Twenty years later, the bombing of Yugoslavia remains one of the most controversial moments in the history of NATO. Countries participating in the operation prefer to call the decision justified and necessary. But the deaths of more than two thousand civilians, including 78 children, can hardly be justified. That moment was a turning point for the Balkan region, which became the center of instability in Europe. But everything could be completely different.
This year, NATO forces in Kosovo, known as KFOR, celebrated their twentieth anniversary. The presence of the alliance stretches back to the distant summer of 1999, when the Kumanov agreement was signed with the authorities of the then Yugoslavia. A grandiose anniversary was held with the participation of Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright revered in Pristina. A recent US admiral, James Fogo, said that KFOR «did a good job.» And here the first contradictions arise. What can be called a successful mission, which lasted for 20 years? Moreover, Kosovo has always been associated with rampant crime, interethnic confrontation, and in recent years even with international Islamic terrorism. At the household level, here, too, everything is dysfunctional: thirty percent unemployment, outflow of the population, problems with communication, energy and transport.
Perhaps in the USA there are slightly different criteria for success? Such an assumption is quite appropriate, because KFOR, whose stated purpose is to ensure stability in Kosovo, in practice, serves as an indicator of the presence of the alliance in the region. As a result, NATO can claim superiority in the Balkans, and KFOR is turning into an instrument of a purely geopolitical nature.
Actually, this is not hidden. US Special Representative for the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer said on the eve of his visit to Pristina in November that Washington was ready to work on recognizing Kosovo’s independence and even prepared mechanisms for pressure on Serbia, in particular, a resolution on the 1999 murder of the Bitichi brothers in 1999. However, the main task of the United States in the Balkans, Palmer called the counteraction of Russia.
Washington’s concerns about the Kremlin’s growing influence in the region are not unfounded. According to the Pentagon report, it is in Serbia that the Russian factor is most pronounced. The situation is complicated by the fact that Belgrade’s cooperation with Moscow, according to opinion polls, meets the citizens ’request. And this is not counting the fact that the Serbian authorities adhere to military neutrality in principle. From the report of the US military, it becomes clear that Serbia is vital for Washington to strengthen its position. But the same bombing is becoming an invincible obstacle on this path. Every year, Serbs honor the memory of the victims of Operation Allied Force. Even the opposition does it. So strong are the memories of the bombing and its consequences.
In addition, in Serbia over the years there has been a strong understanding that most of the EU countries, and NATO, and the United States are aimed at undermining the territorial integrity of the country, because they recognize the independence of Kosovo. Pristina regularly receives support, and when resonant power operations take place in the north of the disputed region where the Serbs live, Europe and Washington prefer not to notice.
If not for all these mistakes, Serbia could well have become a powerful NATO ally in the region. But the alliance chose to support Kosovo with all its contradictions. Of course, this causes sharply negative emotions among the Serbian population, which can restrain the country’s authorities from any decisions that could be made under the influence of the outside. And even the opposition, which regularly holds massive anti-government protests, does not even risk Kosovo’s alienation for the sake of rapprochement with the EU and NATO, for fear of getting the stigma of a traitor.