The Destiny of Croatian Serbs Awaited Ossetians

When the US and NATO were methodically killing Serbs in the 1990ies, any attempts to forecast similar developments in Russia on the basis of the understanding of the scenario which materialized in Yugoslavia were blocked by the Russian leadership. The official version was that the troubles of the Balkan peoples were their own problems, while Russia's relations with Washington and Brussels were an example of mutually beneficial cooperation. The vision even survived the 1999 NATO airstrikes. It took Georgia's aggression against Russian citizens and peacekeepers in South Ossetia to finally wake Russia up after 20 years of sleep and to make it realize that the forces of the West are playing a global geopolitical game against it.

A recent publication in the Financial Times helps to understand the analogies between the US policy in the Balkans and the Caucasus. The materials obtained by the paper show who and how trained the Georgian army for the assault in South Ossetia. According to the Financial Times, senior US military officers and two military contractors headquartered in Virginia and hired by the Pentagon – MPRI and American Systems - provided combat training to Georgian special forces commandos. A 15-man team of former US special forces soldiers trained 80 Georgian commandos at the Vashlijvari special forces base on the outskirts of Tbilisi. The training programme was developed by the US Army's Security Assistance Training Management Organization (SATMO) based at Fort Bragg. SATMO sends trainers to work with forces involved in counter-insurgencies, counter-terrorism, and civil wars (!). It has recruited trainers who worked with the government forces in Yemen, Colombia, and the Philippines. Unlike the programmes implemented by SATMO in these countries and other US military training programmes in Georgia, the programme at the Vashlijvari “was surrounded by a general lack of transparency”. Basic special forces skills were taught at the first phase in January-April, 2008. Former US special forces servicemen are known to have received $2,000 a week plus costs as trainers at the Vashlijvari base.

The Financial Times admits that the key circumstance in the shadowy story is the character of one of the contractors – the MPRI – which provided training to the Georgian commandos. In 1995, it was hired by the Pentagon to train the Croatian military prior to their invasion of the Serb-populated Krajina. Operation Thunder took just several days but resulted in the murder of thousands and the exodus of 200,000 Serbs from Croatia. Even the by no means pro-Serb Financial Times describes the campaign as “one of the worst incident of ethnic cleansing in the Balkan wars”1.

The US European command confirmed the existence of the programme of training Georgian commandos only after facing the evidence obtained by the Financial Times.

Many observers including those in the Balkans noted in the aftermath of the recent war in South Ossetia that the Republic and Abkhazia were about to fall victims to a scenario like the one which had materialized in the Balkans. Serbian Radical Party Secretary General A. Vucic says NATO had the same plan for Tskhinvali and Sukhumi as for the Serbs in Croatia in the past2. He says: “In both cases NATO weapons were used in the attack and the attack itself was launched in the summertime. This time there also was the distracting factor of the Olympics. But Russia is not Serbia. Unlike the current Serbian leadership which failed to protect the Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo, Russia did not abandon its citizens. It has asserted itself as a serious power capable of protecting its people and its interests”3.

Russian diplomats and peacekeepers formerly involved in the Balkan history told me privately that they always knew the anti-Serbian scenario would be replayed some day with Russia as the target. However, every time they attempted to adopt an active stance when it came to protecting Serbs in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo, they were confronted with the official position - as the guarantor of peace Russia had to be equally distanced from all parties to the Balkan conflicts, though Washington and Brussels clearly followed a different type of logic. In one of the episodes during the Balkan crisis, Russian peacekeepers had to use force to sober guerilla leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army Ramush Haradinaj. Shortly after the incident, Moscow decided to withdraw its peacekeepers from Kosovo no matter how the local Serbian community wanted them to stay. Unofficially, the decision was explained by the US and NATO pressure on Moscow.

When NATO warplanes were bombing Yugoslavia and US-trained commandos were launching anti-Serbian ethnic cleansing campaigns, the people in Belgrade, Pale, Knin, Gracanica, and other centers of Serbia and Orthodox Christianity asked Russia for help, but to no avail. In August, 2008 the Balkan tragedy came to the homes of Russian citizens. The Tskhinvali nightmare was the price we had to pay for the years of betraying our national interests. Hopefully, was not too late to learn the lesson.

[Source: Strategic Culture Foundation, Moscow, 10Sep08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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