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IMPOSSIBLE TO TALK PEACE WITH BOMBS FALLING
- Date: Sat, 29 May 1999 01:57:41 -0400 (EDT)
The Washington Post Thursday, May 27, 1999; Page A39
'IMPOSSIBLE TO TALK PEACE WITH BOMBS FALLING'
By Viktor Chernomyrdin
I deem it necessary to express my opinion on the Kosovo
situation as the warfare escalates and the danger grows of a shift to
ground operations, which would be even bloodier and more
destructive. I also want to comment on certain ideas put forward by
President Clinton in his contribution of May 16 to the New York
In particular, I am anxious to express my opinion of his premise
that "Russia is now helping to work out a way for Belgrade to meet
our conditions," and that NATO's strategy can "strengthen, not
weaken, our fundamental interest in a long-term, positive
relationship with Russia."
In fact, Russia has taken upon itself to mediate between
Belgrade and NATO not because it is eager to help NATO
implement its strategies, which aim at Slobodan Milosevic's
capitulation and the de facto establishment of a NATO protectorate
over Kosovo. These NATO goals run counter to Russia's stance,
which calls for the introduction of U.N. forces into Kosovo with
Yugoslavia's sovereignty and territorial integrity intact.
Moreover, the new NATO strategy, the first practical instance
of which we are witnessing in Yugoslavia, has led to a serious
deterioration in Russia-U.S. contacts. I will be so bold as to say it
has set them back by several decades. Recent opinion polls back
this up. Before the air raids, 57 percent of Russians were positively
disposed toward the United States, with 28 percent hostile. The
raids reversed those numbers to 14 percent positive and 72 percent
negative. Sixty-three percent of Russians blame NATO for
unleashing the conflict, while only 6 percent blame Yugoslavia.
These attitudes result not so much from so-called Slavic
fraternity as because a sovereign country is being bombed -- with
bombing seen as a way to resolve a domestic conflict. This
approach clashes with international law, the Helsinki agreements
and the entire world order that took shape after World War II.
The damage done by the Yugoslavia war to Russian-U.S.
relations is nowhere greater than on the moral plane. During
the years of reform, a majority of Russians formed a view of
the United States as a genuine democracy, truly concerned
about human rights, offering a universal standard worthy of
But just as Soviet tanks trampling on the Prague Spring of
1968 finally shattered the myth of the socialist regime's merits,
so the United States lost its moral right to be regarded as a
leader of the free democratic world when its bombs shattered
the ideals of liberty and democracy in Yugoslavia. We can only
regret that it is feeding the arguments of Communists and
radical nationalists, who have always viewed NATO as
aggressive, have demanded skyrocketing defense expenditures
and have backed isolationist policies for Russia.
Now that raids against military targets have evidently
proven pointless, NATO's armed force has moved to massive
destruction of civilian infrastructure -- in particular, electric
transmission lines, water pipes and factories. Are thousands of
innocent people to be killed because of one man's blunders? Is
an entire country to be razed? Is one to assume that air raids
can win a war?
I should like here to turn to the lessons of recent history. The
U.S. Air Force and the RAF dropped several hundred thousand
bombs on Berlin, yet it took a Soviet Army offensive, with its toll
of several hundred thousand lives, to seize the city. American air
raids in Vietnam proved pointless, and the Russian Army suffered
setbacks in Chechnya. Serbs see NATO and the Americans as
aggressors against whom they are defending their native land. I do
not think a ground war will be a success, and I am sure it will bring
Further, it will no longer be possible to thwart the proliferation
of missiles and nuclear arms -- another negative consequence of
NATO's policy. Even the smallest of independent states will seek
nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles to defend themselves after
they see NATO's military machine in action. The danger of global
instability looms, with more new wars and more victims.
More bombing makes it pointless to plan a return of refugees.
What will they come back to -- homes in debris, without electricity
or water? Where will they find jobs, with half of all factories in
ruins and the other half doomed to be bombed in due course? It is
time for NATO countries to realize that more air raids will lead to a
dead end. No fewer than half of the refugees are not eager to leave
a prosperous Europe to return to a devastated Kosovo to live side
by side with war-embittered Serbs. Of this, I am sure. Clearly, every
hundred Kosovars will have to be indefinitely protected by one or
two soldiers; that is how NATO's presence in Yugoslavia will
Also, sooner or later NATO will be expected by the world
community to pay Yugoslavia for damages, to compensate the
bereaved families of innocent victims and to punish pilots who
bombed civilians and their commanders who issued criminal orders.
Thus, the bloc is headed for a Pyrrhic victory, whether the
conflict ends with the Serbs capitulating or in an invasion of
Yugoslavia. The campaign will not achieve its main goals. Not all
refugees will come back to Kosovo, which will remain in some
form under Yugoslav jurisdiction, and many billions of dollars will
be spent rebuilding the country from the ruins.
Now, a few words about the ethnic Albanian paramilitaries.
They are essentially terrorist organizations. Of this, Russia is sure.
They are making money chiefly from drug trafficking, with an
annual turnover of $3 billion. As it maintains close contact with
these paramilitaries and modernizes their weaponry, the West --
directly or indirectly -- encourages the emergence of a major new
drug trafficking center in that part of the world. It also encourages
the paramilitaries to extend their influence to neighboring countries.
The Greater Albania motto may soon start to take hold. This will
mean more bloodshed, more wars and more redrawings of borders.
The world has never in this decade been so close as now to
the brink of nuclear war.
I appeal to NATO leaders to show the courage to suspend the
air raids, which would be the only correct move.
It is impossible to talk peace with bombs falling. This is clear
now. So I deem it necessary to say that, unless the raids stop
soon, I shall advise Russia's president to suspend Russian
participation in the negotiating process, put an end to all
military-technological cooperation with the United States and
Western Europe, put off the ratification of START II and use
Russia's veto as the United Nations debates a resolution on
On this, we shall find understanding from great powers
such as China and India. Of this, I am sure.
The writer, a former prime minister of Russia, is President Boris
Yeltsin's special envoy for Kosovo.
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