NATO started bombing Yugoslavia on March 24, 1999, allegedly in reply to ethnic cleansing campaigns and the ousting of Albanians from Kosovo. Today, five years after it, one can say that the result of NATO actions was diametrically opposite to the goals proclaimed at the beginning of the military operation. The Western powers, which spoke about their desire to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo, actually provoked it. Large-scale ethnic persecution campaigns against Serbs, Gypsies, Jews, Turks and all other non-Albanian groups began in Kosovo with the deployment of "blue helmets." Since then, about 400,000 have fled the province.
The campaign of creating an "ethnically pure Kosovo," launched with NATO connivance by Albanian extremists who seized power in the region, has had its ups and downs, with another aggravation, apparently planned in advance, in Kosovo Mitrovice in the past few days. As a result, more than a score Serbs were killed and hundreds forced to leave the province, Serb villages and churches torched, anti-Serb hysteria is gaining momentum and new demands for the independence of Kosovo have been made by Albanian extremists. These demands run counter to UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which seals the territorial integrity of the former Yugoslavia (and now Serbia and Montenegro), Kosovo as its inalienable part.
In fact, Kosovo has long escaped the jurisdiction of Belgrade and turned into a mandate territory of NATO, whose peacekeepers do not control the situation in the province. Albanian extremists are its true masters. Their terrorist organisation - the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), against which fought ex-President Slobodan Milosevic, who is now facing the Hague tribunal on charges of ethnic persecution - has not been dissolved after the deployment of the NATO forces in the province, though the bloc had pledged to disarm the bandits.
But the KLA only changed its name to the Kosovo Protection Corps, whose "men and officers" not only bring death and destruction to the province but also make raids to the southern districts of Serbia, where they attack people and even police stations. The KLA bandits also infiltrate Macedonia, joining the local Albanian extremists, fanning their separatism and encouraging them to begin an armed struggle for the "independence" of Albanians. As a result of the legalisation of the KLA through the creation of the Kosovo Protection Corps, dozens of bandits received posts in the province's bodies of authority and are now applying their extremist ideas quite legally.
Regrettably, many politicians in the West are encouraging the separatist plans of Albanian extremists, saying that in this situation, there is no alternative to the independence of Kosovo, as US ex-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright used to say. This is an extremely dangerous stand, as it implies not only the creation of an independent state of Kosovo but also the implementation of a more ambitious plan of creating Greater Albania, which would incorporate Albania, Kosovo, and a part of Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece. The appearance in Europe of such a state as a result of border re-carving, with a quickly growing population of 6-7 million, would seriously change the situation in the Balkans and the rest of Europe. It would thus become extremely difficult to get rid of the Balkan splinter.
Kosovo has calmed down a bit now after several days of Serb pogroms, and President Ibrahim Rugova has even announced a day of mourning for the dead. But this calm, ensured by the emergency deployment of additional KFOR units and harsh military-police measures, is deceptive and, worst still, temporary. There will be a new outbreak of violence, which can grow to dangerous proportions, because the Kosovo problem has not been solved and the West does not seem willing to bring to order the unruly extremists who made terror the main instrument of implementing their separatist plans.
Moscow believes that the situation in Kosovo can be stabilised if the sides strictly abide by Resolution 1244 and Belgrade's jurisdiction over Kosovo is restored in practice. "Regrettably, the Albanian leaders seldom fulfil the demands of the Security Council," Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the other day in an interview with a Russian television channel. "Besides, some Western spokesmen closed their eyes to this and did not call Albanians to their senses in time. The recent tragedy in Mitrovice confirmed our fears that such connivance with the Albanians' intention to cleanse the province of other ethnic groups is harmful and dangerous." The minister added that Russia demands compliance with the basic provisions of the settlement sealed by the UN Security Council.
Ethnic groups cannot live at peace with each other in Kosovo, and so we should probably accept the idea of Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica on dividing Kosovo into ethnic cantons. This scheme is actually used in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where Serbs and Muslims have been living separately after the hostilities of the early 1990s.
To restore order in Kosovo, the world should really disarm the KLA or whatever it is called now and call to account the Albanian "hawks," such as Hasim Taci, ex-leader of the KLA who has become a "respected politician" and the leader of the so-called Democratic Party of Kosovo. He committed many crimes in the past and is playing politics in Kosovo now, politics that is fraught with violence and might eventually blow up the Balkans.
Prof. Vladimir VOLKOV, director of the Institute of Slavic Studies (Russian Academy of Sciences)