Did the Russians Pull NATO's Fat Out of the Fire
  or the Question of Grand Strategy?

August 6, 1999

Comment: #305

Discussion Thread:  #s 293, 294, 295, and 297


[1] Andrew Gilligan, "Russia, not bombs, brought end to war in Kosovo, says Jackson," Telegraph (UK), ISSUE 1528, August 1, 1999

[2] Patrick J. Sloyan, "Chirac's Veto Power On U.S. Air Strikes," Long Island Newsday, August 1, 1999, Pg. 4.

[3] Martin Walker, "Revealed: How deal was done in Stalin's hideaway," The Guardian (UK), 5 June 1999.

[4] NICK WADHAMS, "Creditors Reschedule Russia Debt," Associated Press, AP-NY-08-06-99 0637 EDT.

Why did Slobo cave so suddenly on June 3? We do not yet know the answer to this question, but the pursuit of the truth is getting more complex over time.

There are now at present at least six overlapping hypotheses floating around Versailles on the Potomac  (editor's note, for a seventh hypothesis, see Comment #307):

H1. NATO's bombers broke Slobo's will by destroying fighting power of his army compelling him to retreat. [This has been largely discredited by a stream of eyewitness news reports suggesting the Serbian army left Kosovo largely intact -- see Comment #s 293, 294, 295, and 297]

H2. NATO's bombers broke his will by smashing Serbia's civilian economic infrastructure and wrecking its moral, mental, and physical capacity to support the war. [Damage to the civilian economy is severe but appears to be far less than the $100 billion guesstimates made late in the war. While there is yet no reliable estimate of bomb damage to Yugoslavia, a recent report by Group 17, an organization of reformist Yugoslavian economists, suggests the total loss to the Serbian economy to be $30 billion over the next ten years. Of this, they estimated $800 million in capital damage to infrastructure (transport/power/etc,), $2.9 billion in capital damage to industry and agriculture, $370 million to civilian and cultural monuments and households, $2.3 billion in human losses, and $23 billion in lost economic growth over the next 10 years.]

H3. The prospect of a ground invasion in late summer convinced Slobo not to put his army at risk because fighting would be futile. [This hypothesis has been promoted primarily by General Clark, but it strains credibility. It doesn't explain why Slobo caved SUDDENLY in June, given (1) a decision for a ground war was never announced and (2) the transportation and logistics bottlenecks impeding the timely assembly of 150,000 men in Macedonia and Albania made an invasion by late summer highly unlikely (remember, Slobo knew it took a month to deploy the 24 Apache helicopters with supporting elements to Albania in April).

H4. Russia deserted Slobo, leaving him isolated politically and making his defeat inevitable, so he capitulated.

H5. The G-8 Trojan Horse [Comment #293] -- Diplomatic duplicity snookered Slobo (and possibly the Russians) into thinking Slobo was cutting a deal when in fact he was capitulating.

H6. Some combination of the above.

Billions of dollars ride on whatever becomes the consensus spin on the truth, and the Pentagon is gearing up to tell us the lessons its wants us to learn most of which are hardware related budget busters. So it is important to the Republic that we get the answer right.

The three references to this message may help to orient your thoughts in this regard. They relate primarily to hypothesis H4, but they contains hints of H2 and H5 as well.

General Sir Mike Jackson, the commander of NATO forces in Kosovo, essentially endorsed H4 when he told Andrew Gilligan of the Telegraph [in Atch #1] that "The event of June 3 [when the Russians backed the West's position and urged President Milosevic to surrender] was the single event that appeared to me to have the greatest significance in ending the war." He also noted that the bomb damage in Kosovo was less than he expected.

In Reference #2, Pat Sloyan builds on H4 (with a hint of H2) by describing how the politics of obtaining Russian support for NATO's position took precedence over NATO's military strategy throughout the war. President Clinton gave French President Jaques Chirac veto power in target selection during the bombing campaign, because Clinton saw Chirac as the key to winning Russian President Boris Yeltsin's support in brokering the Serb withdrawal from Kosovo.

Sloyan also describes how former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (who is close to Boris Yeltsin) and Chirac were Clinton's communications link to the Kremlin. A senior Clinton official told Sloyan how Chirac and Kohl squeezed Yeltsin with the following argument: " Russia could side with Milosevic and essentially choose to be isolated from Europe and act against all partners in Europe, or Russia could choose democracy, Europe and integration with the West."

In Reference #3, Martin Walker of the Guardian also supports H4 by describing how the Russians and Americans converged on the final agreement with the help of Martti Ahtisaari, the European Union's special envoy on Kosovo. According to Walker, Ahtisaari and Victor Chernomyrdin (the Russian envoy) took this agreement to Milosevic, where Ahtisaari presented as a non-negotiable demand.

This is the agreement that Milosevic accepted. Walker says, "Milosevic asked only two questions. Would the UN be the authority in Kosovo rather than NATO? Yes, said Ahtisaari, but NATO would have operational command. The second question was whether the Rambouillet text, which Belgrade rejected as a "diktat", was still operative. It had been superseded by the G8 deal, said Ahtisaari, and Milosevic sat back and half-smiled." Since NATO seems to have tried to move closer to Rambouillet after it got ground forces inside the Kosovo fortress, there is also a hint of the H5 Trojan Horse in this comment.

One of the problems that must be addressed in assessing the H4 hypothesis is the question of motive. Why would the Russians sell out their Slavic brothers?

The AP report in Reference #4 may give us some insight into what Russia got and will get in return for its cooperation with NATO. It is well known that Russian needs foreign capital and has been lobbying heavily for additional loans and debt relief. Most of the attention has been directed at its request for short term relief. The International Monetary Fund, for example, has just given it a $4.5 billion loan, and a group of western creditors (the Paris Club) has agreed to reschedule about $8 billion of Soviet era loans. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Russia's has a foreign debt burden of about $150 billion that is hobbling its economic development, and therefore it needs relief OVER THE LONG TERM. Russia is now lobbying another group of creditors (the London Club) for a restructuring and partial write off of $32 billion in Soviet-era loans.

Clearly, these long-term requirements put teeth in the Chirac-Kohl squeeze play described by Sloyan in Reference #2. Russia has a weak hand because it simply can not afford to alienate the wealthy countries of the world.

In charting its future course with a weakened Russia on the question of loans, as well as other issues, like NATO expansion,, the West would be well advised to remember how the Austro-Hungarians took advantage of Russian weakness in 1908 to formally annex the Russia's Slavic brothers in Bosnia-Herzogovina. The lesson learned from that experience was taking advantage of Russian weakness in the short-term drove them into an alliance with Serbia in 1914, which caused big problems over the long term. Let us hope NATO's leaders do not repeat this kind of mistake.

If H4 is correct, and the Russians sold out their Slavic brothers to pull NATO's fat out of the fire, the West owes the Russians yet another debt we should not forget that the Russians ended the Cold War and communism by voluntarily dissolving and repudiating the Soviet Union and by walking out of eastern Europe without spilling blood.

A sound grand strategy would recognize these debts before the bill comes due.

Chuck Spinney

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