Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,
I would like to say a few words about Russian policy in the region as a whole before discussing more specific matters.
The strategic importance of South Eastern Europe for Russia lies not only in geopolitical factors, but also in the historical traditions, the cultural and religious kinship of our peoples and the geographical proximity of the region to the Russian border.
Russia sees its Balkan policy in the overall context of creating a stable and democratic system of European security. The main task is to achieve a durable and just peace, lasting security and stability in the region on the basis of the fundamental principles of international law and, of course, the decisions of the international community. I am referring first and foremost to the Dayton Accords and UN Security Council Resolution 1244. I must stress that consistent adherence to that principled policy is crucial for ensuring a solid Russian position in South Eastern Europe now and in the future.
The role of the Russian Federation in the region is noticeable. Our partners are urging us to take a still more active part in the affairs of the region. It is in many ways an issue of the effectiveness of our actions and the concrete Russian contribution to stability in the Balkans. Politically, it is important to promote the use of the new comprehensive approach to the settlement of the situation in the Balkans. This is the basis of the Russian initiative on concluding an agreement with the countries in the region that would ensure unstinting compliance with the universally recognized basic principles of relations between states. Above all, of mutual recognition of sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Another priority is to strengthen the Russian economic presence here. There are good opportunities for that. In Belgrade today and in Ljubljana yesterday we discussed it in detail with the leaders of the two states.
The situation in the Balkans remains complicated. The intertwining of political, economic, national and confessional problems is a fertile soil for serious crises, crises that can pose a real threat not only to European, but to global security. It has happened more than once in human history. In spite of the massive international civilian and military presence the process of reconciliation here in Kosovo and in Bosnia and Herzegovina is moving very slowly. Bosnia and Herzegovina has seen no hostilities for five and a half years, but the Dayton peace process is stalling. Nationalist parties still have a big say in the country’s political life. The attempts by international structures to use force to reverse the situation in the region – and you know what I am referring to – have unfortunately been counterproductive.
The crisis over the so-called Croatian question poses a serious threat to the country’s stability. I am referring above all to the withdrawal of almost the entire personnel of the Croatian Army from civilian control. It is an alarming development. Elsewhere in Europe, the reverse process is taking place. The army must be put under the control of civilian authorities. But for some reason here it is the other way around. And so far we have not seen a proper reaction from the international community.
As a result of lack of coordination in the actions of international organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina peaceful settlement may be reversed. Yet to this day there is no agreed plan of action to solve the Croatian problem.
Religious clashes have taken place in the cities of Banja-Luka and Trebina. Dozens of people have suffered. The actions of extremists who threaten to undermine the already fragile stability in the country must be resolutely resisted. Otherwise such incidents may provoke a new military confrontation.
A lack of sufficient coordination between various international structures and their constant interference in the activities of government bodies at all levels result in duplication of each other’s functions, preventing Bosnian politicians from independently seeking solutions to concrete problems and sometimes absolving them of responsibility for what is happening, which is, in our opinion, inadmissible.
Such developments cannot be tolerated, they inevitably lead into an impasse. The international community should seek to create conditions in Bosnia and Herzegovina in which the political forces in the country could independently ensure peace, democracy, economic and social development and integration into European structures. I want to stress the word “independently”.
Our airborne brigade in Bosnia and Herzegovina has a large and formidable zone of responsibility. And we know that you have to face everywhere manifestations of hostility, intolerance and violence as a consequence of bloodshed and long-standing problems. We are aware that Russian servicemen are doing a highly professional job.
Now a few words about Kosovo. Everybody knows that Russia has a negative view of the precipitous adoption of a constitutional framework for Kosovan self-rule. Too many concessions have been made to the radicals. The document has a number of serious flaws to which Russia has repeatedly drawn attention. Above all, it does not refer to strict adherence to the UN Security Council Resolution 1244, including the fundamental concepts of respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia.
The provisions rightly opposed by Belgrade have been retained (we talked about it in some detail with President Vojislav Kostunica yesterday and today). It introduces the posts of President and Chairman of the Government of the province and creates its own justice system. The legal framework of future self-rule of the province has been elevated almost to the level of a Constitution.
The document has been passed over the heads of the UN Security Council and contrary to our persistent recommendations to have it discussed at the Security Council and approved by relevant resolutions. We have repeatedly expressed our opposition to the holding of the general elections in Kosovo scheduled for November 17 this year. With more than 300,000 non-Albanian citizens expelled from the province their outcome may be practically annulled. In practice, it would lead to legalisation of ethnic cleansing. Let me stress that Russia does not object to elections in general. We favour elections. But we favour fair elections with the participation of all the groups of the population living in this area.
In recent months we have witnessed extremism spread from Kosovo to southern Serbia and Macedonia. Consistent attempts are being made to implement the idea of creating a “Greater Albania”, a state that would include all the territories inhabited by Albanians. Even Greece, a member of the EU and NATO, which has an ethnic Albanian population in its northwest, has been facing threats.
I would like to draw your attention to this. Our experience in the North Caucasus suggests that the people who advocate such ideas are least of all interested in a strong state, whether Albanian, Serbian or any other, because that would put them under the control of the international community and would hinder them in the pursuit of their criminal activities connected with narcotics, drugs smuggling, prostitution, and so on. The people who harbour and openly speak about such ideas are interested in the preservation of “murky waters” in which they can fish for their criminal money.
The international community must take measures to isolate armed extremists. So far it has succeeded in southern Serbia, but there too peace is fragile. Because the zone of responsibility of the 13th Tactical Group of the Russian military contingent borders on that area, the process of stabilisation in southern Serbia depends to a large extent on you.
Events in Macedonia are following an alarming scenario. I would like to recall again that we warned about this several months ago. Unfortunately, our worst forecasts are coming true. The leadership of that country is under strong pressure to meet the full extent of the extremists’ demands. It is practically another Kosovo. We know very well what the outcome could be.
Yes, if interethnic and inter-religious problems exist they must be tackled. But it requires tact, patience and of course no use of arms can be tolerated. It is inadmissible to have extremists sitting at the negotiating table. Measures are needed to isolate armed extremists and terrorists. A reliable barrier should be put in the way of the supply of weapons and new recruits to the militants, and to this end the border between Macedonia and Yugoslavia where it faces Kosovo, as well as the Macedonian-Albanian border must be secured. Urgent measures are needed to cut the channels for the financing of militants.
Finally, it is very important politically that no one in the region entertain any illusions that the international community will reconcile itself to attempts to solve political problems by force. Ensuring peace and stability in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina is a key prerequisite for moving the peace process forward in the region as a whole. As I have said, its basis is the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and the Dayton Accords, which are the result of difficult compromises. Only a total and non-selective compliance with the provisions of these documents in accordance with their spirit and letter can create conditions for peace and stability in the region and help to turn the Balkans from the “powder keg” of Europe into a zone of peace, stability and mutually beneficial cooperation.
The highly professional and effective actions of Russian troops in the difficult environment of ethnic and religious conflicts have demonstrated that Russia is a country without which it is impossible to ensure peace and stability in this explosive region. I can say without any exaggeration that the whole country is closely following your activities and is proud of the way you are fulfilling your mission. We categorically reject the attempts to smear our peacekeepers and to present them in the eyes of world public opinion as being anti-Albanian and anti-Muslim. Our contingents are proceeding in strict accordance with accepted international obligations. We are sure that our peace-keeping contingents, operating in an extremely complicated situation and experiencing difficulties due to the objective need for our more active military presence in the region, will continue to perform their mission effectively thus contributing to the growth of Russia’s authority in the Balkans and in the international arena as a whole.
As for the questions that the commanders have just raised here we will try to sort them out on a routine basis. I mean the issues connected with logistical supplies and with ensuring normal withdrawal of the units.