Just as NATO triumphed over the Serb murder of Albanians-a huge symbolic victory of an international body over the murderous nineteenth-century ideology of nationalism-Russia staged a dastardly act showing just how far the West now stands from a creating a global, international, civilized community.
Most see Russia's deployment of troops into Kosovo as an attempt to salve wounded pride in the wake of NATO bombing in Yugoslavia. While that is true, the country has another deep-seated motivation: its latent empire-building drive.
MOVING INTO PRISTINA
Russia, resenting the role given it by NATO in the Kosovo peacekeeping force, shocked the alliance on June 11, when Russian soldiers serving as peacekeepers in Bosnia abandoned their posts and entered Pristina to take control of its airport.
Although the Russian personnel carriers had "KFOR"-the name of the NATO peacekeeping force-painted on them, they blocked western KFOR troops from entering the airport. Television footage showed Russian soldiers smoking cigarettes and smiling wryly. Russian troops openly cooperated with Serb soldiers, offering them protection from NATO's will.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, U.S. President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, says the appearance of Russian troops in Kosovo last week was a "power play" made by Russian President Boris Yeltsin that must not be allowed to stand, AP reported. He advocated blocking Russian attempts to resupply their small contingent at the Pristina airport.
"Failure to apply pressure decisively will mean Mr. Milosevic and Mr. Yeltsin will have succeeded in de facto partition [of Kosovo]," Brzezinksi wrote in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal.
Empires: Cores, Frontiers
Harvard historian John Le Donne argues that certain states form core areas of power. These are usually at the confluence of waterways or other geographically strategic places. These core areas always expand until they run up against either geographical obstacles such as mountains or another expanding core area.
Russia has historically been a core area of power, along with such others as Turkey, Poland, and China. The land between core areas is frontier over which core areas confront each other. As cores seek to push their frontiers forward, they assimilate areas they conquer. Just as the globe has a certain number of core areas, so too does it have eternal frontiers.
Traditional frontiers are usually small and by nature politically less stable than core areas.
The Balkans constitute such a frontier historically been dominated by expanding empires.
The Soviet Union was effectively a Russian empire. After the empire's fall-or reduction-in 1991, Russia's western borders fell back to their position more than 200 years ago.
In judging Russian actions now, it does well to look at history. One need not look far: at the end of the Second World War, Soviet tanks raced toward Berlin and snatched and partitioned off the land they conquered.
Sherman Garnett writes that the problem Russian foreign policy will pose for the outside world now is less the return of empire rather than the unpredictable consequences of weakness and overcommitment. He writes that weaknesses and resource constraints confuse foreign policy in the short term and complicate the reconstitution of Russian power over the long term.
The fact that Russia can hardly afford to keep a contingent of troops in Kosovo underscores such an interpretation. The taking of the Kosovo airport is more a loud cry than a real threat. But it is in an atmosphere of Russia's desperate economic and political situation, its humiliation after a decade of looking to the West for economic and political models, that the country's politicians and generals make desperate moves.
That is a problem that has affected Russia for centuries. In the absence of real power and control both internally and beyond its borders, the state has resorted to shows of force to create the illusion of greater force. That helps mobilize the population and distracts it from the state's internal problems.
Brzezinski lauds Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington's statement that "a world without U.S. primacy will be a world with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth than a world where the United States continues to have more influence than any other country in shaping global affairs. The sustained international primacy of the United States is central to the welfare and security of Americans and to the future of freedom, democracy, open economies, and international order in the world."
The main concern for the West in Kosovo was that Russian forces acting independently of NATO command might split Kosovo into sectors. That would attract the minority Serb population to a Russian-controlled zone and perpetuate the national split under which the Serb murder of Albanians took place.
For Russia, the move into Pristina was an assertion of power in a part of the world where it held great influence before the collapse of the Soviet empire. As AP reports, it is a matter of great national pride and political solidarity with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that Russian troops in Kosovo not fall under NATO control.
Partitioning Kosovo would have influenced the outcome of talks on Kosovo's political future. The Russians have given the Serbs hope that they will not completely lose control of Kosovo. A Belgrade backed by Russian protection makes the issue not a local Balkan affair but a major political struggle for power between Moscow and Belgrade and the United States and NATO.
A divided Kosovo would also have ruined the western idea for a peaceful Balkans region.
NATO wants to make sure that non-NATO countries taking part in the Kosovo peacekeeping force accept the command of NATO generals. The West justifies its demands as a matter of ensuring practical coordination between countries' forces.
Almost every segment of Russian society and almost all of the country's politicians loudly opposed NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia. Russia claims it helped broker a peace deal, but that effort was also part of an attempt to assert itself and influence the outcome of negotiations.
In fact, Russia did much to try to escalate the crisis and turn it into a stand-off between it and the West. President Boris Yeltsin is said to have threatened redirecting nuclear warheads to point at NATO member countries. Many politicians also said they would push to send Yugoslav forces military assistance.
Now Russia is adamant in insisting that its troops not fall under NATO command.
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said the entire plan for postwar Kosovo was at stake, since it is based on NATO's agreement with Milosevic on the presence of an international security force and the right of ethnic Albanians who were expelled by Serbs to return to their villages, AP reported.
"We have to make sure that this agreement stands, and it cannot stand if there is going to be a posture struck by the Russians that they are there to defend the Serb population against the Kosovars," Cohen said, according to AP.
Before ethnic Albanians began streaming out of Kosovo, which turned into a flood when NATO began its bombing campaign on March 24, they represented about 90 percent of Kosovo's population. Most of the rest were Serbs.
The United States feared that if Russia controls a region in Kosovo, it might become a de facto Serb state within Kosovo, given the Russians' claim to historic cultural, political and religious ties to the Serbs.
Russia's revived desire to increase its influence-which in its current weakened state amounts to little more than desperate slaps at a powerful and growing NATO-will only increase if appeased. NATO's best course in combating Russian nationalistic imperialist tendencies is to do what it did in Yugoslavia: fight back.