Russia has issued a warning against a repeat of the NATO Western military alliance’s bombing campaign of Yugoslavia on its 22nd anniversary, as Washington’s top diplomat seeks to rally the alliance for the first time under the banner of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.
“Such evil, as NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia, must never be repeated,” Moscow’s embassy in Belgrade, then the Yugoslav capital and today the capital of Serbia, said in a statement Wednesday in reference to the 1999 NATO attack on the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The statement argued that the attack violated “the basic principles of international law established in the UN Charter, the final document from Helsinki and other international documents.”
The air campaign was launched in response to accusations that Yugoslav security forces had conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against ethnic Albanians in the fight against the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army. Both Russia and China used their permanent United Nations Security Council member privileges to veto international action, arguing a need for peaceful settlement rather than the use of force.
NATO went ahead anyway, with Moscow protesting to this day.
“During the 78 days of barbaric bombing, which was cynically depicted as a ‘humanitarian intervention in the name of rescuing refugees,’ about two thousand civilians died,” the embassy said. “A significant part of the country’s infrastructural and industrial capacity has been destroyed. Thousands of civilian buildings have been demolished. The application of ammunition with depleted uranium has led to irreversible infections in a number of regions of land and groundwater.”
Included in the collateral damage of the campaign was China’s embassy in Belgrade, where U.S. bombs killed at least three Chinese nationals and injured over two dozen more.
The statement also complained of “huge damage” not only to physical infrastructure but also “to the architecture of peace and security in Europe and international stability.”
The bombing, Russia argued, paved the way for further interventions across the globe, including “a whole series of Western operations with the implementation of the forces initiated under propagandist pronunciation, without the approval of the UN Security Council or with the perverted interpretation of the mandate assigned by the UNSC.”
“Russia will continue to firmly advocate strict respect for universal international legal norms, such as the principle of not interfering with the internal affairs of sovereign states,” the embassy said. “In this context we will support all efforts that will contribute to Belgrade and Pristina achieving a sustainable and mutually acceptable solution that suits the interests of the people of Serbia and international law.”
To mark a decade since the NATO bombing of Libya, the Russian embassy in Washington recently accused the alliance of wrongly pursuing regime change against longtime Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi “to the most devastating consequences.”
Amid tense ties with NATO today, Konstantin Gavrilov, the head of the Russian delegation to the Vienna Negotiations on Military Security and Arms Control, criticized what he called NATO’s “policy of ‘containment of the Russian Federation” during a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Forum for Security Cooperation. Such an approach, he argued, was “counterproductive and only weakens stability in Europe.” He called on NATO to choose between “either containment or dialogue with our country.”
The Biden administration has sought to reinvigorate U.S.-NATO ties that were strained under former President Donald Trump, and has lashed out at Russian President Vladimir Putin, agreeing that he is “a killer” and warning he would “pay a price” for allegedly interfering in the 2020 U.S. election.
Putin provided an unusual answer.
“As for the statements of my American colleague, how would I respond to him?” Putin asked rhetorically. “I would say to him: ‘Be healthy!’ I wish him good health.”
He then warned, “Whatever you call me is what you are called yourself,” and recounted a selective history of the United States, including mass killings of Native Americans, the enslavement of African Americans and the use of nuclear weapons in combat. Putin himself is accused of orchestrating the killing of dissidents, as well as the attempted poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.