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Western Press Review: Increasing Doubts About Kosovo

  • Joel Blocker
  • Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 31 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today seeks to assess the latest developments in the Kosovo crisis, notably the failure yesterday of Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's mediation effort in Belgrade. Also, after a week of NATO air strikes across Yugoslavia and the continuing violent eviction of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, an increasing number of commentators are expressing doubts about the effects of the Alliance's military intervention.

WASHINGTON POST: NATO cannot allow this ethnic cleansing to stand

The Washington Post says today that "Russia's effort to negotiate an end to the war in Kosovo seems to have fizzled....Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic has offered nothing more than a partial withdrawal of his forces from Kosovo and a promise to conduct further talks -- and that much, only if NATO first ceases its bombing. Given the atrocities his troops are now conducting against civilians throughout Kosovo, allowing any Serbian forces to remain would be akin to leaving the guards in charge of the concentration camps."

The paper's editorial continues: "The barbarity of the Milosevic onslaught is appalling. Whole towns are in flames. Tens of thousands of men, women and children are being forced at gunpoint to flee their homes and trudge through snow to Kosovo's borders. There are reports of summary executions, of mass killings, of rapes."

The WP concludes: "This is a tactic the world has seen before from Mr. Milosevic. He is 'cleansing' Kosovo of its ethnic Albanians -- which is to say, of 90 percent of its population. He may then seek to re-populate Kosovo with ethnic Serbs and dare NATO to undo his criminal handiwork. NATO," the paper concludes, "cannot allow this ethnic cleansing to stand."

NEW YORK TIMES: It is hard to believe Russians would want to defend such an abomination

In the New York Times, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot says that "there [is] something perverse about Russia's appearing to side with the Belgrade regime [over Kosovo]." He writes in a commentary: "During the past decade, Russia and Serbia have been diametrically opposed in handling their post-communist transitions.... By and large, the emergence of 15 new independent states [out of the old Soviet Union] has been remarkably peaceful [--Chechnya is an exception to the rule--] and many of those states, notably including Russia itself, moved quickly to join the democratic community."

But, Talbot adds, "the break-up of Yugoslavia has been an ongoing horror replete with war, irredentism, mass graves, charred villages, concentration camps and waves of refugee.... The escalation of the atrocities since [NATO intervened] has crystallized the challenge: This is barbarism in our own time, in the heart of Europe, on the eve of the 21st century. It is hard to believe," Talbot concludes, "that Russians of any stripe would want to defend, or identify themselves with, [such] an abomination..."

NEW YORK TIMES: Milosevic is clearly not interested in a diplomatic solution

In an editorial, the New York Times writes: "The failure of Russian peacemaking and the unabated Serbian assault on Kosovo [yesterday] left the U.S. and its NATO allies understandably frustrated. After a week of bombing raids, the Alliance's air offensive against Serbia has not produced the quick capitulation by Milosevic that President [Bill] Clinton and European leaders hoped to see."

The NYT continues: "[NATO] military planners...presumed several nights of limited missile attacks and bombing runs against Serbian targets would convince Milosevic to accept a peace plan for Kosovo. His history of retreating when under fire might have added to that expectation....[And] the ferocity of the Serbian sweep across Kosovo seems to have surprised NATO, which only this week made its first efforts to attack these Serbian ground forces in the field."

"For now," the paper sums up, "Milosevic is clearly not interested in a diplomatic solution to the Kosovo crisis....Until he [is], NATO must muster all the air power it can and use it against Milosevic's murderous troops."

LE MONDE: Primakov sees a chance to put Russia back at the center of international affairs

France's Le Monde daily says that Primakov's trip to Belgrade was "largely, and above all, a matter of Russian domestic politics. A diplomatic success," the paper's editorial adds, "would have entirely marginalized an already weakened [President] Boris Yeltsin. It would also have restored a bit of the great-power status for which Russia today, eaten away by corruption and misery, is nostalgic. And it would have proved, if there was still need to prove, that Mr. Primakov is a politician to be reckoned with."

The paper recalls that Primakov was "formed in the school of [former Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei] Gromyko." It comments: "Convinced that the Europeans, divided among themselves about [what the NATO strikes have accomplished], will accept a minimal gesture from Mr. Milosevic, Primakov sees in the Kosovo crisis a chance to put Russia back at the center of international affairs. [Russia] could then appear responsible for a political settlement, and in the process divide Europe from the U.S. -- which was always one of the permanent objectives of Soviet diplomacy."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Moscow might have rehabilitated its status as a world power

In Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says: "That NATO, the world's most powerful military alliance, can afford to ignore Russia's condemnation of air strikes lies in the nature of the current [international] power structure. That is sobering, but not embarrassing," the paper adds in an editorial.

The FAZ continues: "The fact that a power house like Russia, the Slavic superpower, wasn't able to force Belgrade into a compromise which would have spared Serbia from war and allowed Moscow to save face is, however, another serious sign of waning Russian influence. If Primakov had achieved a cease-fire and paved the way for a political solution in Kosovo, then Moscow might have rehabilitated its status as a world power and gained some glory as a peacemaker."

AFTENPOSTEN: Kosovo is aflame

Norwegian political analyst Per Anders Madsen comments in the Aftenposten newspaper: "A week after NATO started the war against Yugoslavia the situation on the ground is worse than it was before. Kosovo is aflame, the Serbs are gathering behind their leader, Yugoslavia's democrats are marginalized, and Europe is threatened with the worst humanitarian catastrophe since World War Two."

The commentary continues: "Both political and military leaders in the West have warned that it is unrealistic to expect the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia to end quickly....NATO [apparently] expects common sense [and rational thinking] to gain the upper hand in Belgrade,...But will that happen?" Madsen asks. "Milosevic had to choose between peace and a security force in Kosovo or bombs [against himself]. He chose the bombs which, from a Western point of view, was an irrational choice. [But] is it realistic to expect that his way of thinking will change?"

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: The West is unlikely to give up its commitment

In Denmark the daily Berlingske Tidende writes in an editorial: "Representatives of the extreme Right and extreme Left [in the West] criticize NATO for having allegedly provoked the current bloodbath and say further that NATO's bombing lacks any consistent plan [for bringing lasting peace to Kosovo]. But they forget that Milosevic has had a very consistent plan of his own [to ethnically cleanse Kosovo] for some time."

The editorial adds: "Milosevic is determined to push through with his plan, and it is his determination that the West is now seeking to break. This is the West's plan, but it is impossible to say when and how it will be implemented. Its most important element is that the West has committed itself to stopping the genocide in Kosovo. It is unlikely that we will give up this commitment any time soon. Today, the Serb leadership realizes that."

IRISH TIMES: How can devastation wrought by bombs ever be justified ?

In a commentary for the Irish Times, Vincent Browne expresses some of the views criticized in the Berlingske Tidende editorial. Browne attacks both President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for their public justifications for the NATO strikes. "Clinton and Blair," he writes, "protest that their concern in this enterprise is entirely to stop the massacre of the Kosovar Albanians, a purely humanitarian impulse, they ask us to believe. But if their motivations are so chivalrous, how is it that, apparently, the lives and welfare of those living where they are dropping the bombs do not feature in their concerns?"

The commentary continues: "Milosevic and his regime are primarily responsible for the suffering they are inflicting on the Albanian population of Kosovo. The suggestion that NATO is primarily responsible for those atrocities, because of the response it has induced on the part of Milosevic, is an obscenity. [But,]" he adds, "by the same token, NATO and, particularly, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair are responsible for the devastation wrought by the NATO bombs. How," he asks, "can the deliberate infliction of devastation wrought by bombs, on the lives of innocent people, ever be justified?"

GUARDIAN: The priority is to try and repair

Britain's Guardian newspaper is also concerned with "the human cost" of the NATO strikes. Its editorial says: "The same concentration of effort and the same plethora of assets lavished on the aerial war against Serbia must now be applied to the task of housing and caring for refugees reeling out of Kosovo....Surely, a campaign to save the refugees can be pursued with equal vigor."

The paper goes on to say: "That no preparations of this kind were made by the governments dealing with Milosevic or by the Alliance military staffs as they laid their plans, is worse than a pity. It shows how feckless Europe and America have been in their approach to this crisis...."

It adds: "The priority [now] is to try and repair [this failure]. That means that army engineers and military aircraft ought to be immediately diverted to the task of creating an infrastructure for refugees in northern Albania and in northern Macedonia, the two areas to which we have access."

INDEPENDENT: This is the mess we have got ourselves into

Writing in the Independent, British historian Timothy Garton Ash says the West has no alternative now other than to commit ground soldiers to Yugoslavia in "a commitment of at least 10 years, tens of thousands of military and civilian personnel, thousands of millions of dollars. The alternative," he argues, "is for the mightiest alliance of democracies in the history of the world to be defeated on it 50th anniversary [next month], and to leave the innocent to be slaughtered. It is Srebenica multiplied a hundred-fold."

The commentary goes on: "Coming on top of the existing [Western] protectorate in Bosnia, this would be a huge commitment. Yet the reality is even more daunting. If Milosevic lost Kosovo, the Serbs might finally lose patience with him. But [what comes] after Milosevic could initially be worse....At best, this would be a Weimar [Republic] Serbia, bristling with revanchist sentiment. At worst, it would be a rogue state, like Libya or Iraq."

Ash sums up: "This is the mess we have got ourselves into. This is the legacy of a decade of appeasement [by the West in Yugoslavia]. This, in the deepest sense, is the price we in Western Europe must now pay for having fooled ourselves 10 years ago, at the end of the Cold War, that we could just go on cultivating our own back gardens, without facing up to our responsibility for the whole of Europe."