Kovacevic on Geopolitics

It is hardly a secret that the most vocal advocates of NATO expansion into East-Central Europe were the U.S. weapons manufacturers and their lobbyists. For instance, one of the founders of the U.S. Committee to Expand NATO, a non-profit advocacy organization, was Bruce Jackson, a vice president at Lockheed Martin and a former U.S. Army intelligence officer.[1] As even the New York Times pointed out at the time, such a work biography was fairly common among those who pressured the Congress into expanding the Alliance, though the threat from its main enemy (as well as the main enemy itself) turned into dust. In just two years in the mid-1990s, the six biggest U.S. arms makers – MacDonnell Douglas, Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Textron Inc. – reported spending $51 million on lobbying, most of which went into the push for NATO expansion.[2] As the result, NATO almost doubled, expanding from 16 to 28 member states. Prodded by the big money, the Clinton Administration did not mind opening the Pandora’s box of future European conflicts and the six giants of the U.S. military-industrial-intelligence complex could rub their hands with a great deal of satisfaction. The vast new weapons markets, closed to them until the East-Central European militaries were forced to become “interoperable” with NATO “standards,” were theirs for taking. The East-Central European political elites, brought to power and/or infiltrated by these same corrupt corporate and lobbying networks, slashed their states’ health, education, and social programs, but embraced high military spending with open arms. Even while there was less and less money for bread, the money for guns was always found.

This is the trend that continues to this day with obviously tragic consequences: the more these states are pushed into accumulating heavy weaponry, the more likely it is that existing deep antagonisms between and within states, instead of being reconciled in a peaceful manner, will turn violent. This is especially true in the Balkans because the ruling Balkan elites have lost political legitimacy and electoral credibility in eyes of the majority of the population and the only way they have left for homogenizing their voter base is the manufacturing of an inside and/or outside threat from the “usual” suspects.

The U.S.-NATO military-industrial-intelligence complex has always been ready and willing to assist its political clients in the Balkans in augmenting their militaristic image and projection of power. However, recently, the Russian government and its weapons makers have also gotten into the same business, helping its client states. This makes the probability of a proxy war in the Balkans not as remote as it may have appeared just a couple years ago.

The Proxy Re-Armament

In October 2015, it was announced that the Pentagon would donate 16 M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) to the military of Croatia with strings attached: Croatia would have to buy rockets from the U.S. manufacturers. There was even talk of some of the rocket systems being re-designed to fire ballistic missiles, each missile coming with a hefty price tag of $2 million.[3] This further increases Croatia’s dependence on the U.S.- produced heavy artillery as all its existing Russian-made rocket systems (inherited from the Yugoslav army), at least some of which were still in working order, will be scrapped.

The Pentagon also promised Croatia 16 OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters. They were to replace the Russian-made Mi-24s, which Croatia got rid of a decade ago when it was making final preparations for joining NATO. The first five of these helicopters were delivered to Croatia by the U.S. Army C-5 Galaxy transport plane at the end of July 2016.[4] The Croatian government agreed to pay all the taxes and the pilot training: the price tag – $30 million.

The dramatic increase in the number of rocket systems and attack helicopters in Croatia has seriously undermined the already shaky balance of power in the Balkans, established after the wars of Yugoslav secession in the 1990s. It appears that this is a part of the overall militarization strategy for Europe’s East drawn up by the Pentagon in recent years, supported by the Obama Administration, and heavily funded by the Republican-controlled Congress. When the profits of the U.S. military-industrial-intelligence complex are concerned, there are no differences between the Democrats and the Republicans. And so, the Pentagon’s 2017 East-Central European budget was quadrupled with a bipartisan blessing: from $789 million in 2016 to $3.4 billion.[5]

The tensions that this rapid U.S-engineered militarization is engendering in the Balkans are particularly noticeable with regards to Croatia’s relations with Serbia and vice versa. The Serbian government could hardly remain indifferent to Croatia’s increasing its military power projection and, predictably, it turned for help to Russia, its historically most important strategic ally.

In January 2016, Serbia was visited by Dmitry Rogozin, the Russian deputy prime minister in charge of defense matters. Rogozin is well known as Russia’s former ambassador to NATO (2008-2011) who earned Western dislike by his skilful defense of the Russian conduct in the 2008 war against Georgia. He published a book about his experiences at NATO headquarters under the title НАТО точка Ру [NATO dot Ru], which became a best-seller in Russia.[6] Rogozin was consulted by the Serbian government about the procurement of various types of military equipment. As a gift to the Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vučić, Rogozin brought a plastic model of the Russian long-range surface to air missile system S-300 and stated that had Serbia had this system in 1999, NATO would not have dared to attack.[7]

However, as Vučić, who is not particularly inclined toward Russia, but has to appear so due to the popular pressure, pointed out the negotiations about Serbia’s acquiring S-300 may take “many months.” Still, the very thought of Serbia’s installing it on its territory leads to a lot of nervous laugher in the corridors of power in Brussels and Washington, DC. In other words, the U.S.-NATO strategists may get more than they bargained for when they started going about pumping the militaries of their clients in the Balkans. Moreover, some media outlets also reported that Rogozin and Vučić talked about the possibility of Serbia’s buying MIG-35s, the Russian newest fighter aircraft.[8] However, the price is prohibitive for the Serbian budget: $27 million per jet.

Since Rogozin’s visit, there have been a lot of reports in the Serbian media about the Russian weapons being sent to Serbia. The stories were typically promoted by the pro-Russian Serbian media outlets (especially the tabloid publications), whereas the Western-sponsored Serbian media and NATO friendly political analysts and journalists have done everything they could to minimize and/or deny the reports.[9] This is all to be expected as each side attempts to sway the public opinion in the direction of its political agenda, though there seems to be no doubt that some shipments of the Russian military equipment to Serbia are taking place.

However, as already pointed out, it should be kept in mind that the current government of the prime minister Aleksandar Vučić is the most pro-NATO Serbian government on record and that the Ministry of Defense it controls prefers to cooperate and collaborate with NATO than with Russia. In February 2016, Vučić’s government prepared a wide-ranging agreement with NATO, granting NATO troops the unrestricted freedom of movement and diplomatic immunity in Serbia, which was later signed into law by the Serbian president Tomislav Nikolić.[10] Vučić argued that this was something that was already negotiated by the previous goverments, but avoided to answer directly as to why the Russian military personnel was not granted the same privileges. Clearly, Vučić has to engage in the carefully crafted, underhanded effort to promote NATO interests, considering that the vast majority of the Serbian population is firmly against closer ties with NATO. It appears certain that Vučić’s political rating will plunge once the extent of his pro-NATO policies becomes more apparent to the general public.

At the same time, Vučić’s pro-NATO intrigues are made very complicated by the anti-Serb political rhetoric of the Croatian ruling elites, which have a clear backing and support of the U.S.-NATO networks. After all, the current president of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, was also the Croatian ambassador to the U.S. (2008-2011) and NATO assistant secretary general for public diplomacy (2011-2014). I have written extensively on the events surrounding her January 2015 election for president.[11] Together with the leaders of the two major Croatian political parties, the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) and the Social-Democratic Party (SDP), as well as the recently formed third major party “Most,” Grabar Kitarović has, in the last few months, amplified the aggressive political messages directed against Serbia. This rhetoric was accompanied by various nationalist provocations, such as for instance the unveiling of the monument to Miro Barešić, an extreme Croat nationalist who assassinated the Yugoslav ambassador to Sweden, Vladimir Rolović, in 1971. The unveiling was attended by several key members of the Croatian ruling political elite.[12]

Some analysts place this heated nationalist political discourse in the context of the early parliamentary elections scheduled for September 11, 2016. They argue that faced with the worsening economic crisis and the rapidly increasing public debt, which the allegiance to the ideology of neoliberalism imposed from the West makes even more fatal, the Croatian political heavy-weights can find no other way to make voters turn out and vote. In other words, they are seeking to raise their flagging legitimacy by ratcheting up the threat from Serbia. While the implementation of this political tactic is undeniable, there could be more to it than that.

This is so because there appears to be a consensus forming in certain U.S.-NATO circles that some kind of large-scale violent conflict with Russia in the coming years is likely and that therefore the Balkan peninsula may provide an ideal ground for testing that conflict’s initial stages. This is why they have pushed for the increased Pentagon’s weapons shipments to their Balkan client states, not only to Croatia, but also to Romania and Albania. In this context, it is especially troubling to note the reported transfer of U.S. nuclear weapons from the Incirlik military base in Turkey to the Deveselu base in Romania, thus significantly shortening their distance to Russia. The Deveselu air base already houses the new U.S. missile shield. Although the nuclear missiles transfer has been denied by the Romanian government, it was confirmed by reliable independent sources.[13]

There is no doubt that the Russian government is planning a set of counter-measures, which, in my opinion, will include the dramatic increase of the Russian military presence in the Balkans, including the delivery of powerful rocket and other weapons systems and hardware to the traditional allies, such as Serbia, the Serb Republic in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and perhaps even Macedonia.

The weapons of such tremendous destructive power have not been seen in the region since the demise of the extremely well-armed (but poorly commanded) Yugoslav People’s Army in the early 1990s. Left in the hands of the corrupt Balkan politicians who have absolutely no moral considerations for their constituents and serve at the whim of their Great Power sponsors, these weapons make possible catastrophic outcomes.

NOTES:

[1] http://www.globaldashboard.org/2014/09/04/bruce-jackson-man-took-nato-east/ Jackson was also the chairman of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/1998/03/30/world/arms-contractors-spend-to-promote-an-expanded-nato.html?pagewanted=all

[3] http://www.jutarnji.hr/vijesti/hrvatska/veliki-posao-morh-a-i-pentagona-hrvatska-kupuje-mocno-oruzje-koje-ce-potpuno-promijeniti-vojnu-ravnotezu-u-regiji/175255/

[4] http://www.express.hr/brifing/putin-u-sloveniji-sad-helikopteri-u-hrvatskoj-sve-isti-dan-6335

[5] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-35476180

[6] http://militera.lib.ru/research/rogozin_do01/index.html

[7] http://balkans.aljazeera.net/vijesti/rogozin-rusija-razmatra-srpski-zahtjev-za-raketama-s300

[8] http://www.blic.rs/vesti/politika/otkrivamo-rogozin-dosao-da-nam-proda-oruzje/ql3q8r5

[9] http://rs.n1info.com/a182671/Vesti/Vesti/Srbija-ne-nabavlja-oruzje-od-Rusije.html

[10] http://www.novosti.rs/vesti/naslovna/politika/aktuelno.289.html:591737-Potpis-na-zakon-o-NATO

[11] http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2014/12/23/bfp-exclusive-the-balkans-presidential-december-a-test-for-the-us-nato-empire/; http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2015/01/29/bfp-exclusive-the-balkans-elections-update-croatia-greece/

[12] http://www.jutarnji.hr/vijesti/hrvatska/foto-otkriven-spomenik-miri-baresicu-dosli-gotovina-medved-hasanbegovic-coric…/4574636/

[13] http://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/news/us-moves-nuclear-weapons-from-turkey-to-romania/

Originally published by BFP on September 9, 2016.

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