The conflict in Macedonia is gradually dying out. The militants who invaded the northern part of the country have been partially liquidated, partially dispersed and forced to return to Kosovo. According to reports from Tetovo, the town near which Macedonian Armed Forces fought Albanian terrorists, the troops fully control the mountaintops. Macedonian flags were raised above the Kale Mountain. Lots of weapons, ammunition, and food were discovered at the command post of the Albanian terrorists.
Javier Solana, envoy of the European Union for foreign policy and security came to Tetovo from Skopje March 27, and hurried to announce that the crisis in Macedonia was over. But the situation in that country and in Yugoslavia, where many Albanian militants still remain in Kosovo, has still not been normalized. New conflicts associated with the separatist aspirations of Albanian extremist groups are still possible.
Unfortunately, NATO forces who wanted to act as peacekeepers in Kosovo failed (or did not wish) to disarm the militants of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). According to various estimates, the number of armed people operating in the Presevo Valley and on the border of Kosovo totals up to 5,000. It is a mystery why they were not disarmed in accordance with Resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council. However, it is obvious that KFOR, especially American troops controlling the borders of areas where Albanian militants are operations, are to blame for this. By means of the Urosevac-Presevo road, which is in the US zone of responsibility, Albanian militants were able to freely penetrate the so-called demilitarized zone, which Serb forces had been until recently prohibited from entering. KLA militants penetrated Macedonia from the US zone of responsibility via the Urosevac-Tetovo road.
There are reasons to presume that KFOR participated, although unintentionally, in financing the terrorists, who until recently belonged to the so-called Kosovo Defense Corps (KDC). When NATO forces intervened into Kosovo, KLA militants were enlisted in the KDC. The KDC currently has seven regional groups, each including several detachments (a total of about 5,000 people). Some KDC representatives carry weapons (the KDC is permitted to have 200 pieces for all troops, plus 500 in depots). NATO and UN actually finance the KDC, supplying clothes, paying for its labor during road construction, fire fighting, clean up of natural disasters, and so on.
Thus, there are reasons to say that NATO indirectly contributed to the escalation of tensions in southern Serbia and Macedonia.
Even though it is over 40,000 men strong, KFOR failed to take action against the Albanian extremists, and agreed to control the border of Kosovo with Serbia and Macedonia along with the Yugoslavian Armed Forces.
March 23 President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced at a press conference in Stockholm that what is going on in Macedonia “very much resembles the events in the Chechen Republic.” According to Putin, international community decided to disarm the so-called KLA, but “nothing was done” towards this goal. This creates the conditions “for destabilizing Europe in its very heartland,” added the President. He warned that the situation “may continue to develop in a negative way.” He concluded, “There is no assurance that other countries of the region are fully secure.”
KFOR refused to provide military assistance to Macedonian Armed Forces, and the latter actually liquidated the center of terrorism in the north of the country on their own. Macedonia announced mobilization, enlarging the Armed Forces from about 15,000 to 30,000-40,000 servicemen. Only three countries provided military assistance to Macedonia. Greece supplied medical equipment and combat materiel. Bulgaria supplied combat materiel. Ukraine sent two Mi-8 military transports and two Mi-24 strike helicopters from Kosovo to Macedonia.
Using the Ukrainian helicopters, Macedonian forces conducted a landing operation behind the positions of Albanian separatists, which enabled Macedonian forces partially to cut off the militants from the Kosovo border and destroy them.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported with reference to the PR service of Ukrainian Defense Ministry that, despite escalation of combat operations in northern Macedonia, transfer of helicopters “has nothing to do with the current situation in the country.” The helicopters formerly belonged to Ukrainian contingent of the NATO forces in Kosovo. The PR services added that the mechanism of payment for the helicopters has not yet been agreed upon, and the parties discussed “either direct sale of the helicopters or their leasing.”
One way or another, Ukrainian armament arrived just in time for the Macedonian Armed Forces. It is clear that Russia lost in this game, although Defense Minister Igor Sergeev announced that Russia was ready to help Macedonian Armed Forces combat Albanian terrorists back on March 23. However, a little later Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced that he did not know anything about plans to supply Russian arms and combat materiel to Macedonia, adding that Moscow was providing only political support to Skopje.
This looks a little strange. The Macedonian Armed Forces need military assistance from Russia, because the majority of military equipment and small arms of the small Macedonian Armed Forces are of Soviet manufacture. Macedonia needs ammunition for its T-55 and T-62 tanks, sniper rifles (SVD 7.62-mm), KPVT or Utes heavy machine guns, army aviation (Mi-24 and MI-8 helicopters), and so on. This is armament and combat materiel of older generations, and there is enough of it stored in emergency depots of Russian Armed Forces. It was possible to deliver it to Macedonia without any problem within a couple of days. However, this did not happen.
Commenting on the situation in Macedonia to editors-in-chief of large Russian newspapers, President Putin recently stated that Moscow had its own interests there. It is known that after breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Macedonia bet on the West for its development. Back in 1992, American forces were deployed in this country ready to defend its sovereignty. Before the invasion of Yugoslavia in 1999 Macedonia was used as a bridgehead for intervention of NATO forces in Kosovo. Until recently German units of KFOR were deployed in Tetovo. However, as soon as combat operations began, they were quickly withdrawn to Kosovo.
NATO’s lack of involvement in the physical destruction of the Albanian militants demonstrated a truly consumer attitude towards the alliance with Macedonia. But Russia adopted the same stance. While supporting the forceful actions of Skopje, Moscow did not dare to take a more important step, provision of military technological assistance to that country.
Meanwhile, Germany and US announced their readiness to provide assistance to Macedonia. According to Richard Boucher, official spokesperson for the US Department of State, US and its NATO allies “will be ready to provide the necessary assistance in building up of the military capabilities of Macedonia, and contributing to the efforts of Skopje to strengthen the democratic multinational state.” This assistance will come in the near future.
Thus, for unknown reasons Russian is abstaining from military technological cooperation with Macedonia, whereas other countries are actively cooperating with that country. This means that Moscow is not fully defending its interests in the region.