeltsin was a "destroyer," whose policies left Russia in ruins, his successor Vladimir Putin has been a "creator" (Christian Science Monitor). That Yeltsin is celebrated in the West, while Putin is reviled, sends a pretty clear message to the Russians.

Even Yeltsin opposed the 1999 NATO attack on Yugoslavia, as illegal and illegitimate. His personal envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, took part in talks that eventually resulted in an armistice. Chernomyrdin’s partner, representing Imperial interests, was none other than Martti Ahtisaari. Many believe that Slobodan Milosevic accepted Ahtisaari’s proposal in 1999 because Chernomyrdin supposedly assured him Russian troops would be present in Kosovo to keep NATO in check. Despite the surprise Russian deployment to Pristina ahead of the advancing NATO troops (and their KLA allies), Moscow’s plan fizzled when new NATO clients, Romania and Bulgaria, refused to allow Russian reinforcements to fly over their territory. The Alliance then occupied Kosovo on its own terms, de facto making Chernomyrdin and Yeltsin enablers of its illegal conquest.

Those in Washington, London and Brussels who now press for Kosovo independence are by and large the same people who played a major role in the 1999 NATO invasion. They may not realize it, but their opposition in Moscow is no longer the drunken, indecisive, old Yeltsin, but a government that refuses to be bullied by the West any more, and is looking for payback.

Commitment to What?!

Last week, Undersecretary Burns told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs that the U.S. was "absolutely committed to bringing about Kosovo’s independence. With your support, I believe we are capable of achieving a historic, bipartisan success for U.S. foreign policy."

To illustrate precisely what the U.S. was committed to, consider these words by the committee’s chairman, Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA):

"Just a reminder to the predominantly Muslim-led government[s] in this world that here is yet another example that the United States leads the way for the creation of a predominantly Muslim country in the very heart of Europe. This should be noted by both responsible leaders of Islamic governments, such as Indonesia, and also for jihadists of all color and hue. The United States’ principles are universal, and in this instance, the United States stands foursquare for the creation of an overwhelmingly Muslim country in the very heart of Europe." (emphasis added)

Yes, that is correct. A senior U.S. lawmaker actually used Kosovo as an example of U.S. commitment to advancing a jihadist cause!

Now, one could argue back and forth the connection between Kosovo Albanians and international Islamic terrorists. Although the Albanians officially deny it and claim their struggle is nationalist in nature, the KLA has engaged in ritual beheadings, for example, and there are plenty of threads connecting Osama bin Laden, Albania and the KLA. Albanians themselves are seen as Muslims one minute, secular the next, depending on what fits the agenda of their sponsors in the West.

Just this past week, a leader of a Wahhabi terrorist group was killed in a firefight with Serbian police in a region of Raska (Sanjak), northwest of Kosovo. Media in Belgrade have speculated since early March that an upsurge in Wahhabi violence was coming as part of the strategy to pressure Serbia on Kosovo. Germany’s ambassador to Belgrade, the unfortunate Andreas Zobel, had also brought up the possibility of unrest in Raska, which has a significant Muslim minority. Now that the Serbian police have found a terrorist training camp and arrested armed Wahhabis, what was in the realm of conspiracy theories appears to have become quite real. One might recall that the KLA itself started out as a rumor.

Against the Odds

Washington, Brussels and London are doing everything in their power to bully Belgrade and Moscow into accepting an independent, Albanian-dominated Kosovo under EU and NATO protection, presenting that outcome as inevitable and any opposition to it as "defying reality."

Is it?

One of the oft-repeated warnings is that the Albanians would respond with violence if their desires are not fulfilled. To this, Russia’s Titov responds: "We find it surprising that the Kosovo Albanians are blackmailing the international community with a bloodbath in the province if they are denied independence. This is utterly unacceptable."

Not to the U.S., NATO and the EU, apparently. Remember, they want to send a message to the jihadists about how "principled" they are. Too bad their "principles" violate the established norms of international law, and rely instead on propaganda and brute force.

Bullying doesn’t appear to be working, though, and attempts to weaken Belgrade’s resolve through secret talks and rumors of partition have failed as well. Neither Serbia nor Russia are showing any signs that their commitment is wavering. Empire’s conviction that they are bluffing is a classical example of wishful thinking. Russia is definitely not the same country that got double-crossed in 1999. For that matter, neither is Serbia. Empire’s might looks far less impressive today than it did back then, too.

When all of this is added up, it is hard to escape the impression that it’s the Empire, rather than Serbia or Russia, that is facing long odds in its "absolute commitment" to the Kosovo Albanian cause.

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 Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.