Russian political crisis and the Balkans war

By a delicious irony, Nato leaders, many of whom according to press reports are physically exhausted by the demands on their time posed by the Kosovo war, find themselves at the mercy of the two men they dislike the most: Slobodan Milosevic and Gennady Zyuganov. They are desperate for an exit strategy which leaves them something more than total humiliation and pure defeat. They are desperate (as the Independent today says), for a kind look or word from Milosevic, from any sign of willingness to meet Nato's five 'non-negotiable' demands. But Yeltsin has sacked Primakov, and entered into an auction for votes in which each sides buys support by anti-Nato, pro-serb rhetoric and demands. Milosevic today has even less reason to give ground than he did yesterday; this afternoon, even the pastry-faced dullard Chernomyrdin, whose best friend is Al Gore, showed hostility to the hapless Strobe Talbott, promising him that Russia would pull out of the peacemaking unless the bombing stopped.

Poor Nato. Germany's Chancellor Schroeder in particular is in trouble. His coalition is faltering and the Greens seem set to pull out if the bombing drags on. Schroeder would like nothing more than to cut a deal with Milosevic which would allow his government to survive. But Schroeder, like his counterparts in Italy, France and Britain is even more afraid of the costs of defeat. Germany's ill-fated advance to the east and south-east has opened an abyss at its feet; the danger to German security, Schroeder has said, of a Nato defeat is colossal and unacceptable -- and he is right. For if Nato cannot make its writ run in the Balkans the results for West European capitalism can be catastrophic. Nato itself will be destroyed and with it the framework of European security. The Balkans will be a hornets' nest of displaced persons, with Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and maybe Bosnia the first victims, like chain-links sliding over the edge. The destabilisation of Macedonia and Albania is probably already irreversible. The likelihood of a no-peace, no-war situation emerging as the result of Nato's catastrophic campaign will jeopardise other states in the region, starting with Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, whose economies are already severely impacted and for whose quisling governments the disintegration of Nato is highly ominous. In most of these states a majority of the population is opposed to the Nato action. If Serbia emerges bloodied but unbowed, triumphantly vindicated as the Sparta of the Balkans, its weight in the affairs of neighbouring states will be immense, and in the absence of a credible Nato, Germany and its allies will have to go it alone, building a cordon sanitaire around Yugoslavia as best they can and in the face of the hostility of other powers such as Russia, China and India.

The consequences of the Kosovo debacle will take time to work themselves out. But the chances of disgraced Nato being resurrected seem small, and the Atlantic dimension is therefore going to be transformed. US hegemony is under threat not just in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Balkans, but in the EU too. The intertwining of financial, corporate and military structures and process, and the reciprocity of effects among them, is a key feature of modern imperialism and a clue to the flexibility, dynamism and overwhelming political power enjoyed until now by the US. But leverage works both ways, and from being in a win-win situation the US now faces a lose-lose situation. Loss of military-political control over Europe is dangerous for US corporate and financial hegemony and directly imperils the supremacy of the dollar. Financial convulsions cannot be far behind and as Russia spins out of control, there seems little left to keep the Wall St bubble inflated. But that is not the worst of it. The 'disinterested humanitarians' of Downing St and the White House needed to win in the Balkans to be sure of securing Caspian and Persian Gulf energy supplies in the coming decades. Their failure is no encouragement to their client states in the Gulf or Georgia and Azerbaijan in the Caspian/Caucasus region. And what are the chances now of the US/Europe dominating Russian oil and squeezing China out of the energy-rich Kazakh, Uzbek and other Central Asian states? Nil.

The blindingly-obvious ultimate reason for Nato's military failure is the absolute lack of militarism among the 600m citizens of Nato countries. Arcade war is OK, war-war definitely not, especially when it takes place near Adriatic tourist centres. The mass psychological reconstruction of Nato populations is perhaps the most urgent necessity which the imperialist states, their war makers and ideologists, face. Unless popular pro-war feelings can be whipped up, it is clear that not just Nato is a white elephant: the Revolution in Military Affairs, which was supposed to guarantee push-button control of human affairs, is just a hollow farce.

Since the collapse of Western security structures is bound to result in more go-it-alone national strategies emerging, globalism or no globalism, and so we shall see more open rivalry between the core states themselves (Germany, Japan, the US, the UK), the opportunity for whipping up xenophobia and war hysterias exists. But it seems a stretch to suppose that western publics will be psychologically ready for war, especially if the enemy is a Russo-Chinese alliance, any time soon. Only if western living standards are severely impacted by energy price hikes and rivalry over oil, will contemporary complacency and solipsism diminish.

Of course, it is just conceivable that some hawk like Blair could short-circuit this whole historical process. If a ground war could somehow be launched in Kosovo, it would have a momentum of its own. It is generally supposed that returning body-bags kills off support for wars among the general populace, but that is so only when people find it hard to see what is being sacrificed for, as in Vietnam. In the Balkans, it is all too obvious: if Europe cannot impose an imperial peace then the whole region can go up in flames, Russia will be dragged in and the danger of WW3 would be real. But attempting to impose a military solution itself guarantees, in this lose-lose era, a wider war, and almost certainly the reintroduction of conscription in the UK and elsewhere. Such a war will turn the present catastrophe into something still more apocalyptic, but it would have the great advantage of readying Europeans for the burdens and sacrifices of future wars. Since challenges to world capitalism are rising on all sides, such wars are possible, perhaps inevitable.

One thing is certain: in the next fortnight, crucial decisions must be made by Nato leaders who, preoccupied and tired as they may be, also now face dealing with a momentous upheaval in Russia, one with unpredictable consequences. Either there will be Nato tanks and infantry invading Kosovo, or there will be a fudged peace which will leave Milosevic master of the field not only in Yugoslavia but in neighbouring states whose stability largely depends on them being able to persuade Milosevic to take back the Kosovan Albanians.

The stakes are now so high that we should not rule out a ground war. But the almost certain result of a Nato invasion of Kosovo will be to bring the Communists back into the Kremlin, swept into power on a huge wave of popular feeling and strongly desiring vengeance. Fear of this may stay the hands of Nato leaders. Thus it is the case that Milosevic and Zyuganov are now the key personae in this Nato-farce-turned-Greek-tragedy.

Some time ago I said on JRL that the fourth Russian revolution was inevitable 'if the Dow Jones collapsed'. I'm not sure how long the Wall St bubble can continue in the face of such international adversity, but it seems to me that in any case Kosovo has provided an equivalent catalyst, for the pressure of events on Western leaders is now such, and the failure of Clinton's Russian policy so total, that the necessary window of opportunity does now exist. There is no longer even the semblance of a state in Russia, and no possibility that a capitalist state can be created there.

It is said that Russians do not want a revolution and cherish stability. Of course that is true, and always has been. It was true in October 1917. This longing for peace, certainty and stability was the essence not just of Russian popular feeling, but even of the first decisions taken by Lenin's incoming Bolshevik government: for what else did the Decrees on Peace, Bread and Land offer people? Lenin let the soldier go home from the front, the hungry in the cities eat bread, the peasant till his soil in peace. Only the moment made such demands revolutionary. The party which now offers similar boons to modern Russians will come to power.

As was said in similar circumstances in 1917, there IS such a Party.

Mark Jones


The power struggle in Moscow between the left-dominated Duma and the Yeltsin presidency is reaching a climax. This has always been more than a political struggle: it is a contest about the fate of capitalism in Russia. The new crisis throws Moscow in turmoil and throws in jeopardy Nato plans for a diplomatic settlement of the Kosovo war. Russia will no longer be available to put the screws on Milosevic at Nato's behest, as Yeltsin himself confirmed this morning, when he warned that Russia will break off its peace efforts unless Nato stops the bombing.

Yeltsin is obliged to sound warlike and anti-Nato: according to recent polls, his rating has slipped to two percent, ie below the threshold of statistical error. His political frailty is thus Yugoslavia's gain. Yesterday India issued a statement strongly critical of Nato bombing. Yugoslavia now has the committed support of India, China and Russia. The diplomatic isolation of Nato is developing.

Yeltsin faces renewed attempts by the Russian Duma to impeach him. It now seems certain that the Duma will vote on Saturday to commence impeachment proceedings. The constitutional effect of such a vote is to make it impossible for Yeltsin to sack his prime minister or to dissolve the Duma. This explains why Yeltsin sacked Primakov now. In his place he has appointed interior minister Sergei Stepashin, a colourless personality known only for supporting Yeltsin and for his hawkishness over Chechnya during the Chechen war three years ago. Stepashin resembles a kipper, ie, he is two-faced, gutless and spineless. It is inconceivable that the Duma will accept his nomination. Yeltsin may now try to dissolve the Duma anyway, but the Duma will certainly refuse to be dissolved. There will thus be a dual power situation in Russia and indeed one can speak of such a situation already today.

In 1993 Yeltsin managed to get a few tanks from the Moscow garrison to shell the then parliament, when that refused to endorse him. When Yeltsin recently asked the garrison for the same support if a similar situation occurred today, he was told that 'the tank motors cannot start because they have no batteries'. In 1993 Yeltsin was supported by Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, who controls the Moscow police, inlcuding its OMON paramilitary groups. There is no chance that Luzhkov will support Yeltsin openly today.

If by some chance Yeltsin were to find loyal troops to attack the parliament, they would certainly encounter massive public hostility. Large street demonstartions are now inevitable in any case.

Yeltsin, whose role in destroying the USSR and whose subsequent quisling servility to the West has made him a vilified and scorned leader for most Russians, second only to Gorbachev in their pet-hate list, cannot rely on the support of the oligarchs (they're bust) or the new Moscow middle class (also bust and deeply disillusioned).

If a dual power situations descends into anarchy and street violence in Moscow, the knock-on effects in the regions will be momentous. Secession of Siberia, the Urals and oil-rich Muslim republics such as Tatarstan, seems probable. In this case the incoming, post-Yeltsin government will be faced with civil war and possible foreign intervention. It will have to fight to re-establish a strong Russian state.

Can Yeltsin survive, or even win? It seems unlikely. His best hope is that a stalemate will develop, with Stepashin as acting Prime Minister working to destabilise the Duma and take control over the electoral process. Duma elections are scheduled for later this year. But Yeltsin is not master of events. Everything now depends on the will and resolution, not of any one party or grouping, but of the will of the Russian people themselves. This week, for the fourth time this century, Russia is in the throes of revolutionary struggle.

Mark Jones


A terrible decision is being brewed in Nato capitals. It is the decision to launch an all-out land and air war against Yugoslavia, regardless of civilian casualties. The Balkans War is about to enter a new and still more dangerous stage, as Nato attempts to achieve its goals by means of the military subjugation of Yugoslavia, regardless of the human cost, regardless of world opinion and international law, and regardless of the enormous risk of the war spreading.

The signs of Nato's decision to broaden the war are many. They include the decision to attack Yugoslavia from bases in Hungary and Turkey, despite Hungarian popular resistance, despite the Greek government forbidding Nato planes from Turkish bases access to Greek airspace. The current frenzied attempts to move tens of thousands of Kosovan Albanians away from camps near the Yugoslav border, at Kukes and elsewhere, further south into Albania bespeaks preparations for a widescale border conflagration. A Nato invasion of Kosovo from Albania is clearly imminent, although no final decision may yet have been taken and attempts are being made to terrorise the Yugoslavs into submission by means of these obvious preparations.

Another sign is in Moscow. Last week President Yeltsin made a rambling, incoherent attack on Nato in which he called Clinton 'insolent' and threatened to reply missile for missile. What lay behind this? Not just Yeltsin's arteriosclerosis. Yeltsin had been planning to fire his inconvenient prime minister, Yevgenii Primakov, for a while -- before the Balkans War began. This threatened to destabilise Russian politics completely and provide new political opportunities for the Russian Communist Party. Washington's visceral dislike of Primakov and public silence over his sacking does not alter the fact that from the West's point of view, this is the wrong time to sack Primakov. Clinton, Talbott and Albright, and other Western leaders, no doubt strongly urged Yeltsin not to act before the Kosovo war ended. This is what led to his outburst of anger last week; because Yeltsin, faced by impeachment during which devastating evidence of corruption and crime linked to the Yeltsin family is sure to come out, had to act now to head off his own looming crisis.

The effect of the new Russian political crisis is to spur on Nato plans to crush Yugoslavia militarily. Yesterday, Wednesday, the same day Yeltsin fired Primakov, British parliamentary leaders all argued for ground attacks without delay. Nato strategists and Western leaders are now concerned that failure in Kosovo will create a vortex in the Balkans and will serve to encourage an incoming and highly vengeful Russian government dominated by nationalists and communists, after the possible fall of Yeltsin. It is no longer Milosevic and Yugoslavia which are the main threats: it is the prospect of a resurgent, revanchist Russia re-emerging as a military competitor. This is the prospect which fascinates and horrifies western planners. Therefore however disagreeable it may be in practice, Nato is going to stop fighting with one hand behind its back and is going to take on the Yugoslav army in open combat, in a fight to the finish. The collateral damage will be enormous and will lead to a whole era of Balkans low-intensity warfare. The war will catalyse Russian opinion and greatly strengthen the hand of the Communists. But the West is trapped in a lose-lose logic; what is more important now? To risk the ire of a future communist Russia by creating carnage in the Balkans? Or to risk being seen as militarily senile and politically impotent, unable to quell even one small rebel state on the borders of Europe? However much the West may want to avoid alienating Russia, the dangers of weakness, spiraling instability, and the disintegration of Nato are greater and therefore the alliance may have to act. (There are plenty of people in and around Nato who are in fact not at all unhappy about the prospect of a new Cold War, a re-demonised Russia, and a new wave of military pork-barrel plenty).

The outlines of the 21st century are becoming visible. It will be a prosperous West under siege, at bay, and lashing out at any threat, even that of small nations like Serbia.

In the week when even Persian Gulf states, whose Islamic confessional basis might be supposed to make them sympathetic to the Kosovar Albanians, began openly criticising Nato tactics in the Balkans, not much is left but naked force, with which to assert Western hegemony.

Mark Jones


Recently I predicted (a) that Yeltsin would be impeached; (b) that Stepashin would never receive from the Russian Duma a mandate as prime minister: and I also have to confess that (c) the great and portentous anti-Nato, pro-Yugoslav groundswell of opinion in Russia took me completely by surprise, thus showing that I have no more clue about Russia than anyone else, even tho' it is something I have studied. My ideas about the Balkans are likely to be even more worthless, since I have studied them less.

These failures encouraged me to put my crystal ball away to avoid more embarrassment. The outcome of the Kosovo war is anyway even more inscrutable than is the Russian conjuncture: the history and the dynamics of the region are too over-determined, as Nestor reports the Yugoslav ambassador to Buenos Aires saying. To speculate on outcomes is the remit of the laptop bombardiers. Nevertheless this intriguing exchange between Nestor and Carlos tempts me to try. It is almost certainly a waste of time so don't bother to read on.

Carlos says: "all things remaining equal, NATO has already lost the war politically and- unless there is a ground attack, something that seems to be increasingly doubtful- also militarily. "

I'm not even sure you can say this with certainty. I have the sense that no-one is in control; the disarray in Nato capitals is so great that the outcome depends on fortuitous and largely unforeseeable circumstances coming together in unpredictable ways. If Tony Blair has his way he will make "mission creep" into a strategic doctrine for the purpose of seducing the US and German fainthearts into a ground war despite thier misgivings.

Clinton and Schroder may think that by seeming to go along with the Blairistas, all they are doing is raising the stakes in the intricate game if bluff and double-bluff, by allowing talk of a ground war which in reality they are determined not to have; but Blair may still prove them wrong and drag them into such a war. It can happen because the stakes are so high and Blair might yet be proved right. He comes on like a jingoistic lunatic who is completely blind to the likely consequences in neighbouring states of his forward policy in Kosovo: but Blair forces his craven fellow- leaders to face the unpalatable logic of the position they're in: that the only environment which is truly impermissible for Nato is one where Milosevic retains his hold on Kosovo and emerges as the victor. That would spell the death of Nato. That's what they think, and no less dire a conclusion could make this band of political ne'er-do-wells continue the war at all. The war is horrible, a political nightmare and a true historical calamity. But peace on Milosevic's terms is even worse. It threatens not just Nato, but the European Union. Even a ground war is preferable to that; and it's not so unthinkable as people suppose. After all, so many Rubicons have already been crossed: who for example could ever have imagined that in 1999 the Luftwaffe would again be bombing Belgrade? To anyone who knows the history that is a kind of obscenity which almost defies the laws of nature, like anti-gravity. But it is happening.

The current stalemate cannot last forever so either Yugoslavia or Nato will have to try for a military resolution. I just read somewhere that Nato planners are sceptical about invading Kosovo thru the narrow mountain passes from Macedonia and say 'a flock of sheep' would be enough to stop them in their tracks. So they will have to send in paratroops to capture key points etc. They will do so in the hope that the Serbs, whom they despise, will run away once they see real Nato soldiers. What if they are wrong? Then Nato's paratroop forward bases may turn into hostages, and the Kosovo cauldron may rip the guts out of the cream of Nato's Rapid Reaction force. In this case, the Generals will insist on opening a second front and attacking Yugoslavia from Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania. It is said that Blair and the British chiefs of staff fell out last week over exactly this scenario: the planners want to put massed tanks into Bulgaria and Rumania, but Blair has told them it is 'politically impossible'. But it may prove less 'politically impossible' if the alternative is a rout of Nato in Kosovo, or a drawn-out mincing machine of a battle. Today the Yugoslav army seems to be clearing the decks by expelling the last Kosovan Albanians (good riddance to bad rubbish in my opinion). So Yugoslavia seems to be also now preparing for the final showdown.

If there is a ground war, what will happen in Italy, and above all Greece, where armed popular resistance to Nato has begun? What will happen in Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania? In Bosnia? In fact, the whole Balkans will erupt. And if Nato does send tank armies south from Hungary or even Bulgaria, what will happen in Russia? Maybe it won't come to world war 3, but at least Russia will be still more alienated and we can be sure that Yeltsin will be more a prisoner of the Russian nationalists/communists and so will not be able to cooperate with the US. So the chances of a settlement thru a UN framework seem likely to disappear completely; therefore Nato will have to impose a Carthaginian peace on the whole region and do so by force of arms and without even a UN figleaf of legitimacy and respectability. All these Balkan states will become protectorates ruled by Nato officers. I suppose that martial law can produce peace of a kind, and it might last for years, even decades. Then the Balkans will be a sore poisoning the EU body politic; it will never go away, it will become the main preoccupation of EU and Nato counsels and will augur the remilitarising of European society, as well as being an endless drain on resources. Such an outcome would be proof -- not conclusive yet, but significant proof - of the theory that the great wave of capitalist accumulation which has been the real story of this century, has peaked and begun to ebb. That, actually, is the central fact.

In the next decades Europe has to access Central Asian gas and oil, and the US, which this years imports 70% of its oil, will have to secure Persian Gulf oil in a period of declining production and price-explosions. Nato's experimentation in the Balkans tells us how they will try to do it.

Unity among Nato governments has been achieved because these ruling classes see clearly what kind of abyss has opened at their feet. Horror at the alternatives makes the 'socialists' of Athens, Rome and Berlin, never mind the feeble Clinton, bite on the Nato bullet.

Because a ground war may or may not be unthinkable, but a victory by Milosevic almost certainly is. Anything short of a nuclear exchange is preferable. Such a military debacle would turn the European Disunion into an effete and ineffectual, crisis-prone, inflation-ridden, second class capitalism incapable of securing its own future and facing long-term decline, not in a half century's time when the oil finally runs out, but starting now. 'Out of area or out of business' is true not just for Nato but for the whole European project.

European discomfiture will be because of political failure, the inability of the EU to police the tribes on its borders and lock the chieftains into tributary roles. Attempts will be made to stop the rot and a whole new cadre of imperial legates will arise. Political careers in England, France and Germany will be made and broken out of Europe's colonial mission in the Balkans; new bureaucracies will emerge from the chrysalis of existing forms and coalesce; the embryonic ideology of the new imperial mission already exists in the form of the Blair Doctrine of Limited Sovereignty and of the Western right to make 'humanitarian' interventions. This is actually from the old Brezhnev Doctrine used to justify the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1967-68.

The Blair Doctrine will enjoy the same lack of legitimacy and popular contempt which the Brezhnev Doctrine did in its day. But the catastrophes caused by the global implosion of capitalism will give it new justifications, for example in Africa which after this century's colonial and post-colonial plunder is beggared as never before, its failed states unable to protect populations shrinking under the assault of the AIDS pandemic. Those who blamed the West for hypocrisy for refusing to intervene in African tragedies (Rwanda, Nigeria etc) almost certainly spoke out of turn. Their day will come. Colonialism is not dead in Africa, just mutating.

Europe must either shoulder its imperial burden and prepare its populations for the militarisation of society and the omnipresence of war, or it must decline. And things will be no better for the US, since the Revolution in Military Affairs has been revealed as a paper pussy cat. The RMA is mired in logical and historical contradictions which are incapable of being squared up. It was supposed to make war into an arcade game while making resistance useless to the hapless natives in the plundered peripheries. The RMA has encouraged a facile belief in the social and historical invulnerability of the West based on anaolgy with the alleged invulnerability of its High Baroque weapons systems. This easy superiority blew away like a morning cobweb: Kosovo showed the dangers, which were obvious to anyone who knew enough history to know why the framework of international law based on the UN Charter, which Nato so easily tossed aside, had been so laboriously constructed in the first place.

Erroneous popular belief in the invulnerability of its baroque seige engines led only to the passivity and defeatism of Nato populations. Believing their own myths, they became convinced that they can have guns and butter, and that it is enough to rattle the weaponry at the dazed natives, to get their submission.

The result of this idiocy is that even while you are reading this, Nato planes are demonstratively bombing rubble and empty buildings in Serbia proper, and bare hillsides and decoy armour in Kosovo. Has there been such a monumental display of ineptitude, since Mussolini invaded Abyssinia? No wonder there is frustration in the Pentagon; not since the Vietcong refused to lie down and die, has a bunch of ignorant peons made utter arses out of so many omelette-spattered five-star generals. They are incandescent; they want to carpet bomb Belgrade in revenge. It may come to that.

If US military doctrine has turned out to be flawed, these flaws are not accidental but are the result of truths embedded in the mode of production and the fabric of science and technology of late capitalsm. It is as true as ever it was that capitalism has no sure defence against an intransigent working class bent on defending its interests. As never before, Marx's prediction is true that the endgame of capitalism would consist of the two social camps confronting each other across a wasteland, and just as the Yugoslav working class is being pushed in revolutionary directions despite itself, so too are the liberal democracies revealed as bastions of black reaction, despite the illusions of their contemptible intelligentias.

It is true that Nato is a fascist military organism. This is of momentous significance: it means that there is no longer an 'progressive wing' of the international bourgeoisie. The second world war contained a truce within itself, in which the great protagonists of what Arno Mayer called the International Civil War which defined the 20th century formed a temporary alliance to defeat the Nazis and Japan. Today there can be no truce since there is no longer a liberal, democratic wing to capitalism: there is only the bloodlust and unconstrained predation of imperialism united as never before against its class enemy.

This is why we cannot yet say that Nato has been defeated; unquestionably world capitalism has entered a profound historical impasse where no strategies offer win-win outcomes; lose-lose is the name of the game in Kosovo and everywhere else, and the victory which Nato must have at any price, will be won at a price which the West will discover it cannot really afford to pay. This is why I suspect that the war will go on and it will get worse, and it will spread. Neither side can back down. We are entering an era of naked force on the international plane, as US imperialism struggles to resynthesise financial, material and military hegemony.

Mark Jones