Summer of Discontent

Though July is supposed to be a month of vacations in the northern hemisphere, dictated by the often murderous heat, it appears political temperatures have been spiking along with actual ones. Relations between Russia and the Empire continued to deteriorate rapidly, as the U.S., UK and France attempted to pass another resolution in the UN Security Council supporting the independence of Kosovo, while London expelled several Russian diplomats over Moscow’s refusal to extradite a suspect in a high-profile murder case.

There is more to Empire’s hostility towards Moscow that meets the eye. Russia’s opposition on Kosovo and its ongoing feud with London over extraditions are not mere inconveniences to the Empire, but rather a challenge to its entire paradigm. China’s growth and Russia’s assertiveness are a thorn in the eye of those who think that history has officially ended, and they have emerged victorious. To them, a far greater threat than international terrorism or murderous wars of occupation is the notion that someone, somewhere may not see them as masters of the universe. Their seemingly irrational hostility towards Moscow is driven not by old Cold War prejudice, or geopolitical concerns, but predominantly by fear.

Expulsions and Extraditions

Succeeding Tony Blair as the British Prime Minister and head of the Labour Party just days before a series of abortive terrorist attacks, Gordon Brown could have made the fight against terrorism the focus of his administration. Instead, he chose to assert his toughness by escalating a dispute with Moscow.

Earlier this week, the UK government expelled four Russian diplomats, citing Moscow’s refusal to extradite one Andrei Lugovoi for trial in Britain. According to the British, Lugovoi has been charged with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London last year.

Litvinenko, a former KGB agent, was connected to oligarch Boris Berezovsky. After Berezovsky was indicted and fled the country, Litvinenko began a campaign of accusing the Russian security services of a coup d’etat, political assassinations, and even false-flag terrorist attacks. Last November, Litvinenko died of radiation poisoning, allegedly caused by Polonium-210, which the British government alleges Lugovoi sprayed into his tea. It is a plot straight out of an Arkady Renko mystery – but Litvinenko’s death was gruesome and real. Moscow has denied involvement, of course.

Following Monday’s expulsions, Russia announced it would retaliate. So high was the anti-Russian hysteria that several British media reported on Tuesday that a flight of Russian bombers was headed into UK airspace. Moscow replied that this was a training flight, scheduled and announced months in advance, and that they remained in international airspace throughout.

Russian Ambassador to London argued that extradition of Russian nationals was against the constitution, and that British demands were impossible to meet. He also mentioned a longstanding sore point in Anglo-Russian relations, the fact that London gave asylum to Berezovsky and Chechen separatist leader Ahmed Zakayev.

"Those are separate matters," replied Brown’s spokesman. Yet how can they be? The UK gives asylum to people suspected of serious crimes in Russia, then demands the Russian government violate its constitution to extradite a murder suspect. Obviously, in British eyes, their pride is more important than Russian law. Or any law, for that matter.

The Kosovo Deadlock

How likely is it that the Lugovoi scandal was escalated as a means of pressure on Moscow over Kosovo? It’s impossible to tell. Russia continues to block the efforts of Washington, London and now Paris to separate the occupied province from Serbia. Even though Russia has rejected any plan for the province’s independence at the Heiligendamm meeting, the Kennebunkport summit, and again on Monday at the UN, London, Paris and Washington went ahead and introduced a new draft resolution before the Security Council on Wednesday.

"Almost the entire text and maybe particularly the annexes are permeated with the concept of independence," Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin explained Monday, and said the resolution’s chances of passing were "zero." Too bad, responded the French ambassador to the Security Council, saying that Paris, London and Washington "went as far as we could to accommodate the concerns of some members," and "cannot change what is the core of the text" (NY Times).

Sticking in Empire’s craw is the fact that the current resolution regulating the status of Kosovo and the UN/NATO occupation (1244, from June 1999) clearly guarantees the territorial integrity of Serbia. The only way around it would be a new UN resolution, something open-ended and meaningless, giving carte blanche to the Empire to put the independence of Kosovo into effect. Moscow has seen through the ruse, and it seems the UN track is now a dead end. But when has that stopped the Empire before?

According to EU foreign policy commissar Javier Solana, the Empire will shift its efforts to other venues, namely the illegitimate "Contact Group," and try to bypass the international law just as it did in 1995 (Bosnia) and 1999. Trouble is, back then the Russians were either compliant, or impotent. Now they are neither.

With the Albanians getting restless and the Empire seeking to topple the entire international order to have its way, no other aspect of the confrontation with Moscow has so much potential for violent fallout as Kosovo.

The Crumbling Myth

In April this year, an article appeared in the National Interest titled "Losing Mythic Authority." It was written by a security analyst at Johns Hopkins, Michael Vlahos, who had previously written a cautionary tale about the "Long War" on terror for the same magazine. Vlahos proposes, if rather forcefully, an interesting thesis: that America emerged as an Empire following WW2 because of a "mythic authority" acquired through its involvement in the conflict:

"America’s world authority was mythic authority, and the source of this myth was World War II. In that terrible war Americans sacrificed selflessly to save and redeem all humanity. Moreover (and just as importantly), America was so strong and committed to the world that its energies moved history. It was not ‘the victors get to write the history; it was incontrovertible, existential, absolute truth."

However, he argued further, while the U.S. remained powerful still, the authority that enabled the Empire to command the world has by now largely evaporated, as a result of post-9/11 wars:

"…we have squandered the World War II canon. We have lost its mythic authority. We are at the historical end of its protective embrace. We are on our own now. This intangible is the most significant, and in some ways surprising, consequence of the war."

One doesn’t have to agree with Vlahos to realize that Empire’s policymakers have harbored an obsession with World War Two for a while. In their minds, it is always 1938; every enemy is Hitler, every bush war is another Holocaust, and every intervention is D-Day. The same pattern was applied in Iraq not once but twice, and in the Balkans repeatedly throughout the 1990s.

This would also explain why Russia is so dangerous. Because the Soviet Union, whatever its many sins, was the key to defeating the Nazis, and has paid a horrific human cost in doing so. To Russians, the real war was on their soil; the much-glorified battles in Africa, Italy and France were a sideshow. That Russia seemed to accept the Anglo-American domination in the 1990s was more a reflection of the economic, political and demographic disaster that Communism and "transition" have inflicted on the country.

No longer on its knees, Russia refuses to pay homage to the "post-historical" imperialists in the West. It is withdrawing from treaties NATO never adhered to, blocking the Empire from legitimizing its aggression in Kosovo, and refusing to submit to British demands while the UK offers a save haven to its wanted fugitives. Russia’s "intransigence" is a cause for panic by the Imperialists, who still believe they are masters of the universe, even though everywhere around them their Empire is crumbling down.

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.