Thursday, June 21, 2007

The future of Kosovo: Europe's hour or, once again, Europe's (& America's) shame?


MOSCOW. (Lev Dzugayev, member of the RIA Novosti Expert Council) - The new architecture of the European Union, its expansion, and Russian-American ties are among the most frequently discussed issues in international relations.

They are directly connected to geopolitical events, which sometimes provoke justified concern.

I am not referring to "Polish meat imports," or the United States' protectionist policies, or Russia's unwillingness to sign the Energy Charter under unacceptable conditions.

I am deeply worried that some forces are trying to reopen Pandora's box, boldly thinking that they can deal with the consequences which promise disasters.

Europe has seen this before. It has suffered the shame of the Munich Agreement, which Neville Chamberlain, Benito Mussolini and Edouard Daladier signed with Nazi Germany in 1938. It paved the way for the Soviet-German non-aggression pact signed by Russia's Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and his German counterpart, Joachim von Ribbentrop, in 1939.

In 1938, Western Europe, trying to keep Hitler away from its borders, settled on the "appeasement" policy, although the Munich Agreement gave Germany the Sudetenland starting October 10, and de facto control over the rest of Czechoslovakia as long as Hitler promised to go no further.

In 1939, just 20 years after World War I, Europe was shaken by another global catastrophe. Western military historians put the blame for the Second World War on Soviet Russia, saying that the non-aggression pact it signed with Germany (a year after the Munich Agreement) led to the partition of Poland (which, I'd like to remind you, had taken part in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia the year before).

One of the lessons we have overlooked is that by ignoring the principle of cause and effect, we provoke new conflicts between countries.

Who has pulled out of the ABM Treaty? Who has not ratified the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe? Who is stubbornly moving towards the Russian border despite promises not to expand NATO eastward? Not Russia. Why put the blame on it then? This reminds me of what a Russian fable writer said: "The weak against the strong is always in the wrong."

This is why so many Western forces dislike Russia, which is struggling to regain its position on the global scene and the right to express its opinions, primarily about its own future.

The Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial on June 11, 2007: "Mr. Bush's principled stand on behalf of a small European nation's right to self-determination and freedom is America at its best in Europe. Not least when in the process Washington pushes back against an authoritarian leader in the Kremlin with neo-imperial designs on the Continent's eastern half."

But when President Vladimir Putin spoke up in defense of the rights and freedoms of Abkhazia and Ossetia, his position was described as destructive and neo-imperial.

According to an article entitled "Europe must now stand up to Russia over Kosovo" (Financial Times, May 25, 2007), "Independence (...) is the non-negotiable demand of the overwhelmingly ethnically Albanian population."

Why then is the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia negotiable, even though they demanded it at least seven years before Kosovo, while all the other circumstances are the same?

The Canadian Globe and Mail wrote on June 12, 2007: "No matter how fervently Serbians might wish it were otherwise, Kosovo is no longer part of their country. Serbian troops departed eight years ago, forced out at the end of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's bombing campaign. Since then, the territory has been administered by the UN and its security has come from a NATO-led peacekeeping force. The Albanians of Kosovo are nearly unanimous in their determination never again to be under Belgrade's thumb. It does not matter that Serbia has embraced democratic reforms or that it might be open to granting significant autonomy over local affairs."

Now, let's replace some of the words in the above quotation, and here is what we get:

"No matter how fervently Georgians might wish it were otherwise, Abkhazia (or South Ossetia) is no longer part of their country. Georgian troops departed nearly 15 years ago, forced out at the end of a campaign waged by Abkhazes and North Caucasian volunteers who supported them. Since then, the territory's security has come from a Russian-led peacekeeping force and UN and OSCE observers. Abkhazes (or Ossetians) are nearly unanimous in their determination never again to be under Tbilisi's thumb. It does not matter that Georgia has embraced democratic reforms or that it might be open to granting Abkhazia (or South Ossetia) significant autonomy over local affairs."

See the difference? No? Not surprising, for there is none. Why is the Kosovo situation unique then? Because it is located in the Balkans? Abkhazia and South Ossetia are located in the Caucasus, but this should not be important in terms of international law.

However, "there are no parallels to be drawn between the UN-administered Kosovo and such troubled regions as South Ossetia in Georgia," according to The Globe and Mail.

Yes, parallels must be drawn between the two areas. A Russian-led peacekeeping operation, which began 15 years ago, stopped the war between Georgians and Ossetians and prevented new ethnic clashes in the conflict zones. The Georgian enclave in South Ossetia lived peacefully by and large, and the two sides gradually restored trust, thanks to Russian peacekeepers' mediation.

However, the situation exploded in 2004, after Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in Georgia and acted on the recommendations of his "friends."

Meanwhile, an anti-Serb cleansing campaign was carried out in Kosovo, a UN-administered territory whose "security has come from a NATO-led peacekeeping force." Hundreds of thousands of Serbs fled their homes, and dozens of monuments of Serbian culture were destroyed. It is not surprising, therefore, that Western experts studying the situation in that province ask themselves what lies in store for Serbs, death or flight.

The G8 countries reportedly agreed at their summit in Germany that the Serbs and the Albanians of Kosovo should be given some time to continue talks. But several days later, U.S. President George W. Bush made it clear in Tirana that the only reasonable political solution for Kosovo was independence: "At some point in time, sooner rather than later, you've got to say enough is enough, Kosovo is independent."

According to The Financial Times, "The answer then is for European governments to bury any misgivings and, to borrow the cliche, stand shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. Germans need to talk less about the risks of confrontation with Russia, more about bringing to a permanent end the cycle of violence that began with Berlin's recognition of Croatia. [I find the latter phrase rather interesting, as we had been told before that it was Serbs who started the wave of violence] Spaniards, Greeks and the rest should forget about precedents. The stakes are too high to be held hostage to hypotheses.

"Rather, European governments, individually and collectively, should tell Moscow that, regardless of any Russian posturing at the UN, they intend to carry on with the process of moving Kosovo towards statehood. There will be no room for temporizing."

It appears that the U.S. will reject Putin's proposal to jointly use the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan, and will deploy its early warning radar and anti-missiles in direct proximity to the Russian border.

This reminds me of Emperor Augustus' last words: "Acta est fabula, plaudite!" (The play is over, applaud!).

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said upon returning from Munich in 1938: "My good friends, for the second time in our history a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time." Everyone knows what happened after that.

"This is the hour of Europe," cried M. Jacques Poos, the foreign minister of Luxembourg, when the fighting broke out in Yugoslavia in 1991. Now even the West admits that the violence that ensued was largely provoked by the hasty recognition of independence of some of Yugoslavia's constituent republics.

So what is it to be this time? Europe's hour or, once again, Europe's shame?

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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