Russia and NATO's war

Issue 

By Boris Kagarlitsky

MOSCOW — After what has happened to thousands of Albanians in Kosova, it is hard to argue that the West has helped them. Washington can put on a brave face while declaring that they anticipated everything and that the expulsion of the Albanians was inevitable. But if they were so well informed, why did they not make preparations for accepting, housing, clothing and feeding the refugees? Why is it that they cannot solve this problem?

Might it be that the people who are organising the war need to have thousands of refugees in Macedonia and Albania, the perfect background for propagandist reporting, for justifying continuing military actions?

Now that it is clear that air strikes will not achieve anything, demands are growing for ground forces to be sent to Yugoslavia — ostensibly to help the refugees get home.

But once Kosova's economy has been destroyed, and the entire province has been turned into something like a gigantic bullseye, returning the refugees to Kosova would be no less a crime than expelling them. There is neither work, nor an infrastructure, nor housing. Regardless of who wins the war, Kosova has become unfit for habitation.

The United States can, of course, promise to put Kosova back in working order after the war, though it has so far been unable to do this even for the South Bronx, in its own country. Funds can be assigned, but given the present social and political context in the Balkans, it is not hard to predict how things will finish up; according to some reports, there is already massive theft of resources allocated to helping the refugees.

It may be that Clinton still dreams of a victorious war. But anyone who is at all familiar with the real situation must understand: given the present nature of Yugoslav society, the only way the US can win is through wholesale slaughter of the Serbs. Once NATO runs out of "strategic targets", it has to start destroying everything else.

It has to go into Belgrade and fight for every building, just like in Grozny. What it needs for this is not a mere 200,000 ground troops, but around 1.5 million, and neither the US nor western Europe is capable of sending cannon fodder in such quantities.

Western interests

The West has been unwilling to get involved in Rwanda or Turkey, so why has it intervened in Yugoslavia? The answer is clear: human rights and ethnic conflicts are no more than a pretext. The West intervenes when and where its own strategic interests dictate.

The champions of intervention declare that when someone is being beaten up in the street, you have to call the police. Black residents of New York, however, have a quite different experience of the police. Foreigners in Rio de Janeiro are immediately warned: whatever happens, don't call the police; it will only make things worse.

And not everyone who wields a club acts on the basis of the law. The intervention in Yugoslavia, without the sanction of the United Nations, is a violation of international law and of NATO's own charter.

One of the most important strategic goals of the war is precisely to destroy the existing system of international law, which is being replaced by the principle "Might is right". The actions of NATO in the Balkans amount to banditry in the literal, juridical sense of the word.

The West is bombing Yugoslavia not in order to save the Kosova Albanians, but in order to fulfil the agreement Western diplomats drew up at Rambouillet. Everyone knows that this agreement provides for the introduction into Kosova of NATO forces subject neither to the UN nor to any legal norms aside from those set out in the agreement itself.

But the agreement provides for the occupation not only of Kosova. Appendix B, "Status of Multi-National Military Implementation Force", grants NATO freedom of movement "throughout all Yugoslavia", that is, Serbia and Montenegro as well as Kosova.

Article 8 of this appendix reads: "NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] including associated airspace and territorial waters. This shall include, but not be limited to, the right of bivouac, manoeuvre, billet and utilisation of any areas or facilities required for support, training, and operations."

Article 6 guarantees the occupying forces absolute immunity. "NATO personnel, under all circumstances and at all times, shall be immune from the Parties' jurisdiction in respect of any civil, administrative, criminal or disciplinary offence which may be committed by them in the FRY." Article 10 secures NATO the cost-free use of all Yugoslav streets, ports and airports.

The threat

It is not surprising that Russia perceives what is happening in the Balkans as a direct threat to its own security. Now that the epoch of Boris Yeltsin is coming to an end and the undivided hegemony of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in our country is vanishing, NATO is moving rapidly to the east.

People in Moscow are convinced that the North Atlantic bloc has taken to using force without the sanction of the UN precisely because this spares it the need to take account of the interests of Russia, China and the countries of the Third World. To us, the meaning of this is all too obvious: one of the reasons the Serbs are being bombed is to frighten the Russians.

Slobodan Milosevic was legally elected to his post (and his nearest rivals were even more nationalist than he). The Yeltsin presidency in Russia is drawing to an end, and the country is on the brink of major changes. What are we to do if the next US administration does not like the results of free elections in Russia?

Here, most people agree with the proposition that, compared to the US, Milosevic represents a lesser evil. This is not in the moral sense, but in the most directly physical one. Milosevic's country is smaller and so is his army. Outside the Balkans he cannot threaten anyone. But the US is able to bomb anyone it likes, when it likes, on any pretext or none at all.

The Russian population has been outraged at the bombing. This is not the result of "Slavic brotherhood" or "Orthodox solidarity" (the authority of the church in Russia is declining rapidly). We know perfectly well what Milosevic represents; Russian television has not concealed the Serbian atrocities in Kosova.

The problem for Russia, however, is not Serbia, but the US. Throughout the past decade US governments have interfered constantly in Russia's internal affairs, supporting politicians who have suited the US, but have not suited most of us.

Over the past two years a great deal has changed in Russia. People are anxious to avenge themselves for everything which has been done to their country over the past 10 years — for the deceptions (we were promised that once Germany was reunified NATO would not expand to the east), for the plunder by Western banks and for the bombarding of our parliament with the support of Western democracies.

The Balkans war has caused a powerful upwelling of anti-Western feeling, above all among the younger generation, which has grown up in the era of neo-liberal reforms and IMF domination.

This generation is reacting painfully to the humiliation of their country, to the lack of prospects for social advancement, to the lack of good jobs and quality education. For them, the West is no longer a romantic, inaccessible world of freedom, but an irresponsible, cynical and aggressive force unwilling to allow others to live as they choose.

The present world system is built on fear, on the threat of repression for those who refuse to privatise their assets and open their markets, and on the threat of military reprisals for those who will not submit to the political demands of the West. Clinton, Blair and other Western leaders are now hated and feared by the majority of humanity.

But that fear is gradually being replaced by desperate courage and the will to resist. Each time we learn that a Soviet rocket in Yugoslavia has downed a US aircraft (and this happens far more often than the functionaries in Brussels admit), we are gladdened. Hundreds of millions of people in the Third World, and even in the eastern European states that have recently joined NATO, are gladdened as well.

A victory for Milosevic would be a tragedy for the Albanians, and perhaps for the Serbs as well. However, a victory for NATO would be a catastrophe for all humanity.