When NATO jets attacked Serbian military targets in Kosovo in 1999, relations between the West and Russia plummeted to lows not seen since before the Soviet collapse eight years earlier.
Russia, under the presidency then of Boris Yeltsin, complained that NATO was attacking a sovereign nation, unprompted, and was setting a dangerous precedent. NATO, Washington included, said atrocities allegedly being committed against the Kosovars justified the intervention.
Since then, Russia has thrown the West’s reasoning back in its face, most recently in Ukraine’s Crimea, when the Kremlin used allegations — spurious, at best — that ethnic Russians were in danger as justification for intervening.
Wesley Clark was Supreme Allied Commander Europe for NATO when Kosovo crisis happened, and he’s regularly questioned on the justification for, and the fallout from, the attack.
In a recent interview in Washington with VOA’s Albanian Service, Clark distinguished between what happened in Kosovo and what’s happening today in Ukraine.
Watch video interview with Clark:
VOA: “Do you see any parallel between Kosovo and Crimea?”
What Russia is doing in Ukraine is not in any way parallel to what NATO did in Kosovo because in Kosovo you had a group of people who were fighting to preserve their own culture against the Serb repression. What is happening in Ukraine has nothing to do with this. The Russian population is not under any repression in Ukraine whatsoever. Instead, what we got is a manufactured crisis by Mr. Putin who is trying to draw similarities but there are no similarities whatsoever. The only real similarity is that when people get a taste of democracy, they want more of it; they want a chance to select their own leaders, they want a government that is free of corruption, they want a chance to be treated with dignity and they want to be part of the movement of western civilization. That does have a similarity between what happened in Kosovo 15 years ago and the progress made since and the aspirations of the people in Ukraine.
VOA: How has the West reacted towards the crisis in Ukraine?
I think that what the West has to do is we have to help the government of Ukraine. It has to clean the remains of the aggression in its eastern areas, it has to develop economically, it has to follow through on the promised reforms and bring democracy and economic growth to the people of Ukraine. Ukraine is a big country. It is 45-46 million people. It has got a lot of modern industry; it also has a lot of very key resources. There is no reason for it not to be one of the leading countries of Europe. It should be, and hopefully now it will be.
VOA: How can you square that with the economic interests that the EU is having in Russia?
I think that the EU has to sort through this. The purpose of the European Union expansion is to bring stability to the East and ultimately that stability will come to Russia. There is no long term reason that Russia can’t be part of the same peaceful community of nations. But they can’t military forces and take military action and change boundaries like this. That’s wrong!