Despite intense efforts by the European Union and NATO to resolve the simmering crisis in the Balkans, the region again shows signs of boiling over into bloody ethnic and religious warfare, as Russia’s influence grows in the area, a result of disenchantment with Western peacekeeping efforts.
A spokesman for the Defense Ministry of Macedonia, a small former republic of Yugoslavia located in the south central Balkan Peninsula, stated that Macedonia is appealing to Russia for assistance and “will use Russian counter-terrorist experience in Chechnya,” according to official Russian sources.
Moscow stated that the Macedonian chief of staff, Gen. Jovan Petkovski, has already obtained an agreement with Russia “to provide consultations” with Macedonia on counter-insurgency techniques used in Chechnya. “The [Macedonian] defense minister sees much in common between Albanian militants operating in Macedonia … and [Chechen] armed groups,” Moscow stated.
The statements were carried by the Voice of Russia World Service, the official broadcasting service of the Russian government.
For several years, Macedonia has witnessed serious civil strife between the Macedonian majority and the nation’s Albanian minority. The Albanians claim that the Macedonian majority has discriminated against them, while ethnic Macedonians charge that the Albanians want to establish a Muslim “Greater Albania” carved out of Macedonian and Kosovo territory.
“Macedonian authorities are aware that international terrorist centers try to convert a country into a stronghold” for the purpose of “carrying out attacks using money from abroad and mercenaries,” Moscow asserted, drawing a comparison between the guerrillas in Macedonia with Chechen militants who have attacked Russian territory outside of Chechnya.
The militant Islamic guerrillas in the Chechnya republic, which is a member of the Russian Federation, have attacked neighboring Russian republics and have been accused of bombings in Moscow. Ties between the Chechen militants and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network have been established, and the Chechen fighters are known to finance a portion of their activities through illegal drug trafficking.
The request from Macedonia for Russian expertise “means that [Macedonia], which really realizes the danger of spreading international terror, assesses highly the methods used by Russia” to suppress the Chechyn insurgency.
Macedonia’s interest in Russian counter-insurgency methods in Chechnya is occurring despite repeated Western condemnation of those methods.
In April 2001, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights approved a resolution presented by the European Union that “strongly condemns the continued use of disproportionate and indiscriminate force by Russian military forces … including attacks against civilians,” according to a BBC report.
The Commission on Human Rights also denounced “serious violations of human rights, such as forced disappearances, extra judicial summary and arbitrary executions and torture.”
At the same time the Macedonian Defense Ministry is seeking Russian advice on possible means of counter-insurgency, Gjorgji Trendafilov, a spokesman for the Macedonian government, expressed outrage at the suggestion that an agreement on the borders between Macedonia and Yugoslavia is not valid.
According to a Macedonian Information Agency report, U.S. Brig. Gen. Keith Huber, who is the KFOR Commander of the Multinational Brigade East, stated that the Feb. 23, 2001, Border Delineation Agreement was “illegal.” Huber also stated that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan agreed with the assessment of the border agreement.
KFOR is the U.N.’s military force in Kosovo, and it coordinates its efforts with UNMIK, the civilian U.N. Mission in Kosovo.
“Such statements are only supported by those that have caused the armed conflicts in Macedonia,” Trendafilov declared.
The question of the validity of the border agreement arose from claims by farmers in Kosovo who owned land in Macedonia but were unable to cultivate it. Huber stated that he will use troops to back the claim of the Kosovo farmers.
The Macedonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited other statements from KFOR and UNMIK officials placing the border agreement between Macedonia and Yugoslavia in question, the Macedonian Information Agency reported.
The president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Kostunica, also expressed his concern over statements questioning the legality of the border agreement.
Kostunica appealed to Annan in a letter stating that the border agreement was “published as a document of the General Assembly and the U.N. Security Council,” and requested that the U.N. observe Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity, which is guaranteed in U.N. Resolution 1244.
Kostunica’s statements were reported by Radio Yugoslavia, the official broadcasting and Internet service of the Yugoslav government.
While some U.N. representatives in the Balkan region are ready to redraw borders in one of the most volatile regions on earth, the exact position of Annan remained unclear at press time.