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  •   Comment: Bombs Rule Out Talk of Peace

    By Viktor Chernomyrdin
    Thursday, May 27, 1999; Page A13

    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 Times.

    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 emulation.

    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 tremendous bloodshed.

    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 become permanent.

    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 Yugoslavia.

    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.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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