Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kosovo Policy Fallacies

Western policy over the Kosovo issue seems to be directed more at Slobodan Milosevic and his regime than at terrorist activities.

So far, no one in the international community seems to support separatism in Kosovo: the Serbs firmly rule out independence for the province, and foreign powers, fearing (quite reasonably) that this would spark a wider war in the Balkans, do not support it either.

But the actions of some foreign states and international organizations in the Kosovo crisis seem to undermine this.

The Kosovo dispute -- coupled with rising tensions between Serbia and Montenegro, the other republic in rump Yugoslavia -- has already led Belgrade into its worst political crisis since the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991 to 1992.

The international community has reacted by stepping up pressure on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to restrain his security forces, but the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army, formed by the militant Jashari clan based in Drenica, apparently feels no or little international pressure to halt its attacks.

As in the past, Western policy over the entire Kosovo issue seems to be directed more at Slobodan Milosevic and his regime than at "terrorist activities" in the region. It is highly doubtful that this is the best way to solve the Kosovo crisis, if only because any further weakening of Serbia or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will lead to the further destabilization of the Balkans. Moreover, recent elections suggest any replacement for Milosevic will come from the nationalist or even ultranationalist camp.

While the United Nations Security Council has approved a ban on military ties with Serbia, the Contact Group of leading powers has gone further, freezing Serbian and Yugoslav assets abroad and banning investments. The Contact Group's tough approach was backed by the Group of Seven leading industrial nations. Russia was alone in the Contact Group in opposing economic sanctions.

The lack of any explicit UN Security Council mandate authorizing the economic sanctions does not add to the credibility of the Contact Group. They are also counterproductive, as they hurt neighboring states almost as much as Serbia and encourage large-scale sanctions-busting. They are also impossible to enforce among countries outside G-7 and even inside it, given Russia's views.

NATO has been increasing its visibility, contemplating a full-time peacekeeping presence in the region. In response to repeated requests by the Albanian government to send in alliance troops, a NATO "reconnaissance mission" has been sent to northern Albania to study the terrain in preparation for a possible deployment.

A special statement on Kosovo issued at a ministerial meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Luxembourg on May 28 provides for NATO assistance programs for Albania and Macedonia. Further proposals for "NATO preventive deployments" in Albania and Macedonia (especially along the borders with Serbia) are also being considered -- presumably to slow the flow of weapons to the Albanian militia and to prevent the conflict from spreading. It is almost certain that NATO's military presence in this part of the Balkans will gradually escalate. The question is, how much NATO presence in the region is enough?

Even at the present stage, some of NATO's proposals include pushing Milosevic to accept NATO military observers in Kosovo and establishing a no-fly zone over the province. As German Defense Minister Volker R?he has put it, the real problem is not along the Kosovo border, but "in Kosovo -- the dictatorship, the police state and lack of autonomy."

Despite threats of the "severest consequences" if Milosevic does not comply with Western demands for the withdrawal of Serbian special forces from Kosovo, it is unrealistic to expect the Serbian government to accept the illegal Kosovo Liberation Army attacking police forces and civilians. The bottom line here is that the only way for the West to stop Serbia doing what it considers necessary in Kosovo is to invade it. Thus, the real end game for NATO involvement in the Kosovo dispute is direct military intervention against Serbia.

What does this mean for Russia? On the one hand, in principle, Russia does not oppose the sealing of the border between Albania and the Serbian province of Kosovo and a continued limited U.S. peacekeeping presence in Macedonia (under UN mandate). On the other hand, Russia generally backs the Serbian authorities' right to take measures against terrorist activities and stands for providing additional protection for the rights of national minority members and increased autonomy for the Albanians.

Unlike most Western powers, Russia does not support the idea of making Kosovo a distinct federal entity within Yugoslavia (which would then consist of three republics) since, coupled with Serbian-Montenegrin tensions, it could prove a final blow to the federation and to the fragile peace in the region.

Russia's influence in the Balkans today is limited, which makes it all the more pressing to use whatever means and resources Moscow still possesses in a more effective and creative manner. Moscow should pay more attention to consultations with the members of the Contact Group that hold views closer to its own (namely, France and Italy). It should also change its policy of ignoring almost totally the "front-line" states -- Albania and Macedonia -- and, above all, it should consistently oppose any threats to the territorial integrity of Serbia that, indeed, could turn Kosovo into "something worse than Bosnia before Dayton."

Yekaterina Stepanova is a research associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center. She contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.