Haunting Heiligendamm

Shadows of the Cold War stalked the German spa resort of Heiligendamm this week, as the annual G-8 summit got underway. Relations between Russia and the United States have grown steadily worse for months. The latest animosity can be traced to Washington’s belligerent insistence on severing the occupied province of Kosovo from Serbia, and deploying anti-missile installations in eastern Europe, ostensibly to protect the U.S. from "rogue states."

Washington points the finger at Moscow, blaming president Vladimir Putin for being an "autocrat" and "authoritarian," undermining democracy, stifling opposition and conducting a belligerent foreign policy. The same reporters and thinktanks who clamored for an illegal invasion of Iraq because "Saddam had WMDs" are now expounding on Russia’s belligerence and threat to peace, freedom, and puppies.

One reason, certainly, is the dominance of "neoconservatives" in the U.S. ruling circles – people who clawed their way to power in the 1980s by harping about the (nonexistent) new threats from the Soviet Union and a need for a more "assertive" policy. Faced with the ongoing disaster that is the "War on Terror" – conveniently not mentioned by name any more – the neocons revert to type and seek a new conflict, this time with Moscow.

Russia Resurgent

The neocons have hated Vladimir Putin for years, mostly because he refused to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor. When Boris Yeltsin died in mid-April, he was eulogized in the West as a hero of democracy and liberator of the Russian people. In Russia itself, the reaction was far different, as Russians remembered an age of oligarchs, economic privation, lawlessness and humiliation. For while Moscow’s military power commanded respect and fear during the Cold War, in its aftermath Russia was reduced to a helpless observer as Washington fashioned an American Empire across the entire world.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the 1999 NATO attack on Serbia, waged not only against the UN charter but also against NATO’s own founding document. NATO was revealed not as a defensive pact, but an aggressive vehicle of the United States for achieving global hegemony. And thanks to the years of enlargement contrary to promises made to Moscow, it sat right on Russia’s doorstep.

It is 1999 no longer. Russia has become much stronger economically and politically, thanks in part to its natural resources but also because of Putin’s internal reforms that have cracked down on crime, corruption and abuses of power. Most importantly, it was no longer willing to acquiesce to demands from Washington, but demanded to be treated as an equal.

In February, President Putin gave a speech at a conference in Munich, accusing the U.S. of attempting to become the world hegemon. "The United States has overstepped its borders in all spheres – economic, political and humanitarian, and has imposed itself on other states," he said (BBC). This much is manifestly obvious to the casual observer. Yet the U.S. response was denial, followed by accusations of Russian belligerence!

Conjured Reality

That the West can make such an accusation with a straight face (or at least a snarling mask of self-righteousness firmly on) illustrates a complete disconnect from reality. Remember, the neocons are convinced that their actions shape reality and create facts on the ground, while the rest of the world remains the "reality-based community."

Russia’s latest refusal to acquiesce in Empire’s attempts at imposing facts concerns the very same spot in the Balkans that jump-started the transformation in Moscow. For months now, Washington and London have been heralding the "inevitable" independence of the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo, which they envision as a "supervised" state dominated by ethnic Albanians. Moscow will have none of it; such a proposal is simply illegal and unacceptable, foreign minister Ivanov and Ambassador Lavrov have said repeatedly.

Supporters of Kosovo independence continue to claim they are "puzzled" and "baffled" by Russian opposition. Moscow’s straightforward explanation, that forcibly separating a region from a sovereign state is illegal and would set a dangerous precedent, is dismissed out of hand. Instead, Imperial media and talking heads have come up with conspiracy theories such as "Slavic solidarity" and a desire to "provoke the West."

It is the "West," however, that has done the provoking. American support for Albanian separatists in Kosovo, dating back to the early 1990s, has always been a tool for destabilizing Serbia. Tensions in Kosovo have, of course, existed prior to American involvement; trouble in that particular region goes back to Ottoman times, over a century ago. They exploded into open warfare because the Albanian separatists had overt U.S. support. As former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott noted in a book about the conflict, "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."

It was never about the Albanians. Bush the Lesser’s impending visit to Albania under heavy armed guard illustrates the point perfectly: Albanians are useful as a weapon pointed at America’s enemies, but hardly "allies" that can be trusted. Or have Americans already forgotten the Fort Dix Six?

Pattern of Subversion

Russia, for its part, is keenly aware that Serbia is being treated the way Washington wants to treat Moscow, if only it could. Accepting Kosovo independence would mean acceptance of arbitrary aggression, which would be used against Moscow soon enough. The war in Kosovo was followed by a "revolution" staged by the Americans in the fall of 2000 – and replicated later in Ukraine, Georgia, and unsuccessfully in Belarus. Now there is an "opposition" movement in Russia itself, funded by the Empire and organized along the lines of Otpor, Pora, Kmara and other such "popular movements" who existed only so long as the suitcases of cash kept coming.

Hence, there is nothing mysterious or puzzling in Russia’s refusal to enable Washington’s hegemonic drive in the Balkans. By protecting Serbia, Russia protects itself – and the rest of the world, for what that is worth. This is old-fashioned self-interest through principle, a much more coherent – not to mention moral – foreign policy than power through intimidation.

Empire, Afraid

Former Secretary-General of the UN, Boutros Boutros-Ghali is quoted as saying that it took him "some time before I fully realized that the United States sees little need for diplomacy. Power is enough. Only the weak rely on diplomacy… The Roman Empire had no need for diplomacy. Nor does the United States."

Indeed, one of the trademarks of the American Empire has been that it does not negotiate, but rather dictate. It does not request cooperation, but rather demands compliance. It has no real allies or partners – only servants and victims.

But when the servants refuse to serve any more, and the victims fight back… how long can the Empire last?

The angry snarling at Russia is not a display of power. It’s a display of fear.

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.