The precedent of Kosovo is a terrible precedent, which will de facto blow apart the whole system of international relations, developed not over decades, but over centuries. [The Americans] have not thought through the results of what they are doing. At the end of the day it is a two-ended stick and the second end will come back and hit them in the face.
– Russian President Vladimir Putin
In myriad aspects, Kosovo is the new Kurdistan (and the other way around), as much as Iraq is the new Yugoslavia.
The unilateral independence of Kosovo has nothing to do with “democracy”. But then what’s the point of this North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) provocation towards Vladimir Putin’s Russia – a historic ally of Serbia?
The ongoing saga revolves around two crucial, interrelated facts on the ground: Pipelineistan and the empire of 737 (and counting) US military bases in 130 countries operated by 350,000-plus Americans. In short: it revolves around the trans-Balkan AMBO pipeline and Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, the the largest US base built in Europe in a generation.
It also lays bare continuity from the Bill Clinton to the George W Bush administrations – the US dictating the rules of the game as if in a one-party state.
Yugoslavia and Iraq also “taught” the world two lessons. From Clinton’s humanitarian imperialism to Bush’s “war on terror”, it’s all a matter of exclusive Washington prerogative. Blowback, of course, as Putin has warned, will be inevitable.
The 78-day, 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, allegedly to dislodge a “new Hitler” (Slobodan Milosevic) was mirrored by the 2003 “shock and awe” bombing of Iraq, to dislodge another “new Hitler” (Saddam Hussein). Clinton, demonizing the Serbs, used NATO to sidestep the lack of a United Nations mandate; Bush, also without a UN mandate, demonized Iraqis and went all the way with just an authorization by the US Congress.
Clinton attacked the former Yugoslavia to expand the post-Cold War NATO right up to the borders of the former Soviet Union. Bush attacked Iraq to seize the “big prize” in terms of energy resources. Militarization and hegemonic control were at the heart of both operations. Yugoslavia was devastated, fragmented, balkanized and ethnically cleansed into mini-countries. Iraq was devastated, fragmented, pushed towards balkanization and towards ethnic cleansing along sectarian and religious lines.
Senator Hillary Clinton considered Yugoslavia’s balkanization and now Kosovo’s independence (amputation of Serbia, rather) as “democracy” and a “successful” accomplishment of US foreign policy.
This “model” new independent state saluted by the US, Germany, France and Britain – and virtually no one else – is, according to Vladimir Ovtchinky, a criminologist and former head of Interpol’s Russia bureau during the 1990s, “a mafia state in the heart of Europe”. It’s basically run by Hashim Thaci, a former Marxist who then embraced a nationalist socialism with criminal overtones as one of the youngest chiefs of the UCK (the Kosovo Liberation Army), operating under the codename “The Serpent”.
Madeleine Albright, then US secretary of state, pushed “The Serpent” into the limelight when she attributed to him “the brightest future” among those Kosovars who were “fighting for democracy”. Albright is nowadays one of Hillary Clintons’ top foreign policy advisers. The UCK was roughly a sort of Balkan al-Qaeda on heavy drugs – propped up enthusiastically by US and British intelligence. British special forces trained the UCK in northern Albania while Turkish and Afghan military instructors taught them guerrilla tactics. Even Osama bin Laden had been in Albania, in 1994; al-Qaeda had a solid UCK connection.
Writing in the Russian daily Ogoniok, Ovtchinky describes how Albanian Kosovar clans always controlled opium and then heroin trafficking from Afghanistan and Pakistan through the Balkans towards Western Europe; then during the late 1990s a 3% tax started to finance all UCK operations. The UCK benefited from more than 750 million euros (US$1.1 billion) in drug money to buy weapons, he wrote.
According to Interpol and Europol, just in 1999 and 2000, these Kosovar mafias made no less than 7.5 billion euros – also by diversifying from narco-smuggling into human trafficking and large-scale prostitution. In Germany, they made a killing in Kalashnikov trafficking and fake euro banknotes. And as late as in 2007, Italy’s top three mafias – the Cosa Nostra, the Camorra and “Ndrangheta” – were seriously thinking of creating a unified cartel to face the ultra-heavy Albanian Kosovar mafia.
Get me to my pipeline on time
Washington and the three European Union heavyweights (France, Germany and Britain) have applauded Kosovo’s independence. But this core of the self-described “international community” is caught in silent scream mode when confronted with the possibility of independence for Flanders in Belgium, northern Cyprus, the Serbian Republic of Bosnia, the Basque country in Spain, Gibraltar – not to mention Indian Kashmir (the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, JKLF, is already making some rumblings), Tibet, Taiwan, Abkahzia and South Ossetia (both in Georgia and both Russia-friendly), Palestine and Kurdistan. Northern Kosovo itself – totally Serbian-populated – and western Macedonia also don’t qualify to become independent. So why Kosovo? Enter the AMBO pipeline and Camp Bondsteel.
AMBO is short for Albanian Macedonian Bulgarian Oil Corp, an entity registered in the US. The $1.1 billion AMBO pipeline (also known as the Trans-Balkan), supposed to be finished by 2011, will get oil brought from the Caspian Sea to a terminal in Georgia and then by tanker through the Black Sea to the Bulgarian port of Burgas, and relay it through Macedonia to the Albanian port of Vlora.
Clinton’s NATO war against Yugoslavia and pro-Albania was thus crucial to secure Vlora’s strategic location. The oil will then be shipped to Rotterdam in the Netherlands and refineries on the US West Coast, thus bypassing the ultra-congested Bosphorus Strait and the Aegean and the Mediterranean seas.
The original AMBO feasibility study, as early as 1995, and then updated in 1999, is by a British subsidiary of Halliburton, Brown and Root Energy Services. AMBO fits into Vice President Dick Cheney’s (and before him, Clinton’s energy secretary Bill Richardson’s) US energy security grid. It’s all about go-for-broke militarization of the crucial energy corridor from the Caspian through the Balkans, and about trying to isolate or sabotage both Russia and Iran.
Halliburton had to have a deeper hand in the whole scheme, and that’s where Camp Bondsteel fits in – the largest overseas US military base built since the Vietnam War. Bondsteel, built by Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root on 400 hectares of farmland near the Macedonian border in southern Kosovo, is a sort of smaller – and friendlier – five-star Guantanamo, with perks like Thai massage and loads of junk food. According to Chalmers Johnson in The Sorrows of Empire, “army wags say facetiously that there are only two man-made objects that can be seen from outer space – the Great Wall of China and Camp Bondsteel”. Bondsteel will also double as Kosovo’s Abu Ghraib – the largest prison in the independent entity, where prisoners can be held indefinitely without charges pressed and without defense attorneys. Taxi to the Dark Side, which has just won an Oscar for best documentary, applies not only to Bagram in Afghanistan but also to Bondsteel in Kosovo.
Kosovo’s “independence” has been brewing since 1999. A single 1999 photo tells the whole story – establishing beyond doubt those elusive “international community” ties. The photo unites Hashim Thaci, then head of terrorist outfit UCK and current prime minister of Kosovo; Bernard Kouchner, then UN administrator of Kosovo and current French foreign minister in the Nicolas Sarkozy administration; Sir Mike Jackson, then commander of NATO’s occupying force and current consultant for a Blackwater-style mercenary outfit; and general Wesley Clark, then NATO supreme commander and now military adviser to Hillary Clinton.
Kosovo’s “internationally supervised independence”, which was due to be outlined in a meeting in Vienna this Thursday, has nothing to do with autonomy. Exit the UN, enter the European Union. Amputated from Serbia, Kosovo will be no more than an EU (and NATO) protectorate. EU officials in Brussels confirm that thousands of bureaucrats, along with police officers, will be deployed to Kosovo, to live alongside more than 17,000 NATO military personnel already in place.
Neo-colonialism is alive and well in “liberated” Kosovo – which will have to put up with a viceroy and will have no say whatsoever in foreign policy. Think of “liberated” Iraq under the infamous Coalition Provisional Authority run by viceroy L Paul Bremer.
An array of European analysts, not to mention Russians, has compared the current, dangerous state of play in the Balkans to Sarajevo in 1914 that led to the outbreak of World War II. Blowback, in the short term, will include Serbs refusing to be part of this “independent” state and Albania not recognizing the current Albania/Serbia/Macedonia borders. Just like a century ago, Central Europe, Russia and the Muslim world are clashing in the Balkans, but this time subjected to a US screenplay. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in tandem, gave the go-ahead to the Kosovo declaration of independence weeks before the fact. Small, contrarian EU countries like Slovakia, Romania and Cyprus were imperially overlooked.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has characterized Kosovo’s independence as the beginning of the end of contemporary Europe. As British journalist John Laughland, manager of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group stresses, “The current status of the province is established by UN Security Council resolution 1244,” which determines that Kosovo is part of Serbia. Thus the US and the EU have – once again – made minced meat of international law.
Why not us?
Kurds, especially those in Iraq, might be tempted to believe Kosovo is a meaty precedent pointing to the emergence of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan – their dream, and Turkey’s nightmare. Just as in Kosovo, oil is in play (Kirkuk and its pipelines); and Iraqi Kurdistan, since 1991, had been a sort of extended Camp Bondsteel anyway, an American-protected enclave in Saddam’s Iraq and then a haven of stable “democracy” in Bush-devastated Iraq.
But it’s hard to dream about independence when Iraqi Kurdistan has been de facto invaded by 10,000 Turkish troops with the help of US intelligence.
According to Baghdad’s al-Mada daily, the president of the Irbil-based Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Massoud Barzani, sent an urgent letter to Bush for him to personally stop the Turkish invasion. Barzani flatly accuses the Turks of destroying his region’s infrastructure. Barzani’s spokesman, Falah Mustafa, has placed all responsibility “on the US government”. Peshmerga (Kurdish militia) General Muhammad Mohsen is also furious (“We think the United States is making a big mistake”). This is as good an intimation of inevitable blowback as any.
Dozens of thousands of Peshmerga are now stationed very close to the Turkish-Iraqi border. According to Mohsen, the red line is along the Mateen mountain range. He said, “The Peshmergas told [the Turks] if you go any further we will kill you.” Also according to Mohsen, Barzani theatrically told him, “I will be the first to die in fighting the Turks.”
The official KRG position, endlessly relayed on Kurdish media, is that it has done everything to “limit the activities” of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels in Iraqi Kurdistan. This has fallen as much on (Turk) deaf ears as Baghdad’s feeble official protests. Iraqi Kurdish politician recite the same mantra; the PKK is just an excuse for the Turks to “prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state”.
But then, in the thick of the action, KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani struck quite a different chord. He said the Turks did not attack Kurdish civilians and only destroyed a few bridges in some desolate mountain passes. Kurdish media though is awash with reports and even video of damage to Kurdish villages. So what’s going on?
Turkey’s invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan is a graphic show of force – a sort of “shock and awe” in slow motion, meaning this is a player to be reckoned with in both the Middle East and Central Asia. Turkey – with much more firepower than Serbia, and a NATO member to boot – has set its objectives with precision: to bomb the KRG’s credibility, and to imprint the extent of its reaction in case the Kurdish go for autonomy, including control of the oil-rich Kirkuk area in Iraq. At the same time, this is a message to Washington (don’t trample us or we destabilize the only “stable” part of Iraq) and to Baghdad (let’s do business; we need some of your oil and a lot of your water for our development).
So much for Kurdistan’s dream of independence – inside Iraq as much as for the 12 million Kurds living in Turkey. They are left with a few rumblings, an attempt at downplaying the whole thing, and the obligation of facing the fact that the US, once again, has sold them short. Not to mention the Kurds, once again, they are sold short.
The KRG’s Barzani and current Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, eternal Iraqi Kurdish leaders, rival warlords and wily opportunists, had already sold PKK Kurds short 15 years ago during a joint offensive with the Turkish army (See Double-crossing in Kurdistan Asia Times Online, November 2, 2007). They had vocally promised this would never happen again. It’s happening right now. Thus Turkey wins, hands down – driving a wedge between Washington and Iraqi Kurds.
Blowback, in this case, may be long in coming, but Washington is bound to taste it. Turkey will clinch an oil deal with Russia and will buy Iranian gas and co-exploit Iranian oil in the Caspian. As for Iraqi Kurds – seeing red against both Washington and Ankara – more than ever they won’t stop dreaming of becoming the new Kosovo, on their own terms.