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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Leadership To Blame for Volunteers

The arrival of Russian troops in southern Kosovo next week will horrify refugees returning to the region, where at least 60 Russian volunteers and mercenaries took part in some of the worst killing sprees of the war."

- The Guardian, on Wednesday.

"The indications are [the Russian volunteers] played a major role in the 'cleansing.'"

- Newsday, on Monday.

It is a bit much to lay "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo at the door of a handful of Russian volunteers. What exactly does Newsday mean by saying Russians played "a major role" in these atrocities? Will refugees in Kosovo really be "horrified" at the arrival of Russian troops - peacekeepers with years of honorable service in Bosnia? Not likely.

It is not surprising that the Russian volunteers would be among the Serb paramilitaries, Albanian separatists and other trouble-makers in the Balkans. They went looking for trouble - they weren't "volunteering" to build shelters or give medical aid, they were "volunteering" to go kill other people.

And kill they did. Now it seems the atrocities of freelance criminals will be held up to represent the Russian state. This is already happening in media coverage of the volunteers' role in ethnic cleansing. That may be unfair, but it will happen. The Russians, like the Serbs, are about to be demonized. That is wrong, not least because it will make it that much easier for the West to smugly dismiss powerful moral and legal criticisms of NATO's war just because they happen to be forwarded by the Russians.

Russians who don't like this can thank their politicians. In particular they can thank Gennady Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky: The parties headed by both men not only encouraged volunteers to go, they announced they would help organize and transport them. With their irresponsible demagoguery, Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky helped get a few more innocent people killed.

At the time, President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov ignored pleas that they come out strongly against the idea of Russians going to fight in Yugoslavia - and whether those two kept silent out of cowardice or incompetence, they too share responsibility for the wilding in Kosovo.

There is another reason to scorn the Kremlin over the volunteers: It is highly unlikely it will do anything to hold accountable those Russian citizens who murdered Kosovar civilians. That's not surprising either: Yeltsin once said the war over Kosovo showed Russia to be "morally above" America, but that conveniently ignores his own record on Chechnya - a record that, by the way, seems to meet all of the UN war crimes tribunal criteria for an indictment.