Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 39
21 June 1999

Sam Vaknin B A L K A N   E N C O U N T E R:
Why Did Milosevic Surrender?

Dr Sam Vaknin

Why Did Milosevic Surrender?

Not because of NATO. Ground damage assessment based on the number of withdrawing troops and their hardware and on a detailed inventory of charred remains in most of Kosovo prove that this air campaign was no different to its predecessors. Only 10% of Serb artillery, tanks, APCs and so on were affected. The Yugoslav (read: Serb) army - ostensibly the side which lost the war - is vibrant and defiant. It does not look like it has been subjected to the equivalent of 12 Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs in 11 weeks. It looks like it knows something that the rest of us don't.

And it does.

Milosevic did not surrender. He entrapped the West in his usual, wily style. He lured the West into a fatal hornets' nest, an unmanageable capsule of centuries-old conflicts, a terrorists' lair, replete with drug deals, gun smuggling and organized crime.

Kosovo constitutes a major drug route from the Golden Triangle, via Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran to Europe. It is an integral part of the path leading via the polluted Vardar River. It is swarming with weapons traders, drug dealers, "freedom fighters," Muslim fanatics, spies, con artists, smugglers and common criminals. Every self-respecting mob is heavily represented there - from the ruthless Bulgarian mafia to the murderous Russian one. The civilian population has long been intimidated into co-operation in all these loathsome (though lucrative) activities. Many are only too happy to collaborate.

Milosevic withdrew his forces - this is an undeniable fact. He did so after he lost the backing of Russia. Russia sold him to the West and disposed of the Old Guard which supported him in the Kremlin. It was handsomely rewarded by that long arm of the USA - the IMF.

But Russia's betrayal is not sufficient to account for the Serb volte face. The turnaround of Milosevic's position was too sudden, and Russia's support has always been more moral than military. Something else was at play.

Notice the following hitherto unimaginable developments:

Milosevic surrenders Kosovo to NATO occupation, including all its holy sites and lucrative mines. There is a conspicuous absence of domestic reaction by the likes of Seselji, the Serb ultra-nationalist. He quits the government - a response eerily civilized judging by his previous record.

There is the stunning rapprochement between Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, an erstwhile nationalist and Albanian-buster, and Hashim Thaci, the self-proclaimed KLA Kosovar "Prime Minister." The two agree to open liaison offices in each others' capital cities and to collaborate with Albania in the forthcoming reconstruction of the Balkan region. All this is happening as the Macedonian Minister of the Interior is accusing both the Serbs and the KLA of conducting subversive activities on Macedonian soil with the aim of splitting Macedonia apart. All this happens as NATO begins to clash militarily with an ever more defiant and cocksure KLA.

The Russians flex their 200-man muscles in an enclave in the Pristina airport. Yugoslavia looks upon the developing East-West choreography with a profound lack of interest. The Serb forces are withdrawing together with tens of thousands of Serb civilians, the new refugees in this never-ending saga. This, despite the fact that Milosevic could have dragged the war on indefinitely without incurring too much damage either to his military or to his regime. Had he done so, NATO would have been the first to blink.

Why did Milosevic surrender? Why so suddenly and so surprisingly? Why did he surrender when NATO was on the verge of breaking apart (recall the acrimonious public exchanges between Blair, Clinton and Schroeder just prior to the auspicious Serb capitulation)?

This is very reminiscent of the German surrender in 1918. The forces in the field felt victorious. The politicians wavered. The result was a sense of betrayal and back-stabbing exploited by the corporal-Fuehrer Hitler.

Sherlock Holmes is known for saying: "When you eliminate the impossible, what remains, however improbable, must be the truth." And what remains is a secret deal. A hidden agenda. A missing protocol.

It is a wild reconstruction of bizarre events. It is improbable. But Milosevic's surrender was impossible - so it must be the truth or a close approximation thereof.

I think that the only reasonable explanation to this week's events is the following:

Milosevic agreed to withdraw from Kosovo and to turn it over to NATO for a limited period of time. NATO (not too eager to remain in the province and police it forever) agreed to disarm the KLA and transform it into a docile police force cum political party. It agreed, in other words, to do Milosevic's bidding and dirty work.

The KLA agreed not to pursue its anti-Serb, pro-independence strategy. Coming from Rugova, such a policy would have been judged treasonable. The KLA was the only force which could have delivered the climbdown. Serbia agreed to recognize the KLA as THE legitimate force in Kosovo once demilitarized and transformed. It actually agreed to support the KLA against the now discarded Rugova.

The KLA needed Serbia, a natural ally in the absence of others. The KLA and NATO agreed to let Serbia back into a KLA-dominated Kosovo later. The exact form of the final political-military arrangement has not been made clear. But it always was evident that it must - and will - include Serb sovereignty and military presence in the province.

Kosovo's political future remained undetermined in this deal. Will it be a province? An autonomous country? Part of a federation? Part of a confederation with Serbia and a more independent Montenegro? No one knows, not even the main players.

But the Serbs, the KLA and NATO are in cahoots. There is more to this "capitulation" than meets the eye.

Macedonia - informed about these backstage accords - hurried to establish good neighborly relations with the real winners of the war: with the KLA. In this, it served as both Serbia's AND NATO's long arm. A perfect venue and communication channel, Macedonia established itself as the arena of future reconstruction and future political negotiations.

Incidentally, Macedonia also secured its own territorial integrity: a happy KLA in a self-governed Kosovo will have little incentive to re-engage in subversive activities in Albanian-populated Western Macedonia

All the participants in this tragicomedy are now going through the motions. The Serbs are withdrawing. The KLA is taking over. NATO half-heartedly tries to disarm the more flagrant KLA units. Serbia is biding its time.

In a few months, it will be asked to re-enter Kosovo by both NATO and the KLA. A political phase will then begin which will result in final status negotiations. Macedonia will host meetings, convey messages between the parties, apply pressure together with Albania and its own Albanian politicians, make promises, hold secretive meetings and diplomatically gesticulate.

If all goes well - everyone will emerge victorious. If not - all the parties are steeling themselves for a second Kosovo war, much more inevitable than the first one.

Dr Sam Vaknin, 20 June 1999

The author is General Manager of Capital Markets Institute Ltd, a consultancy firm with operations in Macedonia and Russia. He has recently been appointed Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.

DISCLAIMER: The views presented in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgements of the author.

Dr Vaknin's website is here.

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