Hoyt Yee, the Deputy Assistant Secretary who covers the Balkans at the State Department, testified Wednesday at the Congressional Helsinki Commission. In answer to a question, he said the United States strongly supports Kosovo’s goal of joining NATO’s Partnership for Peace program and eventually NATO, a precondition for which is having an army. Washington will also continue to provide assistance to Kosovo to reach the goal of NATO membership. This in my book is exactly the right thing to be saying and doing.
It comes on the heels of Kosovo government approval of transforming its Kosovo Protection Force, a largely unarmed but uniformed corps, into the Kosovo Armed Forces, which will function as an army. Belgrade has asked for a discussion of this issue at the United Nations Security Council. My guess is the powers that be in New York will decide the UNSC has more important things to do right now. Read more…
Isidora Kranjcevic of the Belgrade daily Blic asked me this morning to comment on Russian President Putin’s remark:
Generally, I believe that only residents of a given country who have the freedom of will and are in complete safety can and should determine their future. If this right was granted to the Albanians in Kosovo, if this was made possible in many different parts of the world, then nobody has ruled out the right of nations to self-determination, which, as far as I know, is fixed by several UN documents.
What is Putin trying to do here? Read more…
Much as I am entertained by explanations of Russian behavior based on Western decline and claims that Vladimir Putin is delusional, responding to the seizure of Crimea and threats against the rest of southern and eastern Ukraine requires a finer brush. How can Russia be prevented from occupying other Russian-speaking areas and how might the occupation of Crimea be reversed? Those are the objectives Kiev, Washington and Brussels should be setting.
Kiev is one key to preventing Russia from taking over other Russian-speaking areas of southern and eastern Ukraine. It has already done well to block (with a veto by the speaker of parliament) a law that would have denied Russian the status of an official language in those areas. It has also appointed new governors, including at least two wealthy oligarchs. How well they manage to respond to pro-Russian protests, avoiding violence while reasserting a modicum of Kiev’s authority, will be the primary determinant of whether things get out of hand or continue to calm. Putting in international observers to report on the situation and highlight any abuses is a good idea. Putin already has his hands full in Crimea. He doesn’t really need to take on additional burdens elsewhere in Ukraine, provided Russian speakers aren’t clamoring for intervention to protect them from the depredations of Kiev. Read more…
I did this interview yesterday for Edita Gorinjac of Klix.ba, who published it today in whatever you want to call the language of Bosnia and Herzegovina:
1) What is your general opinion on recent protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which were the biggest since after the war?
A: I certainly understand why citizens in Bosnia are disappointed in the services they are getting from their many governments. Protesting seems to me a healthy reaction, so long as it remains nonviolent.
2) Parallel to the protests, during which citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, mostly of BiH Federation, asked for government’s more responsible approach to solving of their issues, additional political questions arose, such as more serious approach to constitutional reforms, even territorial reorganization of the state. How realistic is it to expect such changes? And are Bosnia and Herzegovina and international community ready for this? What is, in your opinion, the best solution for Bosnia and Herzegovina? Read more…
President Putin today finally addressed some of the issues Russian behavior in Ukraine has raised. I can find neither video nor transcript so far,* so I am relying on the RT account, which is ample but certainly not complete.
Putin’s main point is that Russia has the right to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s east:
If we see this lawlessness starting in eastern regions, if the people ask us for help – in addition to a plea from a legitimate president, which we already have – then we reserve the right to use all the means we possess to protect those citizens. And we consider it quite legitimate.
Putin makes clear his distaste for deposed Ukrainian President Yanukovich and shows no inclination to restore him to power, but at the same time he thinks his removal was not legitimate:
I strictly object to this form [of transition of power] in Ukraine, and anywhere in the post-Soviet space. This does not help nurturing a culture of law. If someone is allowed to act this way, then everyone is allowed to. And this means chaos. That’s the worst thing that can happen to a country with an unstable economy and an unestablished political system.
So what we’ve got here is a claim to legitimacy based on protection of ethnic Russians and rejection of the overthrow of an elected president. Putin would have us believe that he is at least as justified as the United States was in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Read more…
Charles King (not further identified) says in this morning’s New York Times:
Mr. Putin used a novel justification for his country’s attack on a neighboring state: protecting the interests of both Russian citizens and “compatriots” — code not just for ethnic Russians but for anyone with a political or cultural disposition toward Russia.
Novel is in the eye of the beholder. Only someone unaware of the dissolution of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s could call this notion novel. And only someone unfamiliar with the doctrine of responsibility to protect could call it R2P, as King does. Strategic interest is far more important to Putin than protection of civilians, no matter what their nationality. Crimea may be an ethnic mosaic to King, but it offers a nice warm water port with a mostly friendly local population to Putin.
The question is Lenin’s: what is to be done? In the Administration they are concluding correctly that there is little the West can do to reverse the situation in the near term. None of the tough talk includes tough action. Kicking Russia out of the G8, canceling trade missions, travel bans, visits to Kiev and consultations with allies are all more symbol than substance. Even reviving missile defense is not something that will force Russia out of Crimea any time soon. The offer of European observers to protect the Russian-speaking population of Crimea is clever–because Putin will reject it, thereby undermining in Western eyes his rationale for sending in troops–but it will do nothing to alter the situation on the ground. Russian troops are in Crimea to stay for the foreseeable future. Read more…