Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Balkan Wars Loom on the Horizon

by Pyotr Iskenderov for Strategic Culture Magazine

The contours of the Kosovo separatists' plan to suppress the Serbian resistance in the northern part of the province with the help of the US and the EU are getting increasingly visible. The statements emanating from Pristina and the intensifying international debates over the Kosovo theme do not only show that the Albanian separatists are preparing an attack against their opponents but also give an idea of its potential scenario, the distribution of roles in it, and the extent to which Hashim Thaci and other former leaders of the terrorist Kosovo liberation army are relying on the international support in the process.

The debates at the January 22 open session of the UN Security Council on Kosovo were unprecedentedly heated. It was the first time since the summer of 2007 (when Russia managed to derail the Resolution recognizing the Kosovo independence, proposed by the West on the basis of UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari's plan) that the parties to the dispute over Kosovo defined their positions with such utmost clarity. There was an impression that the world's major powers were speaking different languages. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the US, and West European countries “urged flexibility” in admitting Kosovo to regional and international mechanisms and forums, whereas Russia and Serbia regarded the approach as an attempt to dilute the role of the UN in the province and to legitimize its independent status. The discussions were centered around Pristina's so-called final solution plan for North Kosovo, which Thaci inadvertently unveiled several days prior to the session. He said the plan was being drafted jointly with the international representatives and was aimed at strengthening what he called Kosovo sovereignty and territorial integrity. Thaci said 2010 would be the year of consolidation for Kosovo. The priorities in the framework of the plan include the elimination of the Serbian self-government established in Kosovska Mitrovica and nearby Serbian communities based on the May, 2008 elections held in accord with the laws of Serbia. Another blow will be dealt to Serbian police forces and custom service, which at the moment are maintaining at least partial control over the traffic across the administrative border between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia.

NATO's KFOR deployed in Kosovo will render military assistance to Albanians. There is information that on the whole the corresponding decision was made during Commander of Joint Force Command Naples, Admiral Mark Fitzgerald's January visit to Kosovo, after which he described the Serbian self-government as... a threat to the security of Kosovo. “All violations of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 pose a threat to security. Since the resolution does not approve of parallel institutions, they are cause for concern”, said Fitzgerald.

Pristina's priority is the international support for the operation, which the US and the EU are supposed to ensure. The US will be blocking the attempts by Russia and China to have a response resolution passed by the UN Security Council. At the same time Brussels will be exerting ever greater pressure on Serbia to make it deny support to the Serbs of Kosovo and seal off the border with the province so as not let Serbian volunteers reach Albania.

Chances are that the operation will be launched already next April after the International Court of Justice issues an indefinite verdict on the Kosovo independence and the establishment of the Mitrovica municipality headed by Albanians and the few Serbs ready to cooperate with them.

Serbia's pro-Western President B. Tadic spoke with great caution of the anti-Serbian plan harbored by Pristina, NATO, and the EU, essentially saying little more than that the “final solution” promised nothing good to the Kosovo population. Russia's Deputy Permanent Representative to UN I. Shcherbak was much more outspoken. He said that from Russia's standpoint it is necessary to arrest decisively any attempts to float concepts harmful to Kosovo regardless of their source, as they do not only breach UN Security Council Resolution 1244 but also destabilize the province and provoke tensions.

There is information that the plan was co-authored by EU Special Representative and UN Civil Administration head Pieter Feith. The Administration was established in the spring of 2008, shortly after the declaration of the Kosovo independence and its recognition by the US and major EU counties. The Administration that no UN documents regulate comprises representatives of 14 EU and NATO countries and Switzerland, which are implementing the Ahtisaari plan, a EU brainchild the UN Security Council never approved. It is noteworthy that Kosovo separatist government foreign minister Skender Hyseni who represented Kosovo at the UN Security Council session made no comments concerning the plan for the northern part of Kosovo. Speaking to the media after the session, he claimed without elaborating that the EU mission and the Civic Administration were not promoting any final solutions for North Kosovo.

A survey of recent developments leads to the conclusion that the blueprint for suppressing the Serbian resistance in Kosovo is being drafted at a level much higher than that of the province. Given its basic parameters (a snap offensive supported by the NATO and EU pseudo-peacekeepers with international political backing plus the installation of a puppet administration), the plan for a final solution for North Kosovo is similar to the one Georgian President M. Saakashvili had in mind launching an attack against South Ossetia in August, 2008. Even the stated objectives – the restoration of the constitutional jurisdiction in Saakashvili's wording – is the same in both cases.

Even earlier, in August, 1995, a similar scenario was imposed on the Serbs of Krajina when Croatia sent regular army forces to attack them while the US and the EU backed the operation diplomatically. Actually, at that time the diplomatic support played no practical role as neither Yugoslavia nor the Russian leadership demonstrated any will to help Serbian Krajina in its tragedy. Yugoslavian leader S. Milosevic took more interest in getting rid of his competitors R. Karadzic and R. Mladic with the hands of the international community, and Moscow paid little if any attention to the whole Balkan theme.

It is hard to predict the outcome of the current developments as the Bosnian front, no less important to Serbs, Russia, and the Orthodoxy, is likely to gain a place on the map of the new Balkan war alongside the Kosovo one. Outgoing Croatian President Stipe Mesic said the Republic's army should launch an offensive against the Bosnian Serb Republic in case it holds a Kosovo-style self-determination referendum.

The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina will get strained soon as Bosnian Serbs are going to hold a referendum on their constitutional status. Its aim is not to let the leaders of Sarajevo, US and EU put an end to Republika Srpska. The outgoing Croatian President, Stjepan Mesic, promised that in case the referendum takes place, the regular army of Croatia will enter the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina to cut off the 15-km Posavina corridor, which connects the western and the eastern parts of Republika Srpska in the area of Brcko, close to the Croatian border.

“If Milorad Dodik (Prime Minister of Republika Srpska) decides to hold a referendum on separation, I will send the troops to divide the region inhabited by the Bosnian Serbs”,- the Croatian President said, adding that in case of success, a sovereign state of Bosnian Serbs will 'seize to exist'. He made the announcement during an informal press-conference in Zagreb on January 18.

A military campaign against Banjaluka may be held simultaneously with an armed action by Kosovo`s Albanian authorities against the city of Kosovska Mitrovica and Serbian communities in Northern Kosovo. In this case the US, NATO and the EU will manage to complete separation of the Serbian territories. The Serbian Republic will be surrounded by hostile states and thus will be no longer able to carry out independent foreign policy. The defeat of the Kosovan and Bosnian Serbs will become Russia`s biggest loss in the Balkans over the past two decades and will harm Moscow's attempts to play an active role in other strategically important regions in Eurasia.

The first reaction of Serbia and Russia to such rude interference of the Croatian leader into affairs of the neighboring state was surprisingly reserved. Serbia's President Boris Tadic made an attempt to respond to the remarks made by his Croatian counterpart at the UN Security Council meeting on Kosovo on January 22. But he commented on the issue not during his main speech (though parallels between what was going on then in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo were more than obvious). He spoke during the debates because he found such kind of issues could not be discussed during official reports. Mr. Tadic also met the UN Chief Ban Ki-moon to tell him that Mesic`s 'dangerous words were unwelcome in political discourse' but immediately noted that Serbia did not want to worsen relations with Croatia.

Such peace-loving rhetoric was accepted in Zagreb. Croatia's Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor told journalists that Serbia and Croatia should abandon debates and work together to develop neighborly relations. However, the Prime Minister did not disavow the President's announcement.

Russia's reaction is still too vague. Summing up the results of 2009 at the press-conference on January 22 in Moscow, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov commented on Mr. Mesic`s announcement: “We insist that all the sides involved respect the Dayton Agreement and avoid the use of force”. (1)

Meanwhile, the way the situation is developing in the region in recent months proves quite the contrary: the West and the leaders of Sarajevo are definitely going to undermine the Dayton agreement. Two rounds of talks held by the heads of the Bosnian political parties in October 2009 at a NATO base in Butmir outside Sarajevo, revealed the the western strategy toward Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Bosnian Serbs are demanded to abdicate their authorities settled in the Dayton Peace Agreement. Though formally Russia is a member of the Dayton Agreement Peace Implementation Council, it did not take part in the discussions in Butmir. So, it would be a fatal mistake to expect the US, EU and NATO to abandon their new political course. It would also mean to be inexcusably weak in regard to Russia's interests in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Balkans in general.

It was not accidentally that the International Crisis Group, which traditionally deals with promoting the western political propaganda in conflict regions, in every detail commented on the future of the Balkans a few months before the recent events. Experts in the Group believe that Moscow and Belgrade remain the West`s major rivals in the region because “an international approach to the Balkans is dominated by concern over Serbia`s reaction to the independence of Kosovo”. In their opinion, Russia “has become stronger to oppose to the Western policy it sees hostile to its interests”. (2)

Under these circumstances, Moscow should better revise its policy in the Balkans. Russian diplomats should no longer view the Dayton agreements as too weak to withstand political attacks. This all will make it logical to put in question political status of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This approach will help Moscow no longer be an outsider in Bosnia and launch a series of international talks on territorial, political and ethnocultural problems in the Balkans, where peoples and their interests are in jeopardy. Taking into consideration intentions of the West to put an end to the Serbian Orthodox community in the Balkans, revision of the existing borders in the conflict regions may become the only way for Russia to defend its interests. As of today, there are at least three self-proclaimed states which statuses are being doubted: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia. Their territorial and administrative revision could become the least painful way to avoid new wars in the Balkans.

It is remarkable that recently the authorities of Sarajevo have been urging Russia to contribute to the 'implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement', the Bosniak Muslim member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Haris Silajdzic, said at the meeting with the Russian special envoy for Kosovo, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko. And this is a very disturbing sign because Silajdzic has long been known for his extremist views about Republika Srpska. The majority of people in Western Europe cannot but be aware that the Bosnian Serbs remain the only counterbalance to radical pan-Islamic tendencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And this it what gives Russia the right to boost its activities in the Balkans.

Dr. Petr A. Iskenderov is a historian, senior researcher at the Institute for Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Science, and the Vremya Novostey and the Voice of Russia radio station international politics commentator.
(2)Bosnia`s Incomplete Transition: Between Dayton and Europe. Sarajevo-Brussels, 2009. P.14