Millenarian Thoughts about Kosovo

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

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Written: June 5, 1999

"English persons, therefore, of humanitarian and reformist disposition constantly went out to the Balkan Peninsula to see who was in fact ill-treating whom, and, being by the very nature of their perfectionist faith unable to accept the horrid hypothesis that everybody was ill-treating everybody else, all came back with a pet Balkan people established in their hearts as suffering and innocent, eternally the massacree and never the massacrer."
("Black Lamb and Grey Falcon - A Journey through Yugoslavia" by Rebecca West - Penguin Books 1994 edition p.20)

Rebecca West's book was first published in 1940. By that time, it was common wisdom that the Balkans are the place where the destiny of our world is determined or, at the very least, outlined. Had she lived today, she would have had no reason to revise this particular judgement of hers.

The Kosovo "air campaign" exposed and brought to culmination a series of historical processes whose importance cannot be exaggerated.

The Russian Revolution

Forced to choose between nationalist delusions of imperial grandeur and modern capitalism and its attendant, individualism - Russia chose the latter. The ever surprising Yeltsin completed the revolution he started in 1990 by deposing of the last vestiges of stagnation personified by Primakov. The remnants of the former nomenclature, the establishment figures, the fossils in the ideological swamp that communism has become - were given the penultimate slip. Russia was forced to peer into the abyss of its own corruption, nepotism, criminality, social and political disintegration and military impotence. It was forced to do so by the developments in the Kosovo crisis. It was made to elect between pan-Slavism and pan-capitalism. For a while, it seemed to have been choosing the former - leading to an inevitable and suicidal confrontation with the victorious civilization of the West. Then it recoiled and chose the IMF over the KGB, material goods over ideological fervour, the new myths of modernity over the old ones of blood-steeped patriotism.

It is a momentous event, the consequences of which cannot yet be fully fathomed. Extrapolating Russian history, it would be reasonable to expect a backlash in the form of a counterrevolution. A communist counter-revolution being unlikely - we can expect a fascist-criminal counter-revolution. But it is as safe to assume that the revolution is irreversible, setbacks aside. It is irreversible because for the first time it generated vested interests not only for a select elite - but for everyone. Prosperity tends to trickle down and, as it does (forming a middle class in its wake) - it knows no boundaries of class. The real revolution has just been completed in Russia, 70 years after Lenin's death. And all classes are about to win.

The Second Cold War

The outlines of the second cold war have emerged. It is to be fought between a prosperous, almighty, vainglorious, narcissistic, self-righteous, contemptuous and increasingly disintegrating USA and an equally disintegrating China on the economic ascendant.

The second cold war (already in progress) is fought not between foes - but between partners. The extent of economic interests common to the two current combatants far exceeds anything achieved in the high moments of detante between the USA and its previous rival, Russia. This cold war is about markets and cultural dominance - not sheer, projected, military prowess. It is a throwback to earlier days of colonialism and mercantilism and it is laden with historical memories and sensitivities.

The aims are different, as well. China wishes to force the USA to throw open the gates of the global marketplace, currently zealously guarded by the only superpower. The IMF, the World Bank, the WTO are all believed to be extensions of the American economic clout, put to the use of its geopolitical interests. Russia forced its way into the G8 but China has much loftier ambitions. It is not in pursuit of membership in gentlemen's clubs - it aspires to real, raw power. It wants to carve the world between itself and the West. In short, it wants to dominate and to export and it wants the West to help it do so. In return, it promises regional and internal stability and access to its markets. To convince the West of the quality of its wares, China demonstrates its capacity to destabilize in various corners of the world. It transfers weapons technology, support international terrorism and rogue states and, in general, places formidable obstacles in the path to Pax Americana, the New World Order.

The Americans regard this as a reasonable deal but they wish to reverse the cause and the effect. First, they want to gain unhindered access to the potentially infinite Chinese market and to have the Chinese deliver the regional and international stability they claim to be able to deliver. Only then are they willing to contemplate the coveted prize of graduating to the co-ownership of the world financial and economic architecture.

China is fighting for legitimacy, recognition, access to markets, capital and technology and the ability to reshape the world in its favour. The USA is fighting to check progress of the Chinese on all these fronts. Such fundamental differences are bound to lead to conflict - as, indeed, they have.

In this sense, the bombing of the Chinese embassy has been an auspicious event because it allowed both parties to break through, to unlock and a deadlock and to make progress towards a fuller integration of China into the WTO, for instance. It also legitimized the airing of grievances against the style and conduct of the USA in world affairs. In short, it was cathartic and useful.

The Demise of the Client States

The concept of the client states is so well entrenched in our historical consciousness that its demise has been denied and repressed. There are no longer alliances between powerful political units (such as the USA) and smaller, dependent, satellites. The kaleidoscopically shifting interests of the few remaining global powers dictate geopolitical transigence and ideological transparency. These adaptive processes lead to a myriad of alliances, forever changing to fit the needs and interests of the moment or to cater to future contingencies. Thus, Russia ignores Yugoslavia's pleas for help, China allows the USA, Japan and South Korea to conduct direct negotiations with North Korea, America bullies Israel into a settlement with the Palestinians (who support Iraq), the UK and the USA impose a peace plan on the IRA, Russia respects an embargo imposed on both Iraq and Yugoslavia and so on. These are the roots of a truly global order. It is also the death knell for rogue and "insane" states. Devoid of their patronage, these countries are gradually tamed by the awesome twin forces of the global market and international capital and information flows. Iran moderates, Libya surrenders, Yugoslavia succumbs, the only exception being Iraq.

This is NOT to say that warfare is a thing of the past. On the very contrary. In the absence of the overwhelmingly restraining impulses and impositions of the superpowers - ethnic strife, border skirmishes, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction - all are likely to increase. But these are already affairs of limited importance, confined to parts of the world of limited importance, fought amongst people of ever more limited importance. War marginalizes the warriors because it takes them out of the circulation of capital, information and goods. Decoupled from these essential flows, warring parties wither and shrivel.

The Convergence of Economic and Military Alliances

The Kosovo crisis started as an exercise in self re-definition. NATO used it to successfully put its cohesiveness to test. It acted sanely and its hypercomplex set of checks and balances and more checks scored an impressive success. As a result, the limited aims and means of the campaign were maintained and NATO was not dragged into either British belligerence or Italian and Greek defeatism. It was the second time in recent history (the first being another multilateral military campaign in the Gulf in 1991) - that a military move did not degenerate into full scale insanity of carnage and bloodshed.

NATO emerged as a self-restrained, well-choreographed, well co-ordinated body of professionals who go through motions and off the shelf plans with lifeless automatism. While somewhat aesthetically repulsive, this image is a great deterrent. We fear cold-blooded, impartial machines of war more than we do any hot blooded, sword wielding fanatic. NATO acted with the famous German industrial efficiency that gave warfare a bad name. It was "surgically precise" and civilian casualties were alchemically converted into "collateral damage". The well practised Jamie Shea is an exceptionally chilling sight.

Thus, a policeman was born to police the emerging world of international commerce, true multinationals, boundariless flows of data and chaotic reactions to changes in local variables. This policeman is NATO and it wields an awesome club. As it chooses which criminals to discipline, it transforms the nature of previously unruly neighbourhoods. For this, at least, we should be grateful.

Russia’s Kosovo: Nagorno-Karabakh (Brussels Morning)


Russia has never been more unpopular in Armenia than nowadays – and it has nothing to do with the war in Ukraine, for a change.


The former Russian President, loose cannon Medvedev, even resorted to threatening the life of Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan: “Guess what fate is awaiting him”, he said, in a typically deranged outburst.


Across the proverbial aisle, nationalist Armenians demonstrate in the streets and call for Pashinyan’s impeachment as a “traitor” for his role in the 2020 capitulation agreement and for his inactivity in the face of current Azeri aggression. Either way, his days are numbered.


Ironically, Pashinyan’s premiership is the outcome of exactly such sentiments directed at his predecessors in 2018.


Ostensibly, Russia and Armenia are allies. But Russia is selling weapons to both former Soviet republics: to Armenia and to its mortal enemy Azerbaijan (though only the former enjoys a discount on its purchases).


Three years ago, the two polities clashed militarily, resulting in well over 6,000 fatalities. Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh in Armenian), an enclave of 120,000 militant Armenians at the heart of Azaerbaijan, was then at stake as it is now.


In 1994, the new state of Armenia borrowed the Serbian playbook and teamed with local Armenian militias to conquer not only Nagorno-Karabakh but vast swathes of outlying lands. Azerbaijan was able to reclaim these territories only in 2020.


On that occasion, Russia unwisely stepped in at the behest of Armenia and dispatched a contingent of peacekeepers to the disputed, still smoldering region. Skirmishes abounded ever since 1994 and never ceased.


Fast forward to this week for a repeat of the hostilities. Starting in December 2022, Azerbaijan blocked the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, known as the Lachin corridor. Russian peacekeepers stood idly by, abrogating their duty for all to witness.


Azerbaijan claimed that the thoroughfare had been abused by the Armenians to smuggle weapons in and extracted mineral resources out.


But the siege thus enforced on Nagorno-Karabakh led to an alarming drop in the levels of foodstuffs and to the menace of an imminent famine.


It took months for the Red Cross to arrange for the shipment of a paltry 20 tons of flour as well as some rudimentary medical supplies. To the dismay of all Armenians, the convoy transitioned through Azerbaijani held territory.


Conveniently, on cue, 4 soldiers and 2 civilians were blasted to smithereens by Armenian landmines. This gave Azerbaijan the pretext to shell the enclave with artillery.


Exactly like Kosovo in former Yugoslavia, tiny mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh is culturally and historically significant to both foes.


Exactly like Kosovo, it enjoyed an autonomous status within the surrounding territory of Azerbaijan during the good ole’ times of the USSR.


Exactly like Kosovo, the Armenian majority drove out the indigenous Azeris in an act of ethnic cleansing made possible by the abrupt disintegration of the Russian land empire.


In 2020, the picture had been reversed, with about 90,000 Armenians displaced, setting their abodes ablaze to deny them to the incoming Azeri settlers.  


And this is where it gets interesting: Armenia hosts a Russian military base. It used to be a steadfast ally of Putin’s. There are sizable and influential Armenian minorities scattered throughout Russia, especially in its cities and in the south of the Russian Federation.


But relations between the erstwhile dyad have deteriorated visibly.


This year, Armenia turned down a Russian request to conduct military exercises of the CTSO (Collective Treaty Security Organization) on its turf. Instead, it held joint exercises with US troops.


To add insult to injury, Armenia has been providing Russia’s archenemy, Ukraine, with “humanitarian” aid.


The conflict in its backyard is further eroding Russia’s image as an omnipotent regional force (let alone a superpower). It failed to prevail on Azerbaijan to honor its commitments and reopen the corridor to Armenia. It even suggested that Armenia should recognize Azeri sovereignty over the beleaguered and contested region. In short: it doesn’t pay to be Russia’s ally nowadays.


In the meantime, Armenians trapped in the fighting are desperately attempting to flee the scene to Russia via the Russian controlled airport of Stepanakert (Khankendi is the Azeri name of the capital). Thousands are internally displaced and hundreds killed. Talks are being held between the two warring communities in Yevlakh.


Russia is losing the war in Ukraine. Russia is forfeiting its support in Armenia. Russia has lost its access to Western markets and financial infrastructure. Putin’s days seem more numbered by the day.



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