Just a couple of years ago very few people in the United States, Russia or Western Europe, beside experts on the Balkans, would have recognized the name Kosovo and still fewer would have known anything about this obscure Serbian province. Since early 1999 all the world’s attention has been concentrated on the events in this hot spot. Moreover, further evolution of the conflict in and around Kosovo will largely define relations between Russia and the West, the state of European security and many world affairs at the opening of the twenty-first century.

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Dr. Alexei G. Arbatov – Deputy Chairman, Committee on Defense Russian State Duma

Despite the end of NATO’s air campaign against Yugoslavia, the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo and the deployment of NATO and Russian peacekeepers there under the UN mandate, the tragic Balkan saga is still far from over. However, regardless of further developments in the region, the crisis has already produced some crucial lessons and insights into the state of international politics ten years after the end of the Cold War. These are as follows:

* Russia and the West, and above all the United States, were caught unprepared by this crisis, despite numerous warnings of its coming for many years before the eruption of violence in February 1998.

* The Russian and Western publics, parliaments and mass media perceive the nature of this conflict, its origins and the methods of dealing with it in starkly different, sometimes opposite ways, in spite of the preceding decade of mutual openness, massive contacts and the free exchange of views on a broad range of political and security issues.

* Russia and the West have demonstrated huge miscalculations of each other’s motives, actions and reactions, leading to mutual recriminations and suspicions, reminiscent of the worst Cold War years.

* International organizations, which had been authorized and expected to deal with such conflicts – the United Nations (UN) and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have shown severe limits in their abilities to handle them.

* International law, the UN Charter, multilateral fora and legal agreements, which were expected to cement the basis of the post-Cold War security structure in Europe and other regions, proved to be of little significance and easy to ignore or evade in practical policy not only to rogue” states, but even for the most civilized nations of Europe and North America.

* All of a sudden, the unprecedented security cooperation and partnership of the last decade, as well as the agreements of several previous decades, have proven to be all too fragile, raising the possibility of a return to mistrust, rivalry and confrontation, which supposedly had been left forever in the past.

* The concealed divergence of Russian and Western security perceptions, perspectives and priorities, which had existed since the mid-1990s, but was pushed under the carpet by political leaders at ceremonial summits, burst out and left Moscow and NATO facing each other almost through gunsights.

* The consequences of the Kosovo crisis of 1999 will have a long-term negative effect on U.S.-Russian relations and the further evolution of European security, as well as on the roles of the UN and the OSCE in resolving problems on the European continent, including the Balkans and post-Soviet space.

* Before the end of 1999 the experience of Kosovo precipitated a new phase of tensions between Russia and the West, this time around the “Russian Kosovo” in Chechnya. Perceptions of the Kosovo conflict deeply affected Moscow’s conduct in Chechnya and Western reactions to it.

The new Russian Duma elected in December 1999 may open the way to progress in U.S.-Russian relations in particular to START II ratification. For the future the Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council (PJC) should be strengthened with a tacit understanding that NATO will not undertake any new out-of-area action except with the authorization of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Russia and the West should also cooperate in building stable and economically sound relations across the post-Soviet space with greater cooperation between the United States and Russia on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the new security problems of the twenty-first century.