STRATFOR's 
Global Intelligence Update 
Weekly Analysis June 14, 1999 
 
 
"It's the Russians, Stupid"
 
Summary: 
 
NATO continued its policy of trying to turn a compromise into a 
victory.  In order to do that, it has been necessary to treat 
Russia as if its role was peripheral.  It was a policy bound to 
anger Russia. It was not a bad policy, if NATO were ready and able 
to slay the bear.  But goading a wounded bear when you are not in a 
position to kill him is a dangerous game.  On Saturday morning, the 
bear struck back.  NATO still hasn't gotten him back in his cage. 
 
Analysis: 
 
President Bill Clinton had a sign taped to his desk at the 
beginning of his first term in office that read, "It's the Economy, 
Stupid." He should have taped one on his desk at the beginning of 
the Kosovo affair that said, "It's the Russians, Stupid." From the 
beginning to the end of this crisis, it has been the Russians, not the Serbs, 
who were the real issue facing NATO. 
 
The Kosovo crisis began in December 1998 in Iraq.  When the United 
States decided to bomb Iraq for four days in December, in spite of 
Russian opposition and without consulting them, the Russians became 
furious.  In their view, the United States completely ignored them 
and had now reduced them to a third-world power - discounting 
completely Russia's ability to respond.  The senior military was 
particularly disgruntled.  It was this Russian mood, carefully read 
by Slobodan Milosevic, which led him to conclude that it was the 
appropriate time to challenge the West in Kosovo.  It was clear to 
Milosevic that the Russians would not permit themselves to be 
humiliated a second time.  He was right.  When the war broke out, 
the Russians were not only furious again, but provided open 
political support to Serbia. 
 
There was, in late April and early May, an urgent feeling inside of 
NATO that some sort of compromise was needed.  The feeling was an 
outgrowth of the fact that the air war alone would not achieve the 
desired political goals, and that a ground war was not an option. 
At about the same time, it became clear that only the Russians had 
enough influence in Belgrade to bring them to a satisfactory 
compromise.  The Russians, however, were extremely reluctant to 
begin mediation.  The Russians made it clear that they would only 
engage in a mediation effort if there were a prior negotiation 
between NATO and Russia in which the basic outlines of a settlement 
were established.  The resulting agreement was the G-8 accords. 
 
The two most important elements of the G-8 agreement were 
unwritten, but they were at the heart of the agreement.  The first 
was that Russia was to be treated as a great power by NATO, and not 
as its messenger boy.  The second was that any settlement that was 
reached had to be viewed as a compromise and not as a NATO victory. 
This was not only for Milosevic's sake, but it was also for 
Yeltsin's.  Following his humiliation in Iraq, Yeltsin could not 
afford to be seen as simply giving in to NATO.  If that were to 
happen, powerful anti-Western, anti-reform and anti-Yeltsin forces 
would be triggered.  Yeltsin tried very hard to convey to NATO that 
far more than Kosovo was at stake.  NATO didn't seem to listen. 
 
Thus, the entire point of the G-8 agreements was that there would 
be a compromise in which NATO achieved what it wanted while 
Yugoslavia retained what it wanted.  A foreign presence would enter 
Kosovo, including NATO troops.  Russian troops would also be 
present.  These Russian troops would be used to guarantee the 
behavior of NATO troops in relation to Serbs, in regard to 
disarming the KLA, and in guaranteeing Serbia's long-term rights in 
Kosovo.  The presence of Russian troops in Kosovo either under a 
joint UN command or as an independent force was the essential 
element of the G-8.  Many long hours were spent in Bonn and 
elsewhere negotiating this agreement. 
 
Over the course of a month, the Russians pressured Milosevic to 
accept these agreements.  Finally, in a meeting attended by the 
EU's Martti Ahtisaari and Moscow's Viktor Chernomyrdin, Milosevic 
accepted the compromise.  Milosevic did not accept the agreements 
because of the bombing campaign.  It hurt, but never crippled him. 
Milosevic accepted the agreements because the Russians wanted them 
and because they guaranteed that they would be present as 
independent observers to make certain that NATO did not overstep 
its bounds.  This is the key: it was the Russians, not the bombing 
campaign that delivered the Serbs. 
 
NATO violated that understanding from the instant the announcement 
came from Belgrade.  NATO deliberately and very publicly attacked 
the foundations of the accords by trumpeting them as a unilateral 
victory for NATO's air campaign and the de-facto surrender of 
Serbia.  Serbia, which had thought it had agreed to a compromise 
under Russian guarantees, found that NATO and the Western media 
were treating this announcement as a surrender.  Serb generals were 
absolutely shocked when, in meeting with their NATO counterparts, 
they were given non-negotiable demands by NATO.  They not only 
refused to sign, but they apparently contacted their Russian 
military counterparts directly, reporting NATO's position.  
A Russian general arrived at the negotiations and apparently presided 
over their collapse. 
 
Throughout last week, NATO was in the bizarre position of claiming 
victory over the Serbs while trying to convince them to let NATO 
move into Kosovo.  The irony of the situation of course escaped 
NATO.  Serbia had agreed to the G-8 agreements and it was sticking 
by them.  NATO's demand that Serbia accept non-negotiable terms was 
simply rejected, precisely because Serbia had not been defeated. 
The key issue was the Russian role.  Everything else was trivial. 
Serbia had been promised an independent Russian presence.  The G-8 
agreements had said that any unified command would be answerable to 
the Security Council.  That wasn't happening.  The Serbs weren't 
signing.  NATO's attempt to dictate terms by right of victory fell 
flat on its face.  For a week, NATO troops milled around, waiting 
for Serb permission to move in. 
 
The Russians proposed a second compromise.  If everyone would not 
be under UN command, they would accept responsibility for their own 
zone.  NATO rejected this stating Russia could come into Kosovo 
under NATO command or not at all.  This not only violated the 
principles that had governed the G-8 negotiations, by removing the 
protection of Serb interests against NATO, but it also put the 
Russians into an impossible position in Belgrade and in Moscow. 
The negotiators appeared to be either fools or dupes of the West. 
Chernomyrdin and Ivanov worked hard to save the agreements, and 
perhaps even their own careers.  NATO, for reasons that escape us, 
gave no ground.  They hung the negotiators out to dry by giving 
them no room for maneuver.  Under NATO terms, Kosovo would become 
exactly what Serbia had rejected at Rambouillet: a NATO 
protectorate.  And now it was Russia, Serbia's ally, that delivered them to NATO. 
 
By the end of the week, something snapped in Moscow.  It is not 
clear whether it was Yeltsin who himself ordered that Russian 
troops move into Pristina or whether the Russian General Staff 
itself gave the order.  What is clear is that Yeltsin promoted the 
Russian general who, along with his troops, rolled into Pristina. 
It is also clear that although Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had 
claimed that the whole affair was an accident and promised that the 
troops would be withdrawn immediately, no troops have been removed. 
Talbott then flew back to Moscow.  Clinton got to speak with 
Yeltsin after a 24-hour delay, but the conversation went nowhere. 
Meanwhile, Albright is declaring that the Russians must come 
under NATO command and that's final. 
 
The situation has become more complex.  NATO has prevailed on 
Hungary and Ukraine to forbid Russian aircraft from crossing their 
airspace with troops bound for Kosovo.  Now Hungary is part of 
NATO.  Ukraine is not.  NATO is now driving home the fact that 
Russia is surrounded, isolated and helpless.  It is also putting 
Ukraine into the position of directly thwarting fundamental Russian 
strategic needs.  Since NATO is in no position to defend Ukraine 
and since there is substantial, if not overwhelming, pro-Russian 
sentiment in Ukraine, NATO is driving an important point home to 
the Russians: the current geopolitical reality is unacceptable from 
the Russian point of view.   By Sunday, Russian pressure had caused 
Ukraine to change its policy.  But the lesson was not lost on Russia's military. 
 
Here is the problem as Stratfor sees it.  NATO and the United 
States have been dealing with men like Viktor Chernomyrdin. 
 These men have had their primary focus, for the past decade, on trying 
to create a capitalist Russia.  They have not only failed, but 
their failure is now manifest throughout Russia.  Their credibility 
there is nil.  In negotiating with the West, they operate from two 
imperatives.  First, they are seeking whatever economic concessions 
they can secure in the hope of sparking an economic miracle. 
Second, like Gorbachev before them, they have more credibility 
with the people with whom they are negotiating than the people they 
are negotiating for.  That tends to make them malleable. 
 
NATO has been confusing the malleability of a declining cadre of 
Russian leaders with the genuine condition inside of Russia. 
Clearly, Albright, Berger, Talbott, and Clinton decided that they 
could roll Ivanov and Chernomyrdrin into whatever agreement they 
wanted.  In that they were right.  Where they were terribly wrong 
was about the men they were not negotiating with, but whose power 
and credibility was growing daily.  These faceless hard-liners in 
the military finally snapped at the humiliation NATO inflicted on 
their public leaders.  Yeltsin, ever shrewd, ever a survivor, tacked with the wind. 
 
Russia, for the first time since the Cold War, has accepted a 
low-level military confrontation with NATO.  NATO's attempts to 
minimize it notwithstanding, this is a defining moment in post-Cold 
War history.  NATO attempted to dictate terms to Russia and Russia 
made a military response.  NATO then used its diplomatic leverage 
to isolate Kosovo from follow-on forces.  It has forced Russia to 
face the fact that in the event of a crisis, Ukraine will be 
neither neutral nor pro-Russian.  It will be pro-NATO.  That 
means that, paperwork aside, NATO has already expanded into Ukraine. 
 To the Russians who triggered this crisis in Pristina, that is an 
unacceptable circumstance.  They will take steps to rectify that 
problem.  NATO does not have the military or diplomatic ability to 
protect Ukraine.  Russia, however, has an interest in what happens 
within what is clearly its sphere of influence.  We do not know 
what is happening politically in Moscow, but the straws in the 
wind point to a much more assertive Russian foreign policy. 
 
There is an interesting fantasy current in the West, which is that 
Russia's economic problems prevent military actions.  That is as 
silly an observation as believing that the U.S. will beat Vietnam 
because it is richer, or that Athenians will beat the poorer 
Spartans.  Wealth does not directly correlate with military power, 
particularly when dealing with Russia, as both Napoleon and Hitler 
discovered.  Moreover, all economic figures on Russia are 
meaningless.  So much of the Russian economy is "off the books" 
that no one knows how it is doing.  The trick is to get the 
informal economy back on the books.  That, we should all remember, 
is something that the Russians are masters at.  It should also be 
remembered that the fact that Russia's military is in a state of 
disrepair simply means that there is repair work to be done. 
 Not only is that true, but the process of repairing the Russian 
economy is itself an economic tonic, solving short and long term problems. 
Military adventures are a psychological, economic and political 
boon for ailing economies. 
 
Machiavelli teaches the importance of never wounding your 
adversaries.  It is much better to kill them.  Wounding them and 
then ridiculing and tormenting them is the worst possible strategy. 
Russia is certainly wounded.  It is far from dead.  NATO's strategy 
in Kosovo has been to goad a wounded bear.  That is not smart 
unless you are preparing to slay him.  Since no one in NATO wants 
to go bear hunting, treating Russia with the breathtaking contempt 
that NATO has shown it in the past few weeks is not wise.  It 
seems to us that Clinton and Blair are so intent on the very minor 
matter of Kosovo that they have actually been oblivious to the effect 
their behavior is having in Moscow. 
 
They just can't get it into their heads that it's not about Kosovo. 
It is not about humanitarianism or making ourselves the kind 
of people we want to be.  It's about the Russians, stupid!  And 
about China and about the global balance of power. 
 

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