On 17 February, Kosovo’s ethnic-Albanian dominated parliament declared Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. In declaring independence, Hasin Thaci, the prime minister of the would-be state, said: “from this moment on, Kosovo is proud, independent and free”. For his part, the Serbian prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, countered this claim, saying: “Kosovo is and will forever be Serbia.”
Belgrade has threatened economic sanctions against Kosovo and to downgrade diplomatic relations with countries that recognise Kosovo’s independence; thus is the stage set for yet more conflict in the Balkans.
But before we deal with the ramifications of the declaration of Kosovan independence, and the recognition of it by some of the most powerful imperialist countries, it would not be out of place to refer briefly to the imperialist war against Yugoslavia, which tore Kosovo out of Yugoslavia, turning it into a Nato protectorate, which it is set to continue to be under the facade of independence.
On 24 March 1999, the war-mongering neo-Nazi Nato alliance began a brutal predatory war against tiny Yugoslavia that lasted for 78 days. During this war, 1,000 Nato warplanes and cruise missiles hit Yugoslav targets, destroying bridges, hospitals, television studios, industrial plants, schools and residential complexes.
Day in and day out, American F11 and B-52 bombers, French Mirage fighters and British Harriers, unable to degrade the Yugoslav military, wreaked havoc on civilian targets; two US B-52 stealth bombers, deployed for the first time in a theatre of war, each costing £1.45bn, flew non-stop from their base in Missouri to Yugoslavia to drop their deadly load of 32 satellite-guided 1-ton bombs, priced at £5m each.
In this unjust imperialist war, 19 Nato countries, with a combined population of 600 million, possessed of unbelievable wealth, equipped with the most sophisticated killing machines that modern technology can provide, and with a combined military budget of $500bn a year (it is much more today, for the US alone now spends more than that on the military), pounded tiny Yugoslavia, whose population was the equivalent of that of Greater London.
In the course of this war, the Nato Nazis flew 35,778 sorties and carried out 12,000 strikes, dropping 35,000 cluster bombs; they exposed the population to poisonous gases resulting from attacks on fuel storage and chemical plants; they rendered 2 million people jobless owing to the destruction of their places of work; and they killed 1,500 civilians, 476 soldiers and 114 police officers, while wounding 6,000 civilians. In addition, Nato’s bombing killed 10,000 of the ethnic Albanians they had allegedly come to ‘save’.
A predatory war
The leading imperialist powers waged this war against Yugoslavia in the name of the fraudulent slogans of ‘humanitarianism’ and the ‘preservation of peace and stability’. The true heirs of Hitlerite fascism claimed to be fighting against the allegedly fascist regime of Slobodan Milosevic; the perpetrators of a large humanitarian catastrophe pretended to be engaged in averting such a catastrophe; the very monsters who had supervised ethnic cleansing on a vast scale in Croatia and Bosnia, and who were to go on to repeat this experiment in Kosovo, cynically asserted that their brutal war, in violation of international law, was motivated by the purely altruistic desire to stop ethnic cleansing.
Even the blind could see through Nato’s barefaced lies. The sustained round-the-clock bombardment of Yugoslavia’s civilian population did not sit easily with Nato’s assertion that it was acting in the name of human rights within the boundaries of that sovereign state.
All the same, compliant journalists and docile backbenchers, not to speak of the CIA remittance men (to borrow the apt expression of the late Alan Clark, a right-wing Conservative MP and one-time defence minister), enthusiastically went along with, and gave currency to, Nato’s Nazi-style propaganda.
Even more shamefully, many on the ‘left’ seemed “to get a vicarious thrill from seeing B-52s taking off from Fairford”, as Alan Clark correctly and scathingly put it at the time.
Imperialist war for domination
The war against Yugoslavia, as progressive people pointed out at the time, was not fought for considerations of humanitarianism, human rights and democracy.
On the contrary, it was a rapacious war waged by the most bloodthirsty group of imperialist countries on behalf of the robber barons and financial magnates of monopoly capitalism – in the interests of a handful of giant monopolies. It was war of rapine, whose aim was to seize territory, spheres of influence, markets and avenues for the export of capital; a war to establish an oil monopoly stretching from the Middle East to the shores of the Black and Caspian seas, a war to establish military bases, and a war to isolate Russia and force Yugoslavia to cease claiming the right to an independent and sovereign existence.
In other words, it was an imperialist war for domination – an opening shot in imperialism’s new strategy of intervening, on the pretext of defending ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’, in the affairs of any sovereign state that refuses to go a long with the imperialist diktat. It was a harbinger of the subsequent predatory wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, and set the precedent for the use of Nato as an instrument of imperialist war and aggression, in Europe and elsewhere, to gain world supremacy, stamping underfoot the fundamental rules governing relations among independent states.
It should be noted that Kosovo has some of the richest mineral deposits in the Balkans, including coal, nickel, lead, zinc, lignite, magnesium, quartz, marble, chrome and bauxite. Stari Trg mining complex, containing a host of rich mineral deposits, including lead, zinc, gold and silver, and the Trepca mining complex constituted the most valuable pieces of real estate in the entire Balkans region – sufficient to whet the imperialist appetite.
It is such assets, among other factors, which furnish the clue to Nato’s ‘humanitarian’ war against Yugoslavia.
The leading political and military representatives of the powers that waged war against Yugoslavia deserve, as did the Nazi leaders of Germany, to be treated as war criminals, tried for war crimes, and shot.
Yugoslav resistance and betrayal by Yeltsin mafia
Notwithstanding Nato’s overwhelming superiority in armaments and air capability, Yugoslav resistance very nearly succeeded. Nato failed to degrade the Yugoslav military, which in turn caused great dissension within Nato’s ranks, bringing the war-mongering alliance close to collapse.
What saved Nato was the timely assistance given it by the Yeltsin mafia in Moscow. Had the latter supplied the Yugoslavs with the 1980s Soviet air defence technology, which had the capability to down scores of the Nato war planes, Russia could have put an end to Nato. The Yeltsin clique, however, decided that its interests were better protected by being on the side of the US, as the former owed its occupancy of the Kremlin to American support.
For the second time in 15 months, following the first round of the presidential election in Yugoslavia, Yeltsin’s mafia came to the rescue of the Nato imperialists by endorsing as president-elect Kostunica, the candidate of the motley 18 opposition parties grouped under the umbrella of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), which had stormed and set alight the parliament building on 5 October to pre-empt the holding of the second round, which was to have taken place on 8 October 2000 – the first round having been held on 24 September. Russia, with its firm grip on Yugoslav energy supplies, was especially well placed to exert undue pressure on Yugoslavia. This was no less a cruel betrayal of Yugoslavia than the first one, when Russia ‘persuaded’ Belgrade to agree to the entry of Nato forces into Kosovo in June 1999.
Be that as it may, the occupation of Kosovo under a UN Security Council resolution, which brought the war to a close, was to be under UN auspices and is not directly under Nato – a fact important to bear in mind when dealing with the present situation, to which we must now turn.
No collective recognition by UN or EU
Now that Kosovo, with the support of US imperialism and the leading European powers, has declared its independence, we must examine the nature – the substance – of this independence, as well as its wider ramifications in the Balkans, in the relations between the West and Russia, and the relations between the member states of the European Union (EU).
While the declaration of independence was greeted with jubilation by the Kosovars, it provoked violent reactions from the Serb minority in Kosovo and from demonstrators in Serbia. In the ethnically divided northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica, UN and European buildings had three grenades thrown at them, while in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, a large number of protesters surrounded the US embassy and hurled stones and fireworks at it before being dispersed by riot police.
Within the EU, while Britain, Germany, France and Italy, among others, have recognised Kosovo’s independence, Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece and Slovakia, concerned with the impact of Kosovo’s independence on their own minorities, have refused to recognise it and have condemned it as illegal. Outside of the EU, while the US has been quick to give recognition to Kosovo’s independence, Russia has been equally quick to condemn it, with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, characterising Kosovan independence as a violation of international law and a threat to European security.
Mr Lavrov is right, for not only is Kosovan independence a violation of Security Council resolution 1244, under which Nato troops entered Kosovo, which committed all members to “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia”, and which recognised Kosovo as an integral part of Yugoslavia, but in addition Kosovan independence, even more than the war and the existence for nearly a decade of what was a de facto Nato protectorate, albeit in the name of the ‘UN’ Interim Mission, is bound further to whet the appetite of the Albanians for a Greater Albania, with their claims on a third of the Macedonian parts of Greece. This in turn is only too likely to provoke other ethnic groups into reviving old claims – Turks in Bulgaria, Hungarians in Romania and Vojvodina (northern Serbia), let alone the claims of Greece and Bulgaria on Macedonia – thus providing an explosive mix for another general Balkans conflagration even more horrific than the last one. And all this without taking into account the fact of Russian involvement, of which more anon.
In a brutal exposure of the disagreements within the EU, Miguel Angel Moratinos, Spain’s foreign minister, in language echoed by the Romanians, has said that Spain would not give recognition to the Kosovo assembly’s unilateral declaration as it did “not respect international law”. The Madrid government is apprehensive of the effects of Kosovan independence on Spain’s Basque and Catalan nationalist movements.
Thus there will not be a collective act of recognition – by either the EU or the UN. Kosovo will be in a legal limbo and an economic vacuum.
Effect on the Balkans and beyond
The EU is supposed to guarantee Kosovo’s stability, but deep divisions within it are proving a formidable obstacle in the way of that objective. Taking their cue from Kosovo, Serb enclaves in the north of Kosovo could break away from it, thus presenting the EU and Nato with a de facto partition, which could prove to be the prelude to a war between Serbia and Kosovo.
Taking the same route, Republika Srpska might well hold a referendum on its secession from Bosnia-Herzegovina, thus leading to the unscrambling of the 1995 US-imposed Dayton Accord. The Serbs in Republika Srpska have large quantities of arms stockpiled, while there are not enough ‘international’ forces to control them.
As the fallout from Kosovo’s declaration of independence, the governments of Serbia and Macedonia have already fallen apart. In Macedonia, the Democratic Party of Albanians walked out of the government over demands including the immediate recognition of Kosovo, and the recognition of Albanian as a second official language. The actions of the party representing the Albanian minority in Macedonia merely served to underline the fragility of the political consensus in Skopje.
Meanwhile, there are to be new elections in Serbia, which will furnish an opportunity for nationalist forces to form the government in Belgrade and scupper negotiations aimed at membership of the EU. The anti-imperialist sentiment in Serbia may be judged from the fact that the ninth anniversary of the start of the bombing campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has been solemnly commemorated throughout the country. Speaking on the night of Sunday 23 March, Serbian prime minister Kostunica had this to say:
“The illegal construction of the large American military base Bondsteel and Annex 11 of the Ahattisaari Plan, which establishes Nato as the supreme organ of government in Kosovo, revealed the reason why Serbia was mindlessly destroyed and why a Nato state was declared illegally on February the 17th.” This is remarkable, coming as it does from the mouth of a person who rode to power with active US help.
The recognition of Kosovan independence by the US and leading EU member states is only too likely to serve as a model for the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia to declare themselves independent, and to incline Russia to grant them de facto, if not de jure, recognition.
This is a probable outcome in view of the fact that the differences between Russia and the leading Nato states over these two territories merge into broader disputes between the two sides over gas supplies, missile defence, the Kremlin’s alleged authoritarianism (ie, assertion of its independence and national interest), the militarisation of space, and the enlargement of Nato to include not only former socialist countries of eastern Europe, but also some of the former Soviet republics, thus threatening Russian security.
On 6 March, Russia lifted its arms embargo on Abkhazia, “an action that seems calculated to inflame Tbilisi, infuriate Washington and undermine Georgia’s push to join Nato”. (‘Russia embarks on dangerous game of diplomatic chicken’ by Quentin Peel, Financial Times, 17 March 2008)
Apart from the opposition to Kosovan independence, Russia’s actions concerning Georgia are closely connected with the campaign to stop Georgia joining Nato’s ranks at the latter’s forthcoming Bucharest summit in April, when it is expected to offer her a membership of its ‘Action Programme’.
“Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to Nato, told Reuters news agency in Brussels that ‘as soon as Georgia gets some kind of prospect from Washington of Nato membership, the next day the process of real secession of these territories from Georgia will begin’.” (Op cit)
This is not a prospect that Nato can be expected to relish, for it would be less than enthusiastic to welcome a Georgia engulfed by an unresolved conflict with Russia.
Already, Russia, pushed to the limits of its forbearance by a decade-long history of western provocation, including the enlargement of Nato to the borders of Russia, the installation of missile defences in Poland and the Czech Republic (with a view to nullifying Russian defences), and constant interference in its internal affairs, announced its intention to develop a new generation of high-tech weapons in retaliation for Nato expansion and the deployment of US missile systems in Russia’s neighbourhood.
In early February, in a speech made just weeks before the Russian presidential election of 2 March, Mr Putin lashed out against a “new arms race”, saying that Nato and the US were not responsive to Moscow’s security concerns and had used consultations as “a diplomatic cover for implementing their own plans”. Thus, Russia was “being forced to retaliate”, he said in a speech on 8 February to Russia’s State Council, an influential body of Russia’s business and political leaders. “Russia has”, he said, “and always will have, responses to these challenges”.
Continuing, Mr Putin said: “Over the next several years, Russia should start the production of new types of weapons systems, which are in no way inferior to what other states have, and in some cases are superior.”
Emphasising the reasons underlying the deepening chill in Russian-western relations, he said that, in return for drawing down its bases in Cuba and Vietnam, Russia got the expansion of Nato to Romania and Bulgaria, and a new third missile defence system in Poland.
“It is already clear,” he said, “that a new arms race is being unleashed across the world … it is not our fault, we didn’t start it.” Attributing the growing foreign interest in Russia to a “mounting struggle for resources”, he condemned attempts by foreign governments to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs as “immoral and illegal”.
In a broadside aimed at Anglo-American imperialism’s predatory wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, Putin declared: “We see how under the guise of declarations for freedom and open society the sovereignty of countries and entire regions is being destroyed … Many conflicts, foreign policy acts and diplomatic démarches smell of oil and gas.” (Quoted in ‘Russia forced into new arms race says Putin’ by Catherine Belson, Financial Times, 9 February 2008)
Russia consolidates economic position
Russia has recently been intensifying efforts to expand and consolidate its economic position in the Balkans.
Earlier this year, it signed agreements with Belgrade to buy NIS, Serbia’s biggest oil refinery, and to route a key regional gas pipeline through Serbia, linking the latter with the planned South Stream gas pipeline. In return, Serbia was granted energy security and annual transit fees of €200m. These developments could end up in Serbia cutting off ties with the West, embracing Russia and throwing in its lot with the latter – thus severely damaging western interests.
On 18 January, during his visit to Bulgaria, Putin won Bulgarian support for the South Stream gas pipeline project aimed at transporting Russian gas to the EU. A joint venture between Russia’s Gazprom and ENI of Italy, intended to carry 30 billion cubic metres of gas a year, the project would make Bulgaria a gateway for Russian gas deliveries to southeast Europe and beyond.
Estimated to cost $14.6bn (€10bn), South Stream will rival Nabucco, an EU-backed project designed to carry Central Asian gas to Europe in an attempt to reduce the EU’s dependence on Russia. South Stream will help Gazprom to bypass Ukraine for more of its gas exports to the EU, matching the Nord Stream project, from Russia to Germany under the Baltic. South Stream is to pass under the Black Sea into Bulgaria, then split, with the gas being transported either north to Romania, Hungary and Austria, or south to Greece and then on to Italy.
Since Russia’s oil and gas export revenues have increased dramatically, thanks to higher prices, from $76bn in 1999 to $350bn in 2007, it is in a position to assert its economic, military and political power and put a spanner in US imperialist plans to dominate the world. This is a welcome development, particularly for the Serbs, as Kosovo increasingly becomes one of the symbols of new divisions on a global scale between Moscow and western imperialism.
The hollowness and utter meaninglessness of Kosovo’s independence may be gauged from the fact that 17,000 Nato troops, in Kosovo since 1999, will continue to be stationed there for the foreseeable future under the new dispensation.
Over the four months that began on 17 February, the EU is to send a 3,000-strong ‘law and order’ mission to Kosovo, comprising 1,500 policemen, in addition to judges, prosecutors and customs officials. Under this EU-supervised ‘independence’, the EU’s ‘special representative’, diplomat Pieter Feith, will have tough powers, including the right to veto legislation and sack public officials.
The EU’s law and order mission is supposed to take over from the UN Interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which has run the territory since 1999 and which was supposed to close down under the Martti Ahtisaari plan during the 120-day transitional period for transferring power from UNMIK to the new EU-supervised Kosovo government. However, this is unlikely to happen, as the UN resolution that created UNMIK remains in force and is fiercely defended by Russia.
In view of this, the US and leading EU countries are making behind-the-scenes efforts to arm-twist Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, to cede control to the EU-appointed International Civilian Representative (ICR) without the consent of Russia, that is, without a UN Security Council resolution.
As for Kosovo’s economy, it is in dire straits, with unemployment somewhere between 40 and 60 percent, and exports covering less than 6 percent of imports. With 25,000 to 30,000 young people entering the labour market every year, this illegal statelet of 2.5 million people is in no position to support itself economically, and all the signs point to it ending up as a failed state, run by the former KLA (the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army that acted as Nato’s gangsters and racketeers), whose whole expertise lies in the field of drug trafficking and running prostitution rings rather than in statecraft, under the tutelage of the leading imperialist countries.
While Kosovo’s security will be in the hands of 17,000 Nato troops and 1,500 EU policemen, its economic survival will be entirely reliant on the EU, which has agreed on an aid package of between €700m and €1bn to start with. Its independence will receive collective recognition neither from the EU or the UN. In view of this, one can hardly disagree with the perceptive observation that “once the weekend parties are over and the flags come down, the reality of independence could be uncomfortable, even for those who fought for it”. (‘Born under a bad sign’ by Stefan Wagstyle and Neil McDonald, Financial Times, 15 February 2008)
As for US imperialism and the leading imperialist countries of the EU, they are on course to discover that their war against Yugoslavia, and the breakup of that country at their behest, far from guaranteeing them domination of the Balkans and giving them an unbroken chain of oil monopoly from the Middle East to eastern and southern Europe, has actually weakened their position through a combination of local resistance and Russian retaliation.
The working class and progressive humanity are duty bound not to give credence to this Nato protectorate with its puppet government headed by the KLA tools of imperialism under a new name.
To those who are inclined to put much premium on the right to self-determination of the Kosovars, we answer that the road to self-determination cannot, and does not, run through occupation by the most bloodthirsty imperialist military alliance known to humanity.
Besides, it is not incumbent on us to support every movement for self-determination. We conclude this article with the following unforgettable words of Lenin apropos the question of self-determination:
“The several demands of democracy, including self-determination, are not an absolute, but only a small part of the general-democratic (now: general-socialist) world movement. In individual concrete cases, the part may contradict the whole; if so, it must be rejected. It is possible that the republican movement in one country may be merely an instrument of the clerical or financial-monarchist intrigues of other countries; if so, we must not support this particular concrete movement …” (‘The discussion on self-determination summed up’, July 1916)
Since the case of Kosovan independence is just such a one referred to by Lenin, serving as it does only the interests of US and other imperialists, and therefore detrimental to the interests of the world progressive movement, it is incumbent on progressive people everywhere to oppose it.